A lot of organisations have Lean initiatives or a dedicated Lean team. Their aim is to create more value with fewer resources by simplifying processes, introducing new methodologies (e.g Scrum or Kanban) and asking ‘what is the business benefit?’ of every task they do.
From my experience the ‘Lean’ team’s remit is always limited to a team, project or department. The Lean process can bring out insightful observations but many are thrown in the ‘outside of our power’ bin. The organisation’s IT infrastructure lands in that bin 9 times out of 10. This is because the most physical part of IT is its infrastructure and physical things are harder to move than anything virtual. Add processes around physical things and change gets harder again. So with high resistance to change, the easy targets are tackled first.
I’m not saying all IT infrastructure is overly process driven, unnecessarily heavy-weight and inefficient, but a lot is. There have been technology steps forward which reduce operating costs, for example; virtualisation, containers and moving infrastructure into the Cloud. But this only addresses part of the waste in the overall IT infrastructure system. Larger organisations usually suffer additional challenges of legacy infrastructure and multiple external suppliers (perhaps the result of a previous cost saving initiative?).
Perhaps the following resonates:
Software Engineer: ‘I’m working on a new part of the e-commerce site for the Easter sale period, but it’ll need some additional disk space to the server farm’
Infrastructure: ‘Ah, well you’ve maxed out your space, you’ll have to fill in form 11b, get it approved by management, pass the change board meeting which meets every 2 weeks, and then as it’s a non-standard request it week take 2 months to implement’
Software Engineer: ‘That will mean we’ll miss the Easter sale period’
Infrastructure: ‘You should’ve got it ready earlier’
Software Engineer: ‘I was only told this week, if I pop to down to Currys and get a couple of hard disks would that help?’
Infrastructure: ‘Unapproved hardware requires form 11c, and takes 3 months to approve…’
So with the rant over, what’s a solution?
If an organisation is to truly adopt ‘Lean’, no part of the business is safe. Any areas where there is resistance is precisely where the ‘Lean’ process needs to be applied stronger. Yes it means difficult conversations, debates, even arguments, but this is where true business benefit can be found. This of course needs the clout from seniors, so absolute support from the board of Directors is essential.
There should be a 2 pronged approach to ‘leaning’ IT infrastructure:
- The actual infrastructure – Does it fit the current business need. Is there waste? For example does everyone need a desktop PC and a phone? Should we have our own data centres or move our systems to the cloud?
- The processes that surround the infrastructure – Are they necessary? Are they understood? What are the lead times of each request? Whether it be a password reset or provision of a server, understand the current process, identify the waste and then cut it out.
Lean should be a philosophy and not a bi-annual audit, the more it’s done the easier it gets and the more efficient the organisation becomes.
At Naimuri, we try to follow this approach, with our primary goal to keep our physical infrastructure to a minimum.
- We like the use of cloud based platforms (ChromeOS for example), which only requires simpler, cheaper hardware.
- When heavy local processing is needed we prefer laptops over desktops, giving easier mobility. The user of the laptop can choose what platform they feel most productive on (Windows, Mac OS, Linux).
- Desk phones are kept to a minimum, everyone has a mobile already.
- We prefer using the cloud over local servers which means less physical devices to maintain.
The less infrastructure we have means the less process needed to manage it all. All new types of request mean a quick discussion with the Facilities Manager and a Technical Director; what’s the simplest way to achieve the goal? Considering initial cost (CapEx), running costs (OpEx) and decommissioning costs (delayed CapEx).
It boils down to if you forget your mouse for the day, just take one from the supplies cupboard – no form filling required.