Fifty Years – A Major Milestone

I don’t normally like admitting to my age – but this week I am celebrating a pretty major milestone – 50 years in IT. I’ve always considered myself particularly lucky to have begun an IT career when the industry was in its infancy, when we were fresh-faced, young and pioneering.

I left grammar school at 16 with a handful of ‘O’ levels and had been intrigued by computers for some little while. Luckily, for me, a neighbour friend was an IT Operations Shift Leader at Dunlop and suggested that I apply as a trainee operator. I took to it like a duck to water. Operating large mainframes which were tape-based was demanding work physically. The tapes were 3.600 ft zinc spools and some 100 tapes per shift needed to be mounted / demounted on the eight tape decks on each of the huge LEO III mainframes. Understanding what was going on came much more easily. I had a natural aptitude for IT and in that respect it has never been hard work.

I was just 19, when my boss asked me to set-up and run an offline job-assembly function. The goal (successfully achieved) was to improve consistency and reduce job-assembly errors. This work caught the attention of a senior colleague who head-hunted me to join him as Chief Operator at Halfords in the centre of Birmingham. The small ICT 1901 mainframe here was a step down from the sophistication of the LEO and, at the tender age of twenty, I had the challenge of supervising the operation of three shifts, job and data control.

I began to take an interest in the George II operating system and pioneered its implementation to streamline operations and reduce mis-operation. This led to a change of career as I learnt how to program in PLAN – an assembler language proprietary to ICT 1900 mainframes. I loved it and determined a short while later that I could earn much more money as a freelance programmer.

Very soon I was assigned to a major development project for Woolworth – all in COBOL. I hadn’t written a COBOL program in my life but I had, at least, covered the basics in a college course. My PLAN and GEORGE II experience stood me in very good stead and I quickly earned a reputation as the technical guru. I could understand diagnostic dumps when many of my colleagues found them perplexing.

I was a freelance programmer at Woolworth for nearly three years when the new Data Centre Manager asked me to join the management team and establish a competent technical and operations support department – again with the principal objective of improving consistency of service and reducing error.

Now I was really in my stride. I had some very competent technical guys but the challenge was to develop the operations support group, exploit the operating system and bring real business benefit to the organisation. This opportunity was enhanced when I led the project to migrate the George II workload to the newly launched ICL 2900 range under VME.

This was exciting pioneering written large! Woolworth IT developed a reputation for leading-edge technology and practices and I was often invited to speak at User Group conferences and joined working parties to help steer ICL development plans – most of them focusing on reliability, consistency of service and error reduction – a bit of a recurring theme here.

My responsibilities at Woolworth increased and I was given responsibility for not only the Rochdale data centre but also the data centres in Swindon and London. Life was certainly getting exciting!

In 1985 everything changed. A new IT Director changed the technical direction from ICL to IBM. Senior IT professionals with extensive experience of IBM operations were parachuted in and I was offered a very attractive package to go do something else – and that something else was Sysop.

The early days of Sysop saw an increasing fruitful partnership with ICL. We pioneered the development of storage management systems to exploit the capabilities of automated tape libraries – always looking at ways to help clients reduce cost, improve reliability, and improve storage management.

Then along came ITIL®.

In 1990 Sysop was one of only three companies who offered training in IT Service Management. The other two no longer exist – which makes Sysop the world’s longest exponent of ITIL. Sysop consultants have travelled the world, working with clients in across Europe, Australia, South America, USA, the Middle East and South Africa.

We continue to innovate and see ourselves as a new breed of IT educator. My team champions the alignment of IT with business, promotes the pivotal role of the IT professional and believes that the primary purpose of training and education is to change behaviour in the workplace.

Our mission is to provide a more creative and stimulating, world class educational environment that addresses vital areas of IT service management. Our training and education is designed to make ITIL more accessible, digestible and relevant for its clients, while its practical workshops can be tailored to the specific needs of the client organisation.

Our goal is still to help our clients improve their IT services focusing on reliability, consistency of service and error reduction – Now that does sound familiar?

Am I going to retire? Not while I’m having so much fun!

Stuart Sawle
http://www.sysop.co.uk
ITIL® is a trademark of AXELOS Limited.

Is the Service Provider / Customer Model Flawed?

I’ve been busy of late preparing our recently announced Business Relationship Management Workshop. The workshop programme has set me thinking about many of the practical areas of IT service management and how organisations can make sense of the documented best-practice and successfully adapt it to the benefit of their the employer organisation.

I have absolutely no doubts about the importance of the Business Relationship Management (BRM) role to the successful provision of IT services but I do wonder if the artificial segregation of the business and IT into customer and service provider is the most effective way of handling this critical relationship.

There are numerous other examples of specialist service departments within business organisations: HR, Finance, PR, Estates, and CSR. The heads of these departments would be horrified if they were not considered to be part of “the business”. So why does IT continually place itself at arms-length?

I am reminded of the story of the US politician who visited NASA. A keen gardener himself he was interested in the activity of the man working in the neatly-tended flower beds. Approaching this man, the politician enquired as to what he was doing. “Sir”, came the reply “, I’m helping to put a man on the moon!”

Part of the answer is our attempt to design one model that covers outsourced as well as insourced IT. Part of it could be the sheer size and intensely specialist elements of IT. Part of it could be the attitude of the business itself – not understanding IT and therefore introducing intermediaries to translate business language into technical requirements and vice versa.

A key objective of the IT Service Management Training that we offer is to foster an increased awareness of business priorities within the internal IT service provider staff. Should we not, therefore, strive to achieve the ultimate goal of everyone taking ownership of the business, its mission and goals?

There lies the rub!

I suspect that even if we achieved this magnificent goal, the business would still want to deal with the ‘techies’ at arms-length. It is an imperfect world. This is why we need IT professionals who can bridge the divide. We need IT professionals to fill the role of Service Owners, Service Managers and Business Relationship Managers. These professionals essentially take on the responsibility for continually seeking opportunities to exploit Information Technology to further the aims and objectives of the business.

Until the day dawns when the technology is understood by everyone, when business objectives can be achieved without whole armies of technical staff, we will need these vital intermediaries.

Stuart Sawle
http://www.sysop.co.uk

Flawed IT Disaster Recovery Plans

Many IT Disaster Recovery plans are fundamentally flawed.

Many I.T. managers tell us that their board / senior management expects IT services to be restored within 48 hours or so of a disaster, Sysop research indicates that it may actually take six months before all services are returned to normal.

Incorrect assumptions
The mismatch between expectation and practical delivery is caused by a number of incorrect assumptions, including:

  • that non-critical systems can be recovered in similar timescales to the “mission critical” systems for which formal ITSCM plans have been developed.
  • that all applications can be recovered to readily available “commodity hardware”.
  • that suitably-qualified IT personnel will be available to support the recovery in the numbers required.

But crucially, the most significant factor is the high support effort required to sustain the newly-recovered applications. This support commitment will drastically reduce the resource available to recover the remainder of applications. Most IT departments have around 20% of their applications defined as “mission critical” in a total population in excess of 50.

Some 80% of applications will take more than two weeks to recover; 50% will take more than a month; 25% will take more than three months.

IT Services Need to be Available in a Crisis

Experience of major contingencies (i.e. those that affect more than just IT infrastructure) reveals that emergency co-ordination teams need effective IT immediately. As the precise nature and impact of the contingency cannot be predicted, IT specialist resource is needed to provide emergency co-ordination teams with their requirements in an efficient and flexible manner. This activity will always take priority over the recovery of routine IT. As organisations become increasingly IT dependent it becomes even more necessary for routine IT (and the data / information upon which management depend) to be available to manage the crisis.

I.T. departments do not have the luxury of staff employed to do little, indeed most I.T. staff already have a very full support workload. As the recovery process succeeds the recovered applications will begin to demand at least the amount of support resource they required before the disaster. It is more than likely they will require significantly extra resource to cope with the difficult circumstances of a recovered operation.

As the I.T. department responds to the support load of the recovered systems, less resource will be available to perform recovery activities. The recovery process will slow and may actually grind to a halt.

Taking this factor into account I estimate that some 80% of applications will take more than two weeks to recover; 50% will take more than a month; 25% will take more than three months. Indeed it could be almost 6 months before the final applications are recovered.

My contention is that no organisation can wait this length of time for even non-critical systems to be recovered

The ITIL® framework provides sound guidance on IT Service Continuity Management but isn’t able adequately to deal with some of the practical considerations – particularly as these related to organisations with limited resources and budget.

That is why Sysop consultants have developed a practical workshop to help clients explore better ways of protecting the organisations for whom they work. More information: http://www.sysop.co.uk/training-courses/61/practical-workshops

Stuart Sawle
www.sysop.co.uk

Managing Major Incidents

The ITIL® core volume Service Operation is not particularly helpful with regard to Major Incidents. It basically says: “A separate procedure, with shorter timescales must be used for ‘major’ incidents. A definition of what constitutes a major incident must be agreed and ideally mapped onto the overall incident prioritization scheme – such that they will be dealt with through this separate procedure.”

In our recent “Managing Major Incidents” workshops we have had an opportunity to discuss the topic with a good cross-section of IT professionals; to present our thoughts and; perhaps more importantly, gain valuable feedback as to what represents best practice in the field. What follows is our distillation of that best practice and a corresponding process flow to help support it.

Key Recommendations

1. Be clear what your organisation means by “Major Incident”
2. Appoint one person (preferably the Service Delivery Manager) to determine the severity of the MI and to invoke the MI process if appropriate.
3. Gather together a “war cabinet” of key people to help ensure that adequate, appropriate resources are made available to speedily resolve the MI.
4. Make certain that any escalation to the business can happen speedily and effectively.
5. Place the Disaster Recovery team on stand-by.
6. Be prepared to de-escalate as a solution emerges.

More Information

More information, including a practical process flow and narrative that we believe represents industry best practice in this particular area, is available from the Sysop Resource Centre http://www.sysop.co.uk/your-account/downloads.

You will need to log-in, and possibly register, on the website to access the downloadable resources area. Once there, you will see the categories of downloadable resources, the first of which is “Articles”. Click VIEW RESOURCES and you will see that the first two articles are the Major Incident Process Flow and Managing Major Incidents narrative.

Stuart Sawle August 2014
http://www.sysop.co.uk

ITIL® is a registered trademark of AXELOS Limmited.

Service Management more than an Operational Discipline.

Once every quarter the ITIL® examination bodies release the statistics for examinations taken by geographic territory.

It’s good to see that the world-wide numbers of IT professionals taking service management exams is still increasing but I find it disturbing that so many do not extend their professional development beyond Foundation level. The total number of IT professional sitting the ITIL Foundation exam is ten times more that the total number of students taking Intermediate exams. This means that only about one in a hundred goes on to qualify as an ITIL expert.

I know, from contact with clients, that service management is far from a mature discipline. The operational processes (Incident, Problem etc.) are generally well established. But clients are still struggling to gain control over key processes like Change and Asset Management.

It’s very obvious from looking at the job titles of course attendees that the desire for ITIL competence is still very much skewed towards the operations support and technical areas. It is still pretty rare to see IT professionals who work in the design or transition lifecycle stages – let alone strategic management.

I am absolutely convinced of the value of sound service management processes. I know that client organisations can benefit enormously from the ITIL service management framework. We have to persuade designers and developers to take a greater interest in developing their service management skills?

BCS, itSMF and AXELOS have a key part to play here.

Stuart Sawle
http://www.sysop.co.uk

Software Asset Management – the Missing ITSM Ingredient

When I’m talking to customers, I’m continually reminded that many (or should I say “most”) of them have no accurate records of what IT assets they have or where they are located. For the most part, of course, I’m referring here to physical items of hardware. The problem is worse, much worse, when one considers software assets – for here there is a question not just of good management control but a legal obligation to adhere to licence and intellectual property agreements.

One of the most productive ways of helping a customer to reduce their IT costs is to carry out a hardware and software audit. So often we find hardware maintenance contracts in place for hardware assets that were disposed of years ago and of course the same is true of software assets.

However there is a massive sting in the tail in the case of software assets – Licence types and rights to use.

Probably the most common gotcha is the over-deployment of a software item. How many active copies is your company licenced to deploy, how many are actually deployed and where are they?

Another of the more common “gotchas” with licensing, is that sometimes people have purchased upgrade licences, but not considered the whether the base licence is already in place to upgrade from. No base licence – no rights to upgrade!

Another one of the “gotchas” is accounting for deployments. E.g. thinking that Microsoft Server 2008 (Standard Edition) can be virtualised as many times as a company likes. (Technically, it can be – providing you are prepared to pay for it!) Unlimited virtualisation rights are the preserve of the Datacenter edition of the product!

Take the time to research Product Use Rights and licence metrics – not least in the development environment: does your licence permit the installation for the purposes of testing, demonstration and evaluation or are further licences required?

The standard ITIL programme of courses covers service asset & configuration management but goes nowhere near the specialist requirements of software asset management. Let’s hope that the new AXELOS arrangement gives due prominence to this very important IT discipline.

For your information our next Software Asset Management courses are 9th June in Heywood (Manchester) and 7th July in London. Click here for more information.

Stuart Sawle

http://www.sysop.co.uk

Green IT – Not just “nice to do”.

News this week from the IPCC (International Panel on Climate Change) – “the impacts of global warming are likely to be “severe, pervasive and irreversible”. After a winter in the UK that has seen major storms and rainfall we can expect more incidents of severe weather as we go forward.

Worldwide, the carbon footprint of IT is actually larger than that of the airline industry – and it’s growing. As more and more of the developing world adopt information technology, the carbon emissions generated will increase with it.

There was political news too. Centrica warned that government policy would likely lead to energy shortages in the UK and electrical black-outs. Strangely, this isn’t new. In 2012 the government forecasted a 20% shortfall in electricity forecast for the years 2015-2017. This, they said, was due to a number of factors that would create “a perfect storm”.

  • Dirty, coal powered power stations that fail to meet agreed emission targets must close by 2015.
  • Existing Magnox nuclear power stations are reaching the end of their life.
  • Wind, renewables and AGR nuclear plants will not cover the shortfall.
  • Reduced demand due to the recession has delayed the build of new capacity. Even if the building programme is restarted, it is unlikely that any new plants will be online before 2017.

Whatever way you look at it, we must all do whatever we can to reduce our energy usage.

Data Centres continue to grow exponentially and even though the latest servers are more energy efficient, the number deployed is ever-rising as too is the number of desk-top and mobile devices.

In these circumstances is it not incredible that few IT Managers are held accountable for the energy cost of the IT deployed to support the business. Sure, they have initiated hardware rationalisation projects but the outcomes of these projects are measured in cost savings not energy savings.

We must push ‘Green IT’ higher up the strategic agenda. The government has done much to “Green” governmental ICT. The Greening Government ICT strategy is intended to minimise the impact of the UK Government on the environment and reduce both green-house gas emissions and waste in support of the Government’s commitment to achieve a 25% reduction in green-house emissions by 2015.

It’s time IT Manager’s followed this lead and set their own targets for energy reduction and carbon emissions. Highly principled, reputable companies like Unilever do this. Let us all follow suit.

Stuart Sawle

Sysop

http://www.sysop.co.uk/green-it