6 Habits of Top I.T. Groups: A Consultant’s List

Advanced I.T. organizations make “aggressive” use of technologies that support a service-oriented mindset and are devoting more time to implementing industry best practices, according to research from Ovum Summit.

The Boston-based consulting firm interviewed 300 technology managers and identified six things that the most effective technology departments do, starting with making sure their I.T. projects are aligned with business needs.

In effect, the top I.T. people have shifted from acting as installers of hardware and software to defining themselves as business people who see a need and fulfill it. “The better I.T. organizations have crossed over to viewing I.T. as a service,” says Ovum vice president Mary Johnston Turner.

Overall, Ovum found, effective technology departments:

  • Use consolidation and virtualization technologies to become more flexible
  • Invest in service-oriented architecture (SOA) applications to promote software reuse
  • Adopt recommendations from the Information Technology Infrastructure Library, or ITIL, which is a set of best practices in corporate technology
  • Invest in automated technology management tools
  • Align business and I.T. in terms of governance and monitoring service levels
  • Take on new challenges ranging from development of end-of-life and recycling strategies for old hardware to experimentation with emerging social software tools, such as wikis, to improve productivity.

The Ovum study offered specifics on the speed at which I.T. is adopting new technologies. For example, among companies with more than 1,000 employees, 55% reported using virtualization – configuring servers to run many applications and operating systems on a single computer-and another 26% said it’s part of their long-term strategy. Last year, only 32% of technology managers told Ovum they were using virtualization.

Meanwhile, 42% of respondents this year said they are using SOA techniques to let heterogeneous software components communicate in standard ways. That’s a big jump from the 27% of respondents using SOA last year.

In other findings, 51% of companies said they are using ITIL, the best practices library maintained under copyright by the British Office of Government Commerce. That is, some or all of the technologists at those companies are certified in ITIL and are putting in those best practices. And 75% consolidated application or storage servers in their data centers, compared to 47% last year.

Corporate technology groups are becoming more like outsourcers such as Electronic Data Systems and Computer Sciences Corp., Johnston Turner says. For example, corporate I.T. increasingly uses best practices and consistent metrics to measure how and how well they deliver services to the company, she says. That flips the traditional focus on how well products performed by, for instance, tracking component uptime or the availability of individual applications. “That’s a huge shift,” she says.

To Kevin Stack, chief information officer at Jo-Ann Stores in Hudson, Ohio, Ovum’s findings make sense. The things his 108-person staff does aren’t tech projects, he says. Nowadays, he says, it’s all about the business. A specialty retailer of crafts and sewing products, Jo-Ann Stores had $1.85 billion in revenue for the year ended Feb. 3.

“The days of taking projects over the phone from the business channel are over,” says Stack, who didn’t participate in Ovum’s survey. I.T.’s job, Stack adds, is “helping the business grow as opposed to putting in new cool technology to support infrastructure.”

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