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Strategic tips for better IT infrastructure services

Careful measurement and user focus are the best approaches to tomorrow's IT infrastructure and operations management.

ORLANDO, Fla. -- IT infrastructure and operations are core to many businesses, but not yet mature.

IT spending as a percentage of operating expenses and revenue remained virtually flat from 2009 to 2013, while IT spending as a percentage of employees actually experienced a modest decline, according to Gartner research directors Colin Fletcher and Jarod Greene, here at Gartner's ITxpo 2014.

IT infrastructure and operations (I&O) maturity requires meeting the ever-increasing speed of services and responsiveness demanded by modern users, and deploying the tools to measure results from a business perspective.

Here are some ways to nurture IT infrastructure services and improve management.

Deploy strong monitoring

Metrics are a central theme of I&O maturity. A well-considered baseline and ongoing measurements bring attention to performance and inform decision making. Metrics support detailed performance reporting, allowing IT leaders to demonstrate improvements and enhancements to the business. Measure and report from the standpoint of business value rather than IT nomenclature. This might include expressing activities in terms of cost reduction, risk mitigation and revenue growth.

Only about 11% of IT organizations (surveyed through recent Gartner research) are establishing a careful baseline of I&O metrics and reviewing that baseline more than once a year. And 37% of respondents have no baseline to even measure I&O maturity levels -- even though tools for configuration management, availability and performance, workload automation, and application performance management continue to proliferate.

In addition, Fletcher and Greene underscore the importance of monitoring the user end of IT services. Watching the servers and other hardware may not tell you as much as watching user activity and application performance. By ensuring adequate service and performance, IT organizations will curb users' tendency to use shadow IT, which can jeopardize security or compliance.

Make a plan for maturity

A mature IT infrastructure doesn't just happen. Fletcher and Greene suggest a programmatic approach -- plan the course of action most appropriate to business needs and goals. Decide on the right services. Understand the costs and the best ways to price those services for the business. And finally, assemble the right staff to implement and manage those services, and use a combination of new hires and ongoing training to ensure the best underlying skill set.

Split strategies as needed

I&O maturity is not an all-or-nothing proposition, so the best path may indeed be a mix of new and existing technologies. For example, renovate core resources to keep important services functioning with new servers or other hardware. In other cases, migrate workloads off core resources to private or public cloud providers. Organizations should build more agility and implement mechanisms to move and make decisions like this faster (such as DevOps). This requires a careful assessment of the organization's rate of change, required governance and acceptable levels of risk.

"We're moving to the cloud and [software as a service] SaaS," said Kenny Wright, senior telecommunications specialist with Graham Holdings Company, a diverse media conglomerate in the U.S. Wright is concerned with mapping the best migration path and strategy for servers and network hardware.

"The trick is deciding how to continue using what we have, and investing in new hardware as-needed."

Automate wherever and whenever possible

Finally, Gartner's Fletcher and Greene underscore the critical importance of automation in the continued development of I&O maturity. One vital area of automation is in support and remediation, which are typically IT help desk tasks. These can be mundane and repetitive to address. The second important area of automation is to reduce errors in services like system or virtual machine setup and configuration, and to improve governance through better activity logging and auditing.

Ultimately, the need to provide IT infrastructure services faster and with fewer errors will drive I&O to better performance. But this ongoing maturity will take careful business and technical planning, comprehensive performance baselining and measurement using the proper tools, and reliable automation capabilities that free IT staff to focus on more strategic projects.

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