Growing Old Together - A Perspective on Operational Frameworks

Matthew J. Frederickson, CISSP, Director of Information Technology, Council Rock School District

Matthew J. Frederickson, CISSP, Director of Information Technology, Council Rock School District

I'm sure that you have heard this old adage before – “The one constant in technology is change”. Given the fact that IT as a profession is really not that old, the challenges that we face on a daily basis are the one constant in what we do. While standards for best practices for the other guys have been around for centuries, for those of us in IT they are still evolving, but there are some very practical, and solid frameworks that we can use to help us be better practitioners.

"Customer Telemetry consists of recording nearly every customer movement and interaction from within the page"

The first thing we as leaders have to realize is that implementing best practices is really a journey, not a destination. It is a process that will continue to evolve as the technology around us continues to evolve. There are great things that we can do as leaders to create stability and consistency in what we do, but a big part of that has to also be flexible.

So why bother implementing these frameworks? There are several reasons, but some of them that stick out the most are:

• Stakeholders demanding better returns for their investment in IT
• Regulatory requirements like Sarbanes-Oxley, HIPPA, FERPA, etc.
• Increasing complexity of IT requirements, like security and integration with other organizations or online programs
• Optimizing costs by standardizing wherever possible – “doing more with less”
• Benchmarking performance against peers and/or competition – “how are we doing?”
• Transparency of operations

At the end of the day, you need to realize that there is no single framework or best practice that will solve every problem. The concept of best practices is to provide a general sense of what should be done; when it should be done; and what results you should expect.Best practices provide you with the tools to deal with situations in a consistent and logical manner. Realistically, best practices are about achieving the results YOU need for YOUR environment.

What frameworks are out there? While there are many options, I’ll focus on five major frameworks that can provide value immediately to your organization. Some of these frameworks come from privately held companies, and some come from not-for-profit organizations or educational sources. All of these frameworks have one common theme – helping you do what you do better.

The first framework I will address is the Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL). This framework was developed during the 1980 by the British government in response to the consolidation of several departments. Initially at over forty-volumes, the best practices have evolved into five key frameworks: service strategy; service design; service transition; service operation, and continual service improvement. A key concept of ITL is that IT is a service, being provided to customers – whether those customers are inside the organization, or external.

The goals of ITIL are to provides a systematic and professional approach to the management of IT service provision; to reduce costs; to improve IT services through the use of proven best practice processes; to improve customer satisfaction through a more professional approach to service delivery; to provides standards and guidance; to improve productivity; to improve the use of the skills and experience of the IT staff; and to improve delivery of third party services.

Another framework which has helped me when it comes to budgeting, or making purchases, is COBIT. Specifically, I’ve used a subset of that framework called ValIT. This framework focuses on best practices that insure that IT expenditures are in alignment with the goals of the organization. The ValIT framework asks four key questions for every dollar spent:

• Are we doing the right thing?
• Are we doing them the right way?
• Are we getting them done well?
• Are we getting the benefits?

This is based on five key principals: strategic alignment focuses on aligning IT operations with enterprise operations; value delivery is about ensuring that IT delivers the promised benefits against the strategy; risk management requires a clear understanding of risk and the embedding of risk management responsibilities into the enterprise; resource management is about the optimal investment in, and the proper management of, critical IT resources; and performance measurement tracks and monitors strategy implementation, project completion, resource usage, process performance and service delivery.

An additional framework you might consider researching is the Microsoft Operations Framework (MOF). This framework centers on those practices which will optimize your use and implementation of Microsoft technologies. However, the framework is broader than that, and really has applicability regardless of the operating system you use, or the technology you implement. MOF is based on “job aides”, documents that can help you answer seven basic questions, presented as scenarios: “We Need a Better Way to Reduce Costs in Service Management”, “We Need a Better Way to Review and Fix Services and Processes”, “We Need a Better Way to Operate and Monitor Services”, “We Need a Better Way to Support Our Customers”, “We Need a Better Way to Move Changes into Production”, “We Need a Better Way to Manage Our Service Management Projects”, and “We Need a Better Way to Increase Service Management Staff Skills and Capabilities”

Two more frameworks to consider are ISO 2000 and CMMI. ISO 2000 consists of two volumes, one on the specification, and on the code of practice. The specification focuses on the reasons why you should have standardized processes as well as the roles involved with standardized processes. Part two actually goes into the specific details for implementing the processes that are defined in part one.

The CMMI framework was developed at Carnegie Mellon. The most common aspect of this framework is the concept of a maturity model for IT organizations. Level one of the model is an organization that is reactive, has little to no planning or consistent processes. Level five, the highest level, reflects an organization that has standard processes, is very proactive, and has the time, energy and resources to focus on constantly improving the customer experience and the services and products they deliver.

So the obvious question next is where should you start? That can be best answered by asking yourself this – “what problem are you trying to solve?” Once you’ve answered that question (and it may have multiple answers), then familiarize yourself with the frameworks. Next, put together a small group of individuals involved in the issue – your staff, and your customers. Walk through what implementing one of these best practices would look like – in terms of process; people and cost. Then map it out, develop a plan and a timeline. Then implement your plan. Bring back the same group – did it work? Can it be improved upon? Is it making the difference you needed? If so, celebrate your success, or learn from your mistakes. The thing to remember here is that implementing best practices is a journey, not a destination - and what a journey it can be.

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