• United States

Managing change

Aug 02, 20044 mins
Data Center

* Recommendations for managing big changes

Last week I taped a session in conjunction with Compuware on best practices for managing change. What struck me during the session, aside from the heat of the studio lights, is to what degree solid practices for managing planned changes can touch virtually all disciplines of management – from performance and availability, to assets and inventory, to service levels and financial planning.

Best practices for managing major planned changes, such as data center consolidation or WAN rightsizing, are virtually a litmus test for best practices across the board. Of course not all changes are planned, and some planned changes occur in response to pressures so extreme that what may seem a luxurious list of recommendations on my part has to be forsaken for pure expediency. However, it’s worth looking at this quick sketch of recommendations because you’ll be way ahead if you can do it right. If you do it right, you will find you’re more efficient in day-to-day operations, and that you’ve set the stage for making future project decisions more solid and focused. If you do it wrong, your services may suffer, and the inefficiencies you’ve swept under the carpet may cause you to stumble and trip.

So here’s a quick checklist for the “not-very-shortcut” set of practices that should set you ahead – if you can take the time to follow them:

* Define your business requirements. Make sure that there are not multiple views and goals (e.g., 25% cost reduction in WAN bandwidth by Dec. 27) both within your organization, and between you and the lines of business you’re supporting. All too often there are different versions of project objectives floating around. At the same time, make sure you are clear on which business services are affected by the change, and how.

* Clarify organizational and process needs. For instance, you can’t do data center consolidation right if you don’t understand the relationship between that project and your WAN performance. Applications and services perform across an ocean of interdependencies. That also means checking your organizational processes and tuning them for superior collaboration – so that in this case the NOC and the data center can work as a collaborative team, not as finger-pointing adversaries.

* Audit. This is one of the scarier but more profound requirements for “doing it right.” You need to follow up the implied “IT process audit” above and then document what the infrastructure is, what your service-level agreements are with external providers, what your SLAs are with internal and external customers, and what management tools are in place to support the project at hand. If you do this right, you’ll discover many surprises in all areas – unless of course you’re one of the very few organizations that took the time to get all this right before. I’ll also bet that you discover tool sets with conflicting information used by different IT groups to blame each other for problems.

* Baseline, analyze and plan. We’re into more normal territory here, and while there’s a lot to say about this phase, I’ll focus on only two things. A real baseline means understanding quality of experience, which is complex – including not only availability and responsiveness, but also flexibility, cost-effectiveness, appropriateness, and other metrics. Planning also means understanding usage patterns and trying to get at the hows and whys of service behavior before embarking on the if-then tradeoffs for optimizing infrastructure.

* Establish and promote. Once your plan is solid, communicate it – within your organization and externally to your customers. Believe it or not, planned change is a good time to build rapport with your customers and promote your value to the business.

* Deploy and validate. The key thing here is to proceed in stages and to validate as you go. It’s also important to note that before embarking on this stage, you should already have worked out timing for any changes to SLAs and contracts with external service providers.

* Reassess and begin again. Change is ongoing. If your WAN rightsizing project has gone well, for instance, something new is likely to be demanded. Rather than wait to be kicked from behind, look proactively to, as the expression goes, “make change your friend” in providing better services for your clients.