(Originally published in Technology Spectator)
The world is ever changing. Those who adapt and change along with it, survive. Those who don’t, will perish. This statement is true and has never been so poignant. Change is both driven by – and managed by – technology. In this changing world, businesses must be agile and that agility frequently relies on IT’s ability to develop and adapt technology to support new and improved business processes.
Changes often bring uncertainty
There is a conflict raging in the heart of IT that must be carefully managed to make the IT department both responsive and responsible. Development teams, charged with implementing new technologies to underpin new business processes, are an unstoppable force with an agenda to get the job done fast. Not to mention they have the weight of the C-suite behind them. Meanwhile, the IT operations people strain to maintain a stable infrastructure – knowing that changes often mean incidents – lots of them.
They are the immovable objects looking to retain stability, keep systems running and avoid a flood of incidents. It’s always easy for an over-stretched, underfunded operations team to find a reason to say ‘no’. But continually citing security concerns and disruption to business critical systems means IT becomes the ‘no’ Department.
Businesses rarely take ‘no’ for an answer. When an organisation if refused something, it will give up on the in-house IT team and move to the cloud. In the long run, both development and operations need to learn to work together; as two parts of the same machine. This is the ultimate objective of a mature change management function.
The Switzerland of IT
Change management occupies the no-man’s-land in the middle of the DevOps battlefield. It is the Switzerland of IT. Its primary objective is to give development teams the agility they need to support business growth, and give operations a means to retain stable infrastructure and services. To make it work, both sides need to give up some ground. Development needs to realise that following a defined procedure avoids expensive rework and increases the probability of success.
IT operations need to realise that a robust change management process negates the risks of change, and that change doesn’t always mean a flood of calls to the service desk. Change management, besides having a process that satisfies both groups, must also ensure a good understanding between them.
The Responsive Yes! department
Before saying ‘no’ to a development project, the IT operations team needs to ask “what is the ultimate cost of missing this opportunity – in business terms?” The development team needs to ask “what is the risk to our existing infrastructure, services and business processes if we go ahead with this change?” This is where change management comes into play – to mediate between the two opposing forces. Change management process needs to make sure the right questions are asked along the way – Is the change necessary? Is it worth the cost and resources? What are the risks? How can we negate these risks? If the right procedures are followed, and the right questions are asked (and answered), there is almost ‘always’ a mutually agreeable solution that can be found.
A solid change management function turns the ‘no’ department into a responsive ‘yes’ department, and turns a “bull in a china shop” development team into responsible agents for a business change.
Mature change management means more agile IT and a more agile business, while poor change management causes service disruption, impacts business revenue, involves IT spend and damages reputation. Putting controls in place to get it right is a strategic no-brainer, but there are challenges and resistance to overcome along the way.
ITIL guidelines focus on processes and technical aspects of change management. Many of the people issues are neglected, so you won’t get the full story from ITIL. The success of IT change management relies largely on organisational change, in the broader sense – changing people’s attitudes.
So change management needs to be staffed by good communicators with the skills to negotiate an agreement between the unstoppable force of change and the immovable object that is IT operations. Of course, executive support is critical to give the Change Manager the authority to enforce the processes. Failing that, the whole operation will collapse.