IT maturity is not about bragging rights. Stephen Brunsdon of Axios Systems explains why understanding your IT maturity is essential to delivering business requirements and digital transformation.
In the information age, business performance relies on IT excellence, which in turn relies on IT maturity. IT maturity comprises a set of capabilities—the IT organisation’s ability to deliver outcomes. These outcomes are themselves founded on processes, practices, organisational structures, skills, knowledge, systems, data, tools, policies, documents, and agreements. When we view IT through the maturity lens, we see it as a portfolio of capabilities that can be managed and improved to establish IT excellence—and enable a more productive and innovative business.
So, just what is “IT maturity”?
IT maturity is defined by the collective set of IT capabilities; it’s about what the IT department can do for the business. All businesses are different, so what “good” looks like will vary. Each IT department needs a specific set of capabilities which enable good business performance. Thus, a mature IT organisation is relevant to the needs of the business, operates efficiently and can flex to meet rapidly changing business requirements. Low maturity IT organizations tend to deliver the wrong thing, slowly, and at an unacceptable cost—and fail to adapt quickly when the needs of the business change.
Is high IT maturity possible?
Research from analysts shows IT maturity levels have stagnated around halfway up the maturity ladder. Organisations are stuck below a “glass ceiling”; the next step seems out of reach. Most often, it’s not the latest toolset innovations that they need (cutting-edge features tend to benefit high maturity IT organisations). Most organisations need to be realistic and focus on the basics; what do we need most. Using an IT maturity model to plot out a path to excellence is all about learning to walk before you learn to run.
Many IT people have come to accept constant firefighting as normal—and that “average” is as good as it gets. We disagree, because every day we see organisations pushing through this glass ceiling to build more efficient, effective, and agile IT operations. Having said that, only around 10% of all IT organisations self-rank at maturity level 3.0 or above (the point at which Gartner Inc. considers an IT organisation to be “mature”).
Models and roadmaps
Having an IT maturity roadmap is a critical success factor to breaking through the “glass ceiling” and achieving higher maturity. A roadmap will help you structure your journey. Culturally, IT maturity needs to become part of the mindset of IT (and the business)—and IT people must shed the idea that average is as good as it can get.
Maturity models often obsess over process maturity, but this is only one aspect. When organisations focus too heavily on process maturity they may exhibit highly developed processes and yet still fail to satisfy business expectations—because other aspects of the maturity mix are weak. Gartner’s ITScore for Infrastructure and Operations (ITSIO) model evaluates maturity across four attributes: people, processes, technology, and management practices. The importance of considering all four angles cannot be overstated.
Automation is essential in supporting an IT maturity roadmap
IT maturity and IT management technology go hand in hand. To grow and sustain new capabilities in such a complex ecosystem requires automation. Technical problems require technical solutions. Manual collection and processing of infrastructure and operations data simply isn’t possible in anything but the very smallest of organisations:
- Discovering thousands of infrastructure components
- Monitoring real-time system status alerts at a rate of many thousands per hour
- Managing dozens or even hundreds of process flows, many of which cut across teams
- Automating complex service delivery processes that involve integration with multiple system administration tools
- Managing a web and mobile portal for end-users
- Aggregating, analyzing and visualizing metrics and trends, based on millions of data points
- …and many more complex, data-driven and automation-driven use cases that simple cannot be executed manually
Use your IT maturity roadmap as a frame for technology purchase decisions
Automation of IT operations activity at one maturity level is a critical success factor for achieving the next level, so technology is a necessary part of the jigsaw. Organisations must find sufficient efficiencies in their current operating model to create slack, develop new IT capabilities, and take another step up the maturity ladder. Thus, automation is an inherent part of any IT maturity journey.
There are no shortcuts to high IT maturity, but picking the right technology can accelerate your journey. Conversely, the wrong technology can hinder you. As IT organisations grow and mature, the IT management technology on which they rely becomes more complex. With a larger toolset footprint comes a larger application management overhead. IT organisations can become bogged down in administering, integrating, and upgrading a portfolio of management tools instead of focusing attention on pursuing their IT maturity roadmap. This is one reason the Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) sourcing model is becoming so popular; less time managing tools, more time managing capabilities and services.
Poor technology buying decisions can stunt IT maturity
Major changes to toolsets during an IT maturity improvement plan are to be avoided. A rip-and-replace technology migration will not only destabilise current capabilities, but also inhibit forward motion on your path to the next plateau; the IT people you need to support projects will be tied up with implementation work.
IT organizations need fit for purpose IT management tools. But how can you define what “fit for purpose” means? The definition depends on your maturity level, so the process must begin with an assessment of current maturity and where the organisation wants to go:
- Assess current IT maturity (relative to business need), paying attention to processes, people factors, supporting technology and management disciplines.
- Devise a clear, prioritized roadmap for developing IT maturity to match up with business demands, taking into consideration any current plans for business growth or transformation.
- Use your roadmap to decide what a “fit for purpose” toolset looks like. Focus IT management technology requirements on what will enable your IT maturity roadmap.
You might think: “We’re under pressure to make major improvements. We don’t have time to assess maturity and then start looking at tools!” The truth is that you don’t have time to do anything else. The overhead of a failed toolset implementation will put you even further away from where you need to be.