Life in the Cloud – George Watt
What capacity planning taught us about the value of alignment with Business
There has been quite a lot written about the benefits of IT-Business alignment, and even more written about the terrible things that can happen when the teams are not aligned. But, we hear little about happens when business and IT are aligned. As I wrote a response to Chris O’Malley’s article, wherein he urges businesspeople to take an active role in creating that alignment, I was reminded of one of the earliest times that we experienced its benefits as private cloud providers. It was one of our breakthrough initiatives in the context of IT-Business alignment so I thought I would share it.
“You want it when?!”
To state something obvious, one of the things that I was always concerned about as a private cloud provider was ensuring we had adequate capacity to meet the needs of our business. The “need it in a week” requests I referenced in my last post were certainly something we often discussed in that context. We found that expanding our capacity planning to take a three pronged approach helped us not only to be ready for those requests, but also to align better with our business partners overall.
1. The slide rules
Like any IT team we ran capacity planning reports and watched trends. So, the first prong was a fairly obvious one. Though, as many of you may have already experienced, trend reporting and analysis, while extremely valuable, cannot alone provide all of the information necessary to run an operation of this nature.
2. Have the guts
Fortunately, we had a fantastic operations team with great connections with our customers. They had great intuition and, in addition to our analysis, we “listened to their gut”. Their daily interaction with customers made them aware of forthcoming demand that could not be predicted through analytics.
This second prong made us more effective, though it was still not enough. For example, neither analytics nor this kind of interaction would make the team aware of something such as a pending acquisition that might bring to us hundreds of new consumers, with new and immediate demands. So, we needed a third prong.
3. “Just say no” to alignment
This is where IT-Business alignment became critical. But what I’m really getting at here is I believe we should think in stronger terms than “alignment”. What we needed was a real partnership.
In the previous article I mentioned that quite often IT teams are “surprised” when they receive short-term notice about something that requires significant effort, even when others knew about the need far in advance. Acquisitions are a good example of things that could sometimes fall into this category.
In order to ensure we were not “surprised” by things of this nature we became involved in the detailed business planning of our key stakeholder groups. (Our third prong.) Analytics and gut cannot likely tell you that someone plans to acquire a company that will bring 500 engineers with very specific demands and requirements to your service. (Or that they will be spun off and no longer consumers.) Involvement in a stakeholder’s business planning, and especially the budget process, not only made us aware of forthcoming demand, it also made us aware of the timelines and special needs of the incoming teams. The result was a much better experience for all involved, a much better welcome for the new team, and a better business result.
The surprise about surprises is they’re not all that surprising
What we learned through this three-pronged approach to capacity planning was that most of those last minute requests were not all that last minute. And with that level of integration into the business planning the majority of real surprises that increased demand were more or less offset by capacity made free by surprises that decreased demand. This also resulted in it being much easier to predict the required level of headroom, and in a proactive approach to planning and provisioning. This in combination with our visibility across a range of stakeholder organizations dramatically reduced waste and expense for all groups involved.
I do not want to make this appear to be simpler than it is. As Chris O’Malley suggests, integration at this level requires the business stakeholder to trust their IT partners and to let them become part of the process. Whether you are in the “IT group” or the “business group” this partnership is worth the effort, even if initially the IT group joins the team as an observer. (As I have mentioned previously, our Finance team helped us immensely with the creation of these connections.) As Henry Ford once said: “Coming together is a beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success.”
Tubing photo courtesy of stock.xchng. Slide rule photo is the author’s.