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IT Infrastructure Support and Development Organization Structures for Supporting RAS

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This article introduces the structures that best support enterprise computing. Not mainframe computing, not client/server computing, not network computing, but enterprise computing--and technology has nothing to do with it.
Placing special emphasis on a comprehensive approach combining organization, people, process, and technology, Harris Kern’s Enterprise Computing Institute is recognized as one of the world’s premier sources for CIOs and IT professionals concerned with managing information technology.
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You'll probably go into shock after reading the first few paragraphs of this article.

After completing more than 150 infrastructure assessments, encompassing hundreds of pages of data, I was working on how to resolve the infrastructure issues I've highlighted in previous articles. Lo and behold, the new working structure I came up with looked very familiar. Much of it looked just like the mainframe data center environment that evolved back in the 1970s!

As you might expect, I doubted this overall solution. After all, how would it look to be associated with Harris Kern's Enterprise Computing Institute and sounding like mainframe people?

But the more you think about it, the more it makes sense. No other environment has historically provided better reliability, availability, and serviceability (RAS) for supporting mission-critical applications than the mainframe environment. So why have we ignored the lessons learned from mainframe disciplines? We automatically assume that what applied to mainframe won't work for client/server computing because the technology and architecture are so different. But the technology has nothing to do with it. The key is that the applications are mission-critical.

Organization Structures for the 21st Century

Building a "world-class" infrastructure always starts with the organization structure. The figures in this section show recommended organization structures designed for small, medium, and large infrastructure development and support organizations. No one structure is correct for all organizations, but certain key functions do apply in all cases.

These organization structures are designed to address the people and process issues first, with technology issues being secondary. I'm not saying that technology isn't important, but let's be blunt here: Based on the assessments I've performed, infrastructures are in horrible shape precisely because of the lack of attention to non-technology issues. For infrastructure organizations to become successful and cost-effective service providers, the focus needs to be in this order:

  1. Organization

  2. People

  3. Process

  4. Technology

As I designed these organization structures, I included first-, second-, and third-level support roles for each area. Unfortunately, this crucial structure was abandoned as IT organizations transitioned to client/server shops. It's one of the biggest reasons that RAS doesn't exist in 95% of the IT shops I've visited.

Organization structure #1, shown in Figure 1, is designed for IT infrastructure development and support organizations with fewer than 50 employees. Here's the reasoning behind the structure:

  • Production control is at the enterprise level for process design, ownership, and accountability. In every small (dot.com or emerging e-commerce) company I visited, the priority is always technology, technology, technology. Organization structure #1 includes a production control function to focus on processes and production QA. Even in a small shop, it's never too early to focus on process. If technology is implemented without workable processes, high availability for that technology is unrealistic.

  • Mission-critical (data center) functions are separated from non-mission-critical functions (desktop, help desk).

  • Level 1, 2, and 3 technical staff for the mission-critical production environment are grouped under the same organization to breed future technical resources effectively. All IT organizations have a shortage of technical resources, but this shortage is severe in smaller IT shops.

Figure 1 Organization structure #1 (for small IT organizations).

Organization structure # 2, shown in Figure 2, is designed for IT departments with 50 to 75 employees. The significance of this structure is as follows:

  • The production control function is structured at the enterprise level, bringing visibility and accountability for key infrastructure process design, ownership, and accountability.

  • Service center (help desk) is structured at the enterprise level.

  • All mission-critical technical services are grouped under the Technical Services organization.

Figure 2 Organization structure #2 (for mid-size IT organizations).

Organization structure # 3, shown in Figure 3, is designed for larger IT departments with 75+ employees. This structure is designed to introduce an infrastructure technology consulting group. This group's primary focus is designing and developing those special utilities/tools needed to improve the effectiveness of the infrastructure.

Figure 3 Organization structure #3 (for large IT organizations).

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