Four ways to improve IT and get better app performance

Removing silos and creating an IT structure around the goal of optimized-application delivery and support won’t happen overnight. Here are some stepping stones

1. Take a SWAT team approach

Even if an IT organization mostly is set up in silos, it should be possible to pull together select individuals quickly for troubleshooting when problems arise. "We can't just wait for the lights to change color," says Josh Hinkle, manager of network management and security at the American Heart Association (AHA). "We take more of a SWAT team approach. When we need to troubleshoot, we pull the applications group and anyone else together and get everybody's buy-in right upfront."

2. Change the process

Hinkle says he gradually is changing critical processes at the AHA to make IT staff more service-oriented. In the past, for example, business users would request new applications or services via a service-desk ticket. The IT department then would contact the users and try to clarify their goals and objectives. "It got to be like playing 50 questions," he says. "We'd ask for a lot of information and eventually [users got] confused and overwhelmed. They wondered, 'Why can't these network guys just give me what I want?'" Now users request new services via a Web form that lists the information required upfront in a clear manner. "Now they see us as delivering a service vs. being a roadblock," he says.

3. Start with midtier applications

When an IT department begins to transform the way it develops, delivers and supports services, it's best to start with an application that's not too small and not too big. "Decide that this is the new way we want to deliver and support applications, then try it on a new application," says Michael Morris, a network engineer for a US$3 billion high-tech company. "You don't want to use some small app that nobody cares about, but you don't want to use your corporate finance program either. Find something that people know about and that will be big enough to test out the process," he says.

4. Implement a CMDB

Turning to a change-management database (CMDB) tool, such as Tideway Systems' Foundation, helps the transformation process because it yields an objective view of the environment, says Tony Bishop, formerly chief architect at Wachovia, and now CEO of IT consultancy Adaptivity. This alleviates finger-pointing. Rather than each silo's staff looking at its own tools, a CMDB looks at everything and generates an objective level of truth. "Not only does it give me my physical inventory, but it actually generates the mapping of my users, applications and all the infrastructure components down to the subnet level of the network. Everyone gets subjective, saying 'that's not the way we do it' or 'that's not the way it is' or whatever. A CMDB stops all that," he says.

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