Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Letting Go

Probably the happiest days of my life were those spent as both a student and a lecturer at the UK government's Civil Service College. It saddens me that, now known as the National School of Government, it is scheduled to close in March. There is something deeply ironic and tragic in an institution set up to promote intelligent thinking amongst senior civil servants falling foul of an inherently flawed PFI deal.

Obviously the imminent closure has been playing on mind recently because last night I dreamt I was back there and running an updated version of what I always considered the most enjoyable course I ran -

An Introduction to Computing for Internal Auditors.

Yes I know it doesn't sound sexy, but I loved being able to remove some of the mystery about computing for an audience that was intelligent, inquisitive and scared to death of the subject, and seeing the scales fall from their eyes during the week, with the apprehension replaced by growing confidence.

I suppose it must be over fifteen years since I last ran that particular course, and a few things have changed. So how had I updated the course in my dream? I think my opening statement in the dream was something like:

Everything we used to teach was right then but wrong now

Even by my own standards that is quite a generalisation, but underlying it there is a genuine truth. Back in the time the course was first written IT was mostly delivered by in house IT departments operating to very strict and rigorously enforced standards. We included a session on timesharing and bureau computing but only because it was still on the exam syllabus, not because we expected the students to ever come across it in real life except for the processing of specific large batch jobs. There was a very tight coupling between physical and logical security as well; essentially if your data center was physically secure then so was your data and your code.

Then there was the thorny issue of the business trying to prise control of IT away from the IT department. This was a two pronged attack - one element was making the CIO report to the CFO, and the other was the purchase of their own PCs and software.

Obviously this had to be stopped.

After all you couldn't have the business deciding how to make the best use of It, could you?

If to some of you that feels like a somewhat antediluvian response then bear in mind we had good reasons to be cautious. The early days of end user computing were littered with examples of undocumented unsupportable, unmaintainable and un-auditable systems built by "experts" in the business using unsuitable platforms. Inevitably it was left to the much maligned in-house IT department to sort the mess out.

Shadow IT 1.0 was not a good thing

Shadow IT 2.0 : This Time IT is personal

Look at the IT world the business now inhabits. The in-house technically skilled IT team on tap has gone, to be replaced by a retained organization that might know ITIL and contract law but can't relate to a fourth normal form. At a user level we've locked down their desktops but they've got BYOD and web based services, and at a corporate level they can buy SaaS and PPU solutions.

Maybe this time around they aren't using these tools to build the ultra-complex and business critical liquidity model with arcane macros and calculations, but that doesn't mean what they are using it for is any less critical.

So lets stop it right now, right? Just walk away from the ipad and no one gets hurt.

Or then again, perhaps not. Perhaps this time around the business centric outside-in IT department is mature enough to face up to the challenges and to see the value of adopting an enabling role. Along the way perhaps that means letting go not only of some very old ways of thinking but even some recent thought patterns around CMDB, the service catalogue, SLAs and the Service Desk. Perhaps it is time for us to do some serious re-imagining of ITSM. I don't believe the answers are to be found in the pages of ITIL 2011 Edition, because I don't think the questions have even been asked yet, but here is a clue:

If you want to know what Service Desk 2.0 might look like, just take a walk down to your local Apple store


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