IT industrialization: From manufactory to factory

If you want to see highly automated and efficient production processes, you have to leave the information technology (IT). Look at the the automotive industry, or generally a industry with a high amount on industrial production. What is the output of IT? It is an IT service. What is a service? A for the customer convenient usable combination of knowledge, technology and processes. The following is the definition for a IT service used in the IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL) v3:

A Service provided to one or more customers, by an IT service provider. An IT Service is based on the use of information technology and supports the customer’s business process. An IT Service is made up from a combination of people, processes and technology and should be defined in a service level agreement.

You can use this definition and transfer it onto the automotive industry. You will notice, that a service-orientated IT and a automotive factory doesn’t differ much if you abstracted it.

To transform your IT into a service-oriented IT, you have to adopt IT service management (ITSM). You have to implement processes that transform people, knowledge and technology to a customer consumable service. The server you setup for a new application is only means to an end. Your customer, regardless if it’s an internal or external customer, doesn’t care if the server is from IBM or Hewlett-Packard. He doesn’t care if you are running VMware ESXi or Microsoft Hyper-V. He doesn’t care if you are running Apache or Microsoft IIS. He needs an additional web server, because the other webservers in the cluster are under high load, the website is to slow and potential customers are not willing to wait and move on to the competitors website.

Please note that when I talk about customers, I mean internal and external customers. IT always serves a customers, regardless if it’s an internal or externel customer.

The Manufactory

I know companies that act more like a manufactory than a service-oriented IT. Each server or VM will be installed by hand. Additional terminal server will be installed by hand. To avoid differences between servers, the administrators have to follow a step-by-step instruction (347 pages, every step documented by screenshots). And, even if there is a step-by-step instruction, each server will be a bit different. Virtualization? Uhhh, witchcraft. And if it is used, then resources will be reserved and the configuration will be more static than elastic. Don’t trust the hypervisor! If you ask the customer “Why don’t you automate?” you will get an answer like “We don’t have time and/ or knowledge to do this.” or “We’re to small.”. I saw several companies that used a very simple monitoring: The phone. If it rings and the customer complains about an error, something has broken. These companies don’t think in services, they think in prodcuts. Business requirements often end up in the statement like “We can not fulfill this requirement today. We need x months and x € to fulfill these requirements.” Each solution designed to fulfill a business requirement is something between a masterpiece and a quick ’n dirty solution. The wheel is often invented several times. Mostly the IT in these companies sees oneself as the center of the universe. And trust me: This is nothing that I only saw in small companies…

The service-oriented IT

To do ITSM is a good thing. Most companies I know that do ITSM, use ITIL for it. When I talk with other IT pros about ITIL, I get as a rule two reactions:

  • hatred
  • frustration

Exceptions prove the rule… ITIL is a common practice and doesn’t describe how a process has to look like. Someone told them how the process has to look like, and they adopted it. I know a lot companies that adopted ITIL processes without, or with only a few customizations. Service-oriented IT divisions have understood the need of processes and of a strategic approach to manage IT. They have understood that they deal with customers and that the customer pays the bill. This usually leads to the fact that they are trying to reduce costs and improve quality. So it’s not unusual that they are trying to automate most of their enviroment or that they use economies of scale. Sharing infrastructure between customers leads to lower fixed costs. They use tools to proactively monitor their environments. You can’t control what you can’t measure. And measurement is essential for dealing with service level agreements and to improve quality. But there is a dark side… The personal worst example was a company, in which a server deployment needed between three and six weeks. From the arrival of the hardware until the handing over to the operating. The effectiveness of the change approval and authorization was so bad, that sometimes business requirements were obsolete before the change was approved. This bad example shows the main problem of ITIL/ ITSM: The processes. ITIL/ ITSM isn’t bad, but sometimes it’s bad implemented. It’s mainly the excessive bureaucracy that deters many IT staff.

The factory

Let us pick up again the automotive example. Suppose that the transmission supplier changes. If you are the boss of the automotive company, what would you tell your production manager if he tells you “Sorry, but the transmission supplier has changed and we have to stop the production for four weeks. We need to search for a new supplier for the clutch and we have to modify some parts of the engine.” You would kick him out of your office, right? Me too… But that’s reality in IT. Changes in business requirements often causes changes in IT. Yesterday I found this interesting statement:

Today’s businesses cannot afford to deal with traditionally disruptive tasks, such as rolling or forklift upgrades. Systems and workflows must be always online and available.

I found it in the article “Completely Dismissing the FUD against Nutanix!” on Andre Leibovici blog. Nutanix is not the topic in this article, but Andres statement confirms my “empirical experience”. The next step for a service-oriented IT is to streamline processes and to modularize the service portfolio. This is what sometimes is called “IT Industrialization”. It describes the adoption of methods and instruments of the industrial production into IT. There are five essential characteristics about IT Industrialization:

  1. Streamline your processes. If you use ITIL for ITSM, than analyse your processes and try to reduce the waste. If you use another ITSM method, do the same. Reduce waste of resources and increase the quality. Strive for perfection. Take a look at Lean Management, TQM, Six Sigma. Streamlining processes will help you to react faster to changing business requirements.
  2. Products not projects. You have to focus more on products than on project. An IT service is a product that leaves an IT factory. Focus on that. If a customer wants a webserver, he wants a webserver. Not a project to installa a webserver.
  3. Standardization and automation. Don’t invent the wheel again and again. Try to achieve the highest possible standardization grade. Don’t ask your customer how many memory or vCPUs he want. Let the customer choose if the needs a big, mid or small VM. The number of manual operations should be as low as possible. This leads to automation.
  4. Use a standardized sales channel, e.g. self-provisioning.
  5. Reduce the production depth. Make or buy. If someone produces something with a better price/ quality ratio, don’t hesitate to buy his services.

Maybe you already realized that some of my enumerations sound like “cloud”. The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) lists five essential characteristics of cloud computing:

  1. On demand self-service: A consumer can unilaterally provision computing capabilities, such as server time and network storage, as needed automatically without requiring human interaction with each service provider
  2. Broad network access: Capabilities are available over the network and accessed through standard mechanisms that promote use by heterogeneous thin or thick client platforms.
  3. Resource pooling: The provider’s computing resources are pooled to serve multiple consumers using a multi-tenant model, with different physical and virtual resources dynamically assigned and reassigned according to consumer demand.
  4. Rapid elasticity: Capabilities can be elastically provisioned and released, in some cases automatically, to scale rapidly outward and inward commensurate with demand
  5. Measured service: Cloud systems automatically control and optimize resource use by leveraging a metering capability at some level of abstraction appropriate to the type of service.

Where is the connection?

On your way, from the manufactory to the factory, elements of the cloud computing can help you to industrialize your IT. IT Industrialization is not a question of scale. Even if you are a small IT division, you can profit from IT Industrialization, but on a smaller scale. You don’t need the VMware vCloud Automation Center to setup self-service provisioning of VMs. You can use the VMware vCenter Orchestrator, Microsoft Systems Center or Puppet. Think about the five characteristics of IT Industrialization and try to adopt them on your needed level. Streamline processes and to modularize your service portfolio. Standardize and automate where you can. Try to reduce the waste of resources. And never forget who’s paying the bill…

Feel free to leave a comment or pick up this article and express your own view to IT Industrialization.