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IT holds the key to business process improvement

IT isn't a monolithic cost sink. Instead, it is a department that can shape digital initiatives and improve business processes.

LAS VEGAS -- IT teams need to come out of the data center and into the conference room to collaborate with the...

business, and even change how the business works.

Chargeback/showback, rationalizing and standardizing business applications, creating a service catalog and other options keep data center costs low and shape how a business perceives and uses IT, said Jim McGittigan, analyst at Gartner, during the Gartner Data Center, Infrastructure & Operations Management Conference here this month.

The problem with these strategies is that they can ruffle feathers about IT intruding on business operations. However, they also show that IT is not one monolithic cost sink, but a construct supporting multiple business-critical infrastructures.

Start with an accurate baseline of how much IT services cost. For example, determine the platform, operational and IT personnel costs to run your business's enterprise resource planning (ERP) system annually. You might be able to restructure the underlying IT infrastructure to better service the application, and no one using the ERP is any the wiser.

Beyond that, look into the licensing and user rights, whether employees are resorting to shadow IT to supplement the application, if different departments are licensing different products for the same tasks, and so on. Could you cut costs but marginally reduce features by switching to a software-as-a-service offering? What could you gain by tying the ERP tool into data flows from customer resource management?

A tenet of non-stop IT is contextual service delivery and predictive business analysis, said David J. Cappuccio, a Gartner analyst. IT organizations can synthesize real-time and historical information with flexible applications to deliver what the business side needs and wants, at the right moment, on any device.

Businesses even restructure around IT capabilities, McGittigan added, but it requires a lot of collaboration and buy-in from the enterprise and IT departments.

A bimodal IT approach treats some applications to the traditional highly-available, redundant infrastructure and regimented change management, and other applications to cheaper, minimally-redundant infrastructure and rapid iterative DevOps management.

The goal is to optimize business processes, models and information delivery via better IT platforms. This might not cut any IT costs -- the IT budget may grow to accommodate projects -- but saves overall enterprise expenses.

This mindset paid off for Commercial Metals Company (CMC), headquartered in Irving, Texas, which brought an e-commerce app online to sell its rebar and other metal goods.

"CMC isn't the largest steel maker, but we created competitive differentiation by selling product online, via the MyCMC app," said Steve Waldroop, CMC's director of IT operations.

This app resulted from a DevOps-like agile approach that did not impede core, stable infrastructure operations, he said.

Over time, MyCMC has matured onto stable core infrastructure with fewer iterative changes. Additional work on new ideas continues in agile development.

The options presented for non-stop IT require fundamental shifts in infrastructure management, business processes, budget decisions and personnel organization. Not surprisingly, it won't be easy and plenty of IT shops will fail.

The danger is falling in the "timid middle," which is fit for no purpose, said Gartner analyst Raymond Paquet. The timid middle pulls traditional architectures and vendors over to work for mobile, new platform applications. It means abandoning core upgrades in favor of wholesale new methodologies. And it means venturing just enough into new modes of operation to achieve too little, too late.

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What business processes would benefit most from an IT overhaul?
I have to say my network infrastructure would benefit from my consideration of using open source. If I am unable to keep up with the high financial strains that impede my ability to have an IT web-scale strategy, I can always fall back to using open source. By utilizing and contributing to the development of open source technology, I can possibly eliminate any managerial options that I consider unnecessary, hence improving productivity on the network.