Benchmarking IT Agility – How Do You Stack Up?

Is your IT “agile” enough?

It’s a question that occupies many of today’s IT decision-makers. To some, “IT agility” is the ability to respond to the rising demands of the business. To others, it’s the capacity to steer the organization through a fast-changing competitive landscape.

Whatever the definition, it’s a tough question to answer without a proper benchmark. An IT leader may understand the fundamentals of agile infrastructure. But lacking clear, measurable targets makes it difficult to decide if, how or when to adopt them.

A recent Softchoice study found that 59% of IT executives are confident in their ability to set a course for agile IT. Yet, the same study found 66% of organizations lacked clear metrics for gauging IT agility or the business impact of IT-led innovations.

Our survey included Innovation Executive Forum (IEF) members from small, mid-market and enterprise organizations across North America. Respondents from many industries shared their insights on achieving agile IT.

At our IEF Conference Call for Q4, our hosts Richard Carson, Partner Marketing Manager for Hybrid IT and Erika van Noort, IEF Chair, shared the key findings. Read on to find out where members fall on the IT agility journey today. And, better understand how you stack up with your peers.

Innovation Strategy, Meet Reality…

Managing expectations is a major aspect of day-to-day life as an IT leader. Often this means striking a balance between the strategy on paper and the reality on the ground.

The business often calls on IT to “innovate.” This often means delivering projects that get products or services to market faster. Our survey found about 50% of senior executives believed in using technology for this purpose.

Most IT groups in our study, though, devoted 30% of their time (or less) to initiatives for improving efficiency or competitiveness. For one IEF member on the call, even that figure seemed high. The consensus? There is a clear gap between enthusiasm for innovation and the ability to take time away from core IT functions.

As one participant argued, “there is an ongoing theme in IT of innovating versus sustaining.” To-date, many of our respondents have struggled to move the needle.

Where innovation has taken place, lack of actionable metrics has caused further problems. One member of the restaurant sector noted that business leaders had taken a lead in sponsoring technology projects.

“But there isn’t that discipline,” they explained. “When X goes well, you can’t prove it was ‘tech project Y’ that did it.”  Without benchmarks, it’s difficult to measure the return on investments in agile infrastructure. It also raises the difficulty of justifying future initiatives.

“If things are going well business-wise, there hasn’t been a need for more than an anecdotal measure,” said the member. “But we’re waiting for the day the tide shifts – and the team needs to justify these things.”

Agile IT is Coming, Ready or Not

There’s no doubt among IT leaders that business demands are growing. Organizations feel the pressure to get new applications, products, and services to market faster. Often, they pass those concerns onto IT.

Fifty-four percent of IT leaders in our survey has processes in place to capture emerging technology needs. Yet many have a “technology posture” preventing them from achieving IT agility. Sixty-three percent were running their data centers in the same way they had done for a decade or more.

For 56% of respondents, meeting business demands is difficult, or impossible, with the technology on-hand. Meanwhile, public cloud and hybrid IT offer scale and security that traditional architecture can’t match.

One of our hosts surmised that many organizations have adopted a “cloud-first” philosophy. This notion treats the public cloud as a “one-size-fits-all” approach to every infrastructure need. But cloud-first often fails to account for the unique needs and characteristics of each organization. While new applications and services benefit, legacy systems fall further behind.

“Not all businesses were born in the last five years,” another participant remarked. “As such, a lot of them are carrying legacy technology.” For one public broadcaster, converting years-worth of tape for the cloud was too expensive. As a result, a total migration to the cloud wasn’t in the cards.

Nonetheless, there are several motivating factors for those maintaining the status quo. Our agility study found 84% of respondents viewed automation as the top driver for change in the legacy data center. There is a powerful appeal to redirecting time and resources away from repetitive manual tasks toward strategic initiatives.

The second-place driver for change at 81% was the ability to scale services and applications faster. As one participant remarked, “we talk about scale fast, but it’s also about ‘fail fast.” Being able to fail at speed and redirect energy to more productive avenues is a clear competitive advantage.

IT Agility – Recognizing the “People Factor”

One of the biggest challenges facing IT leaders is finding and keeping top talent. But doing so will be a key strategy for any organization looking to adopt and sustain an agile IT practice into the future. The way to go about this isn’t always obvious.

On the question of changing the way IT supports applications in the data center within the next year, our survey yielded mixed results. But on the question of whether roles and structure would change to meet technology demands, there was clear agreement.

The hypothesis? There is a desire among IT leaders to maintain a steady state. But they also recognize the need to change their approach to people, structure, and culture to stay competitive.

In fact, 62% of respondents felt their team lacked the skills to deliver agile infrastructure in the data center. Nonetheless, only a small number of respondents had a well-defined plan in place to staff and train people to meet these changing needs.

Despite understandable apprehensions, the transition to a new approach need not be painful. Their organization had made the transition to 100% Azure public cloud after operating in a hybrid model for a year. At first, IT staff worried their roles would become redundant. But in the end, the migration expanded their skill sets and helped personnel across networking, systems and security groups to work as a unit.

Another participant reported evidence that more businesses are adopting initiatives like “self-serve” training. Allowing staff to spend self-directed time on topics of interest is one of many ways to correct for skills gaps and improve engagement. It also helps to shift development away from a pure focus on tech certifications toward more modern, well-rounded use cases.

“As we see more IT leaders moving into the business,” explained one guest, “there’s a greater need for these soft skills.”

Get Started – Putting Agile IT into Practice

The cloud will be an integral part of modernizing any IT environment. However, as IT leaders take a step back from a “cloud first” strategy it warrants a closer look at modernizing the data center to achieve true Agile IT. Looking to future of infrastructure investments, few IT leaders are sprinting to the cloud. Our survey found only 30% were planning to adopt a pure public cloud strategy.

For the great majority, a hybrid infrastructure will be the best path to IT agility. A hybrid model combines the advantages of the cloud with purpose-built governance and management tools. To get there, IT leaders will need a thorough understanding of their current environment, then chart the course to a more agile future.

Improving IT agility isn’t an either/or proposition – it’s a continuum. With the Softchoice Agile IT Benchmark, you’ll gain an in-depth view of your current application architecture. From there, you’ll build your hybrid IT strategy based on data-driven insights and expert guidance. 

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