By Dan Warfield
Principal, CC&C Europe
A recent search of LinkedIn job advertisements mentioning The Open Group’s IT4IT™ Reference Architecture was surprising and instructive. The most interesting green shoots seem to be in the DevOps space. This is something new, but not surprising.
IT4IT was always about dealing with the silos that litter enterprise IT operations. People are starting to get it. To understand why, a little history could be useful.
In the beginning …
IT4IT is a reference architecture for the enterprise IT domain. You could ask why we didn’t already have one by then. In fact it wasn’t until the 21st Century that the need became compelling: When IT4IT was new, IT management tool vendors had grown substantially by acquisition but had no idea about a holistic architecture view of IT tooling and process. The acquisition decisions were made by financial guys, not architects. Nothing new there.
(btw #MeToo friends, “guys” is pretty much the right word, just in case you were going to ask.)
Successful tool start-ups were more than happy to be consumed by the big boys, who in turn were very pleased to fill gaps in their offerings, or to neutralize small competitors by eating them, or just to keep competitors on the back foot by outbidding them for the innovators.
Unintended consequence: The more stuff they bought, the harder it was for tool vendors to present themselves as having an integrated tool set. Those financial guys weren’t interested in whether all the toys in the box could play well together so funding for actually integrating the tools wasn’t in the M&A spreadsheet.
Customers dealing with the expanding friction in acquired tool sets had to reach into their pockets to solve the problem, which was growing more important as more things were automated and more unconnected things needed to connect. So IT4IT came into the frame, meant to help both vendors and customers address this by creating a standard solution to the tool integration problem.
The primal use cases for IT4IT thus were:
- IT tool vendors wishing to standardize interfaces and data architectures within their own toolsets
- IT tool vendors wishing to standardize interfaces exposed for integration in cases where ease of third-party integration supported the vendor’s customer strategy.
- IT tool users wishing to stop wasting money on tool integration that was pure cost, often unexpected.
A software architecture standard for IT tooling was born, with the goal of providing normative guidance for functionality and interoperability of software tools that could be used by anyone
Coming of age
IT4IT was first developed in a consortium, with most of the heavy lifting done by HP Software, who then donated it to The Open Group (a standards body that owns things like Unix).
There it was released into the wild and grew wings.
End users of IT products (like me) were looking for an IT Operations Management architecture and for best practice IT operating models.
People looked at the work done in IT4IT to document standard functions, data and flows of work and information. We recognized IT4IT would be really useful for unintended purposes, well beyond the original intent. There is a lot more here than tool integration (tool integration per se remains a challenge, helped but far from solved).
Research into IT4IT usage has shown that IT4IT appeals not just to tool chain architects but also to enterprise and business architects concerned with the higher-level problem of modelling the flow of work in enterprise IT.
As a technical view of IT processes described more abstractly in standards such as ITIL, COBIT and APQC, IT4IT can be immensely useful to enterprise architects, IT strategy practitioners and consultants …
- as the basis of a capability map for enterprise IT, to be used by domain architects to manage application portfolios that support the IT domain, in particular to manage demand signals by cross-referencing with capabilities and to reap long-term benefits from Application Portfolio Management initiatives.
- as the basis of an operating model for enterprise IT, to be used as a template for describing organization, activities, flows and governance in the IT department, helping executives and managers control the IT function more effectively and giving architects and planners a best practice framework for managing proposed changes to that function.
- as a supporting metaphor when discussing IT operational tools and practices in a particular organization in order to help participants – often led by internal or external strategy advisors – discover opportunities to improve.
These are successful use cases because most managers in enterprise IT have had a surprisingly siloed existence in narrow functional areas.
This is a Bad Thing.
The once comfy narrowness of silo life morphs into an existential weakness when organizations transition to modern ways of working. Silos are not safe places in a digital transformation storm.
IT4IT is an escape map for people bogged down by silos.
This is a Good Thing.
Holding hands in the age of DevOps
More and more (as evidenced by the uplift in job postings on LinkedIn and elsewhere) enlightened IT leaders see IT4IT as a powerful template for understanding and defining standard processes and data flows in specific contexts such as DevOps, Cloud, Service Broker and SIAM.
As existing models for operations, process and methodology are stood on their heads by digital transformation, IT4IT is increasingly seen as a best of breed tool for designing new, practical ways of working. My colleagues in the IT4IT Forum have been busy writing about this in some detail.
Look at The Open Group Library for more on this.
DevOps is particularly relevant, as evidenced by tool vendors such as Micro Focus, BMC, Dreamtsoft, IBM and ServiceNow, exploiting IT4IT to help define and deploy new end-to-end tool chain architectures.
ServiceNow is fully engaged with IT4IT as a way of modeling and describing the flow of work across IT enterprises, and in particular as a way of describing the flow of data in enterprise IT.
Micro Focus, the acquirer of the HP Software team that originated IT4IT, continues to move ahead with the reference architecture as the guide to binding tools together in modern DevOps environments and in a good example of “eat what you cook” is applying the same approach to its own internal tool chain across multiple global development teams.
Are you ready to rock & roll with IT4IT?
Our own CC&C advisory service uses an IT4IT-based assessment model to help companies understand maturity and transformation readiness based on IT4IT as a best practice standard, drawing on our deep understanding of IT4IT and experience in applying related governance and process standards in some of the largest global enterprises.
IT4IT is the best effort to date at describing the end-to-end information requirements and data flows needed for controlling and measuring flow of work in the IT domain, and for ensuring that for each digital product the key data needed over its life is captured, recorded and linked across the value chain.
Next frontier for IT4IT is to fully describe that data model, helping organizations understand how to design and manage digital products as carefully as they do other kinds of products. This seems to be really important for a world in which almost every product is becoming a digital product.
In what we might call the IT4IT thought-leader community there is a vigorous discussion of how to solve this problem. If your company is a member of The Open Group, you might want to join us in the IT4IT Forum. Let me know. I have been working with IT4IT for more than four years now – first as an end-user, now as an evangelist, consultant, trainer — and as a participant in The Open Group’s IT4IT Forum, which owns and develops the standard.
I would love to hear about your experience or about how we can help with your IT transformation journey.