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Fear, fragmentation and doubt

Opinion
Jun 02, 20035 mins
Data Center

* Three psychological factors holding back SLM adoption

Recently, I gave a presentation on service-level management and did my best to explain why only 44% of IT executives we surveyed have any SLM strategy in place even though 100% believe SLM is very important.

Of those with a strategy, 67% (29% of the total) were limited to strategies for SLM across a network and 87% (38% of the total) were focused on technical rather than business-oriented strategies. Even with some forward progress in the last year, with more attention given to business value and service management processes, these numbers reflect a rather dismal state of affairs.

The numbers are in themselves strong expressions of what psychologists call “cognitive dissonance.” That is the ability to entertain two contradictory ideas and to some degree believe in both at the same time. Although it is routinely applied by politicians, most of us find it painful. It takes emotional and sometimes virtually physical energy for those executives to begin their days knowing that an effective SLM strategy is “very important” and that they have no strategy in place.

Based on other research and the need to be brief (which I’m generally not), in my presentation I suggested that the reason for the dissonance might be captured in three words: fear, fragmentation and doubt.

Fear

Developing an effective strategy for SLM, while not rocket science, is also not easy. So the first fear is fear of failure. The thought process goes something like, “I know this is important, and I know I should do it, but I might fail, so I’ll put it off for now.” Nobody wants to fail, and our society is particularly hard on failure, especially given current economic pressures in IT, so this fear is understandable. A similar process applies to management holding off from implementing more effective security. An effective security program might seem too complex to bother with, given the possibility of failure. But the need for SLM and more effective security won’t go away, and there ways to approach both, in stages, that really aren’t that difficult.

Another fear factor is fear of change. SLM ultimately will change how you and your personnel organize and work. And change, any change, is a source of stress.

Embarking on an effective SLM strategy will also require some investment, no matter how demonstrable the return. You will need to invest time, money and energy – none of which is richly available. So the third fear is fear of investment. This is the most logically solid of the three – and a great container to hide from view the other two (for purposes of self-respect), but it is also doesn’t stand up. Your organization cannot be effective without metrics to measure and optimize your business value. Not investing in SLM today is like not investing in servicing your car when the engine’s performance is degrading, or you are about to lose your brakes. Sooner or later you’re going to be in for an accident.

Fragmentation

Fragmentation could be a source of many columns in itself. It comes in two core flavors. The most profound is organizational. Managing to a service requires managing an “infrastructure” to fit operational and business priorities. We’ve seen very few IT organizations organized to manage infrastructure – with a core team proactively looking for issues across networks, systems and applications to be supplemented by specialists.

But “very few” is progress. Two years ago I would have said “none.”

Making this move touches all the fear factors above. It’s profound, in that it involves not only technology, but also processes, politics, culture and ways of thinking, behaving and forming allegiances. Addressing these challenges should be managed with care, intelligence, guidance, persistence and, yes, feeling.

Another source of fragmentation is in the management software and services that IT invests in. These are often narrowly focused, with narrow ROI and poor levels of integration. But management products are evolving to provide common sources of information for different organizations in IT – for example, network and application performance. Shopping for holistic, unifying management products can be a real enabler for migrating your organization and its processes.

Doubt

This is the simplest of the three. If you haven’t done something before, you may be afraid not only of failure, but also that somehow the promised “brave new world” really isn’t there at all. Of course, doubt is natural. To some degree it’s even healthy. The antidote to doubt is a mix of caution and trust. If doubt is keeping you from taking a strategic approach, then trust what our numbers say you “know” to be true, anyway.

Getting started is the key. Look to build step by step with core, realistic priorities first. Having a strategy in place for SLM doesn’t mean planning a long weekend with back-to-back all-nighters. It’s a planned journey over the course of years, but it’s not just worthwhile, it’s needed – even if you have to overcome your fear, fragmentation and doubt.