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Archive for March, 2009

Web Operations: the canary in the IT Management coal mine

Web Operations: the canary in the IT Management coal mine

Damon Edwards / 

Rob England (The IT Skeptic), recently wrote some very nice things about this blog.

After I got over the fact that one of my favorite bloggers is writing about this blog, I realized that his post does raise a good question: If good IT Management is good IT Management not matter what business you are in, why does this blog focus so much on the Web Operations perspective?

Part of the reason is that Web Operations is the world that Alex and I live in on a daily basis (via ControlTier… helping e-commerce and SaaS companies improve the efficiency and reliability of their operations).

The other part of the reason is that we see Web Operations as the canary in the coal mine for IT Operations. When a company’s entire business is operating software as revenue producing service, the shortcomings and the successes of your IT Operations goes right to your bottom line. The tolerance for the status quo dissipates a lot quicker and there is stronger political will to think outside of the box.

Put it this way, pretend you’re the CEO of a Fortune 100 size company that makes aircraft engines or automobiles. Where is improving the efficiency and reliability of your IT Operations going to fall on the list of things you worry about every day? 32 on a top 50 list might be generous.

Now pretend you are the CEO of an online company whose sole source of revenue comes from what you can generate through your website. Suddenly the efficiency and reliability of your IT Operations jumps to near the top of the list.

Update: While people point out to me that I’m stretching the “canary in a coal mine” metaphor a bit far… I’m loading The Police’s Zenyatta Mondatta album into my iTunes.

Web Operations: Are you developing an asset or a liability?

Web Operations: Are you developing an asset or a liability?

Damon Edwards / 

“Buy vs. Build”. It’s a term you hear repeatedly with it comes to businesses weighing their options for application and systems management solutions. But as anyone who spends time in the web operations trenches knows, the reality is always something closer to “build vs. build”. Buy something from a software vendor, use open source tools, develop something from scratch – in each situation there just isn’t a one size fits all option and there is always going to be custom integration involved. This reality was previously covered in Alex’s “Stone Axes” post.

So being resigned to the fact that there is a “build” aspect to any solution, the next critical choice then becomes what guidelines you impose on your organization to steer their design choices. The most pervasive design criteria seems to be technical completeness or elegance. From a technical architect’s purist point of view this makes sense; but what this often fails to take into account is the business impact of those technical decisions.

While many technical design options might seem to have identical business impact on day 1 (they cost roughly x to develop and provide feature y), what are the true cost of those decisions down the road? Have those decisions put the company in a position to continuously leverage those design choices into increasingly greater returns? Or have those decisions placed an anchor around the company’s neck that they will be weighted down by, and paying for, well into the future? To put it into loose economic terms: have you developed an asset or a liability for your company?

What would be an example of building asset? Using off the shelf open source tools and only developing thin layers of integration where they need to plug into your existing systems.

What would be an example of building a liability? Writing a custom system that mirrors the available functionality of existing off the shelf tools, thereby saddling your company with the sole responsibility for the forward progress of the design and maintenance of that tooling.

The asset vs. liability concept is one that obviously needs to be flushed out quite a bit more. In any case, it’s shocking how infrequently companies actually analyze the long-term business impact of the technical design decisions made about their tooling.

(Note: Thanks to Lee Thompson for framing this as an asset vs liability debate)