Chafik Taiebennefs

Cloud Infrastructure Services Practice Leader

IT Shared Services: Elusive But Not Impossible


Implementations of IT shared services often reveal a tale of two conflicting camps. On one hand, an IT leadership team mainly interested in realizing the financial benefits of shared services irrespective of end-user concerns, and on the other hand a business user community deeply attached to its autonomy and diligently resistant to change regardless of the financial upshot.  That is the dilemma that IT organizations have to solve in order to succeed in their shared services initiatives.

The US federal government is learning that very same lesson as its data center consolidation program, which claims $2.5 billion in savings over a three years time span, struggles to get off the tarmac. It does not surprise me that the feds are having such a hard time herding hundreds of agencies to reduce 2,100 data centers (that number seems to be changing by the day) down by 38 percent and to consolidate a whopping 1,979 redundant silo applications. Over the years, the federal government has grown to become an “everglades” of custom-made application stacks — why do you think Washington DC is the 2nd best city for tech jobs, which further reinforced the agencies unique operational realities. The flagship challenge facing shared services implementations is how to reconcile the needs of entrenched silos with the one-size-fit-all approach. Addressing that challenge requires IT leaders to be more effective in managing change and at incentivizing users to embrace it.

Relying on financial benefits as a main incentive is a simple-minded approach to driving shared services adoption. Moreover, it can alienate business users and torpedo the shared services initiative. Shared services implementations that promise cost-effective but rigid blocks of services with long delivery timelines and little room for customization will fail to win the buy-in of business managers who are worried about losing control (aka: flexibility, speed, and agility) over their applications and being forced to accept less sophisticated alternatives. As a result, disgruntled business managers engage in covert efforts to deploy point applications outside of IT’s radar – welcome to the world of shadow IT! Today, such clandestine attempts have become increasingly pervasive, and harder to detect thanks to cheap and instantly available cloud services. The growing “consumerization” of IT and prolific adoption of cloud computing are driving an unsanctioned cloud applications sprawl within today’s enterprises hence challenging IT’s ability to pull a difficult balancing act: effectively govern enterprise technology use while remaining relevant. However, the cloud is not only about challenges but it is also about opportunities and enabling capabilities which, if properly leveraged, can help IT organizations bridge the gap between IT and business users.

Cloud centric shared services can offer businesses better economies-of-scale cost efficiencies and can effectively address users’ quality-of-service concerns through improved agility and scalability, a flexible consumption-based chargeback model, and a marketplace abundant with customizable offerings. Thus, cloud capabilities should be viewed as an indispensable ingredient of any IT shared services initiative. Nevertheless, leveraging cloud capabilities successfully can be a difficult task especially for understaffed and/or under skilled IT organizations.

The cloud computing paradigm shift raises unique and challenging questions which need to be addressed through a strategic plan. Today, the data center as a physical brick-and-mortar asset is morphing into a virtual fabric of loosely coupled services; that presents a new set of problems to be resolved: How to effectively aggregate, integrate, and deliver a hybrid set of cloud-based and on-premise IT services? How to select, prioritize, and migrate enterprise workloads to the cloud? How to manage and normalize SLAs, contracts, and billing structures across multiple cloud services providers? How to effectively govern and evolve a cloud centric shared services platform?

Resolving those critical questions would certainly be a daunting task for many IT organizations. Nonetheless, IT has no other option but to embrace shared services because its future does not hold many other viable alternatives. To successfully navigate this transformative journey, IT leaders need a strategic plan, mature best practices, and an integrated approach that accommodates the business appetite for risk and pace of change.

In the coming weeks, we will discuss how to plan and implement cloud infrastructure shared services. What have been your experiences and what would you advise others on the lessons learned?

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