Data about your company’s technology environment can be your greatest ally. It can help direct scarce resources, depict progress toward a strategic goal, or convince the board to invest in a specific area. Without data, you’re working off instinct, keeping your fingers crossed during change related incidents, and trying to justify investment needs with anecdotes and assumptions.
Good business leaders use data constantly to inform virtually every decision they make. Why shouldn’t the technology leadership use the same methods and techniques to measure their colleagues’ and customers’ adoption of their solutions and identify what’s working and what isn’t?
They should. But too often they don’t. For one thing, data about an IT environment is often much more complex than, say, sales or marketing data. That makes it more difficult to understand, manage, and leverage in a similar way. It’s also true that IT professionals sometimes make things too complicated – they’re reluctant to tackle data analysis in their arena because they worry that doing so will create enormous technical challenges.
But that should change. We need to stop hiding behind the complexity and start addressing it head-on if we’re to understand the environment, risks, opportunities and ultimately the results from our investments.
For example, to really take advantage of capabilities such as cloud adoption, automation, and dev ops, you need a clear understanding of your current environment from a variety of perspectives. This understanding serves as a foundation from which to plan and build a strategy based on a solid footing of what is. Without this, many organizations arbitrarily set goals based on what they believe, often wrongly, to be true.
Know What Data You Have
Understanding your IT environment starts with the fundamentals. You need a full accounting of the technology within your environment, and you need to know who is using each piece of technology, and for what purpose.
- Products: You need to know what software and hardware products you have in your environment. Make inventories including the manufacturer, device type, model, and version for each piece. For hardware, also record the firmware levels and location of each piece. For software, also record the host and end-of-support date.
- Applications: You also need a thorough understanding of all of the applications you have. Again, record each application’s name, version, application owner, and business owner. And make sure you know which applications rely on which products.
- People: You should know who is using each product and application by product or application name and version.
- Business Functions: You should know what business functions depend on each application. Record this by business capability and application name. Make sure you also record who is performing each business function.
Gathering this information is reasonably straightforward, as the data exists within your environment. The challenge is in defining the interrelationships and maintaining those relationships as part of day-to-day processes within the IT function.
In addition, don’t let the perfect get in the way of the good. IT people are understandably demanding. But if the data collected is not quite ideal, that’s OK. Use what you have to try to drive decision-making. Doing nothing because some small data set is missing shouldn’t be an option.
One last point: Sell your data. What I mean is that you need to really present it in a way that’s meaningful and understandable. An Excel spreadsheet won’t work – a good data presentation is graphical, easily summarized, and tailored for the people who will be reading it. Make it look good.
The good news is some relationships rarely change, such as the relationship between an application and a business function, so the maintenance is less work than one may imagine. Imagine the use of this information for the IT function. Operations can understand the risk of patching a server to business operations disruption, technology leaders can assess prioritization of security remediation efforts based on the highest operational risk areas. With this information you can achieve a pretty clear understanding of your environment and understand costs, vendor risks and other insights to help you effectively manage your business.
To understand more about how you can make your data work for you, reach out for a deeper conversation.