Using On-Line Algorithms for IT Healthchecks
Updated: Oct 9, 2019
Chordia’s own RAITH™ white paper is the subject of my #CautionaryCanadian commentary this week. RAITH (“Rapid Algorithmic IT Healthcheck”) is an online diagnostic service that can quickly provide a view of potential IT management issues that might need to be addressed. It’s a fast and inexpensive way to get a first look before launching a more disruptive and costly in-depth study.
Three use cases for RAITH come to mind. The first involves an existing leadership team that is already doing some form of diagnostics on a daily basis as a byproduct of operational activities. These might be performance analysis and capacity management for example. The second use case involves a new CIO who needs to come up-to-speed quickly on the current environment and is looking for a way to make his or her mark, or gain the trust and support of the staff and/or boss(es). Third, a merger or acquisition, while disruptive, is a classic situation where one (or more) quick assessments can be an invaluable way to get familiar with a new IT environment. Finally, I will comment briefly about the new work Chordia is doing with IBMi expert Dawn May to tailor RAITH specifically to the IBMi customer environment.
Now let me explore each case in more detail supported, as usual, by my real world experiences serving clients over the past decade.
Case #1 - Existing Leadership (Already Doing Diagnostics)
The most common reason RAITH might be overlooked is leadership’s view that RAITH-type analysis is already being done. While this could be true in some cases, it is also likely to be a false perspective. As with the doctor analogy in the white paper, most patients will diagnose and resolve their ailments on their own without a visit to the doctor’s office. Only when symptoms persist do they finally decide to seek expert help. Performing diagnostic work is baked into the daily regimen of every IT shop. (If not, read my blog on outsourcing, because you need to consider this!) I mentioned performance analysis and capacity management as two examples of IT operations activities that could be considered diagnostic in nature. There are others, of course, many of which are best practices identified by ITIL or COBIT service management frameworks.
Given the reality that diagnostic work is a regular part of any IT operations environment today, why is RAITH necessary? It turns out the “RAITH vs. daily routine” comparison is “apples vs. oranges.” The ITIL-driven diagnostic work is at a very low level of detail while RAITH is performed at a higher level, covering all aspects of IT management. This high-level, holistic diagnostic assessment provides a perspective you cannot get with the day-to-day service management processes. As an example, you might decide that performance and capacity management would have you buy more storage and/or more tooling to manage the storage environment. RAITH, on the other hand, might tell you that storage or other technology management is not an issue but that you have staffing, skills, or an application development problem. You still might end up needing more storage, but you would do so recognizing you may be making a difficult trade-off. By including a RAITH assessment and having it influence your decision-making process, you can make more informed decisions.
I was retained by a CIO of a large bank in Europe to do, among other things, an IT healthcheck. Their environment was very large (over $1B for the IT budget). Given their scale, we needed to decide where to focus our effort so we settled on one aspect of the environment: IT projects. My team collected lots of historical information about prior successful and unsuccessful projects. We identified patterns, gaps, things that worked well and things that didn’t. In some cases, we couldn’t find enough information; that was noteworthy too. Our effort spanned multiple weeks, multiple consultants, over 30 interviews, and a ton of data that needed to be collected and analyzed – all for just one aspect of a large IT environment. This was a classic example of the “disruptive and costly exercise” I mentioned in my opening paragraph. There are times, of course, when this is the right course of action. Our IT Projects Healthcheck report to this bank was well-received and led to improvement actions. Even so, was this the right area of this bank’s IT environment to drill into? To have answered this question, a RAITH assessment as a first step would have been helpful.
Case #2 - New Leadership (Coming Up To Speed)
CIOs and other senior leaders in IT tend to turn over today more frequently than at any other time in history. The responsibilities of CIOs in particular have evolved from just overseeing IT investments to leveraging technology to drive some business opportunity or competitive advantage. CIOs have gone from being part of a back-office expense to being front and center in the C-suite. As this transformation has happened, the skills required and the demands placed on CIOs have changed in significant ways and the CIO turnover rate has increased noticeably. Consequently, a new CIO coming in and needing to assess the current IT environment (service quality, investment levels and priorities, staffing and skills, technology choices, security, projects, and more) is a very common scenario. There is a lot for the new CIO to absorb; anything that can help this learning process faster and easier can add up to quicker action and realization of the related benefits including establishing the new CIO as having “arrived and being in charge.” This last point is worth mentioning again. New CIOs need to gain the trust and confidence of their staff and their C-suite peers, even the board of directors. They need to be seen quickly making a difference by taking actions that are new and different and getting positive results.
RAITH provides an opportunity to help the new CIO or other IT leader form these early opinions and action plans but how you use RAITH needs to be carefully orchestrated. You are probably not able to answer all 30 of RAITH’s questions on your own as you are still learning about your newly inherited environment. You will need the help of a few key leaders from your team. As you have no prior experience with RAITH, you will probably want to try it out before revealing you have used it. You won’t want to make a public announcement about this new diagnostic service. You need to start quietly, with the view that RAITH may offer a useful perspective that could help you in your learning process.
You are looking for insights so you can make better decisions. You know that some of these insights will not be learned easily through the day-to-day diagnostic work your team is already doing. You also don’t want to spend $100,000 or more on consultants who may be on-site for weeks, disrupting your staff with lots of questions, and then delivering a 200 page report that you won’t easily be able to implement. Instead, you can seek out those staff members who appear to be more knowledgeable and most interested in making improvements, and solicit their help in conducting a RAITH assessment. If you become intrigued with the RAITH readout, you can choose to act on its recommendations right away, or you can ask the Chordia consultants for some help in interpreting the assessment. You can even ask for more of their time to come in and perform a deeper dive, leveraging the RAITH output to deliver a more comprehensive and cost-effective consulting exercise.
One CIO, new to his company, met with me and a second consultant as a simple get-acquainted gesture. We spoke about some of his early observations and his unexpected need to ask his board of directors for more money as his predecessor had significantly underfunded IT investment for many years (it kept him employed until retirement). The new CIO had a big mess he believed he had to deal with, but asking for significantly more money early in his tenure seemed to be a very risky step to take. We agreed to do a diagnostic service in one week using some of the same principles embodied in the RAITH algorithms. We returned in a week with a point of view. We showed the CIO how age of hardware and software correlated in a statistically relevant way with service disruptions and IT expense. This piece of insight was all the CIO needed to support his request for more money. He took his funding request forward and it was approved. Years later I checked in with him and he was doing very well. His IT shop was enjoying the renewed investment and improved status.
Case #3 – Mergers and Acquisitions
A third area in which RAITH can be applied is in a merger or acquisition situation. RAITH can act as an easy-to-conduct ‘qualitative’ assessment of the IT situation at one or both parties involved in the transaction. As an example, during the due diligence phase, RAITH assessments can be conducted for both the existing and the potential acquired IT organizations without a major impact or time commitment. These two assessments will result in understanding:
Mutual strengths – things that can be built upon in the combined organization, subject to successful integration;
Mutual weaknesses – reinforcing problem areas that will require urgent attention to avoid having an even greater adverse impact on the larger enterprise;
Offsetting areas for improvement – opportunities to ‘cross-pollinate’ IT capabilities and to create a future IT organization that is greater than the sum of its parts;
Likely areas for priority and focus during the post-transaction integration phase.
After the transaction closes, more detailed IT assessments can be conducted based on the initial priorities identified by RAITH to better understand staffing numbers, costs, technologies, capabilities, focus areas etc. in support of integration planning and synergy achievement.
I can recall at least two client engagements in my consulting experience where this kind of objective, consistent – and fast - assessment of IT organizations would have been invaluable, one with an industrial equipment manufacturer in the US and the other with a CPG company in Europe. In both cases, these firms had grown by acquiring similar businesses with complimentary product lines. In both cases they had been unable to integrate the IT organizations. In each case, the two IT teams, separated by just a couple of hundred miles, were doing nearly identical things in their familiar but disconnected ways. This created a predictable, unfavorable impact on IT efficiency and overall effectiveness across the larger enterprises. Attempts to remedy these situations had run into internal politics and predictable 'turf wars,' not because the IT leaders were unreasonable people but because there was no objective way of comparing 'like with like' and make evidence-based decisions about the best way to combine capabilities for the good of all. Who knows...perhaps they're still arguing today about who should do what!
RAITH and IBMi*
Recently, Chordia has been working with Dawn May (of Dawn May, LLC), an internationally-recognized IBMi expert, to develop services specifically for the IBMi customer base. Included in this effort has been a tailoring of RAITH’s symptoms (input questions), analysis, and output to reflect the issues and concerns of those companies as well as not-for-profit and government entities using IBMi. The IBMi community has a historically significant commitment to the platform and yet often finds that strategy and diagnostic services are not as readily available, affordable or IBMi-oriented as in other technologies. Chordia, working closely with Dawn and other IBMi experts around the world, seeks to change this by offering a variety of IBMi-related services including a specially tailored version of RAITH. Accordingly, the IBMi customers should be confident that all of the comments in the rest of this blog apply to their environment as well.
In summary, have a look at RAITH. Regardless of your situation, you might find it a simple and cost effective way to get a leg up on an otherwise challenging situation. It is a doorway to new insights and actions that could lead to better things.
*IBMi refers to the current “i” platform plus all previous incarnations including AS400, iSeries, System/38, etc.