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Process frameworks and storage

Ezine

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The implementation
In addition to the challenges of cost-justification, process frameworks are hard to implement. One drawback to framework-oriented solutions is that they're based on a complete set of formal and interdependent processes. However, most organizations start from ground zero, typically having a patchwork of storage-related procedures, some of which are formal. It's important to understand that frameworks don't provide a "path" on how to move from an undocumented and processless environment to a smooth-running and disciplined shop.

But there are viable paths to a successful ITIL implementation. For many companies, a good place to begin is with an assessment that compares actual practices with best practices. The assessment can be done by a third party or even with the use of online tutorials. Executive buy-in is also critical; such support is needed to protect critical resources and provide momentum for lasting behavioral change.

Organizations that can provide help for those contemplating framework implementations include:

  • American ITIL (

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Some advocates of process frameworks imply that if all the techniques/structures aren't adopted by the book, the effort won't be successful. But many organizations aren't comfortable with the rigor and formalism of ITIL, so they try to "bootstrap" their way into process improvement without fully adopting a formal framework. This approach can work provided the project plan is sound, success is well-defined and executive support is unswerving. No matter the approach used, implementations usually last for years. With an effort of such magnitude, organizational resistance, budget pressures and changing priorities can all conspire to hinder progress.

Here are 10 ways to improve your chances of successfully implementing process frameworks:

  1. Run the implementation as an organization change initiative, not an IT project. IT projects tend to be technology focused with limited goals, while this effort is more broad-based.
  2. Avoid the temptation to create the perfect process document on the first go-round. Because you'll be continuously measuring progress, start with the basics. Be practical and don't try to leap to a mature process.
  3. Count smaller wins along the way. Leverage micro-successes to help build and sustain momentum.
  4. Develop a complete service management book, not just one or two processes. Releasing processes incrementally is fine, as long as everyone knows that the end state is a set of interconnected processes.
  5. Focus on the complete portfolio of IT departments, not just on one IT group. It's OK to have the storage, server or database group serve as lead implementers, absorbing the lessons learned and acting as an internal corporate guinea pig. It's not advisable, however, to allow this group to remain isolated.
  6. Measure the rollout. The success of process improvement initiatives, like most projects, can and should be tracked. In its first year of implementation, CheckFree's program had 10 metrics. "I believe [last year] we were measuring 58 metrics," says the firm's Michelone, "all stated in terms of the customer's point of view."
  7. Avoid making the process document itself the goal. Writing a long and detailed document capturing every nuance of a process shouldn't be the objective; instead, define measurable attributes and design a process to exceed those metrics.
  8. Welcome external assistance. Consulting help is almost mandatory. It's difficult for IT organizations to retain staff skilled in organizational transformation, so it pays to hire a third party; consultants can serve as change agents.
  9. Dedicate the "right" internal resources. Staffers directly involved in the project need to have sufficient skill, passion and expertise to thrive in an organizational change role.
  10. Link the success of the effort with people's pay. Michelone says CheckFree "tied incentives and bonuses to internally set Sigma goals, which overcame any initial challenge there might have been in terms of getting everyone on the same page."

The future
Like any major cross-functional initiative, a process framework implementation can get sidetracked and fall short of expectations. Storage managers can get caught too far out in front or lag too far behind such IT-wide efforts. A realistic approach is needed, one that focuses on the art of what's possible in the data center in establishing greater process discipline, particularly within storage operations.

One way to ensure that necessary improvements to operational governance are made visible to management is to incorporate them into an overall storage strategy. Such a strategy should define the what, when and why of process improvement.

Developing a storage strategy has become a necessity for some. A draft of Raymond James' first formal storage strategy document was published recently and was scheduled to be released during the summer. "In this document, we address governance by describing the state of our process documents, formal policies and procedures," says the firm's Huston. "We expect to develop and/or improve these in the coming year, and to continue to explain why these changes are necessary."

This was first published in October 2005

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