IT Productivity–How Less Can Be More

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In art, the expression "less is more" implies that simplicity of line and composition allow a viewer to better appreciate the individual elements of a piece and their relationship to each other to make a whole. In engineering, "less is more" when you accomplish the same work with fewer moving parts. And when dining out, "less is more" when the portions may be smaller, but the food is so much better and satisfying.

In IT, the adage is more accurately stated today as "less does more." As IT increases in complexity, mainframe organizations are being asked to handle greater workloads, bigger databases, more applications, more system resources, and new initiatives. All this, without adding-and sometimes while cutting-staff. In addition, IT is undergoing a serious "mainframe brain drain," as the most experienced technicians retire, taking with them their skills and detailed knowledge of the mainframes' idiosyncrasies.

Service optimization is an IT-based approach to "less is more" that helps IT departments achieve a greater level of simplicity-and efficiency. This approach allows mainframe organizations to improve IT performance without increasing costs or adding staff. This is the definition of increased productivity.

With service optimization, you can streamline your staff operations and gain productivity while handling growing mainframe environments. This means managing proactively, instead of reactively. It equates to reducing human error and reducing the level of expertise needed for repetitive, daily tasks. As a result, skilled technicians have more opportunity to do more creative and beneficial work, and that can increase job satisfaction through empowerment and innovation.

Resourceful Restructuring

In a recent survey of more than 1,500 CIOs, Gartner Executive Programs (Gartner EXP) found that IT spending budgets would be essentially flat for 2009. Gartner EXP further noted that CIOs will need to be "resourceful in restructuring IT to raise its productivity and agility, because the business will not reduce its demand for IT just because CIOs have fewer resources." This isn't news to anyone in IT, of course, but it does point out what we're up against as we continue to find ways to do more with less.

One of our greatest challenges is declining expertise, as the most seasoned and knowledgeable mainframe experts head out the door to retirement. In better times, the impact of their departure would be lessened by training new, talented staff. But today's budgets have often been squeezed so tightly that not much remains for training. IT managers are having to increase productivity in the data center without making a significant financial investment in staff or training.

Service optimization provides a disciplined approach to identifying and improving inefficient management processes. This example of resourceful restructuring consists of using intelligent automation combined with best practices for repetitive tasks. The use of sophisticated, intelligent software is effectively applied in systems management, database management, capacity planning, operations management, and storage management.

Systems Management: Service optimization identifies and automates processes that require a disproportionate amount of labor and skills, such as processes associated with monitoring, data collection, and correlation. By using software to automate monitoring tasks and response to errors that don't require human oversight, you free your IT staff to work on higher-value activities (which often has the added benefit of increasing job satisfaction). When human attention is required, an automated alert signals the need for skilled staff to intervene.

Another high-payback improvement is to use automation to perform complex, multi-step routines with highly automated, repeatable workflows. When technicians are trying to meet SLAs, they frequently have to collect data from multiple tools, often across the entire enterprise. Intelligent software can effectively monitor the process, while reducing human error, rework, and response times. SLA targets get met, while technicians spend their time doing work that requires nothing less than the human brain.

Database Management: Highly skilled database administrators (DBAs) manage large, highly transactional and mission-critical data stores that run on mainframes. Service optimization uses intelligent automation to aid DBAs to monitor, tune, and manage data movement in the database. This automation accommodates massive increases in data volumes without a comparable increase in staff. 

You can further improve DBA productivity through technologies that enable database maintenance to take place while databases remain online. As a result, DBAs can provide higher service levels, calibrated to business needs. This type of intelligent automation enables mainframe IT organizations to support growing data environments while controlling headcount.

Capacity Management: Capacity planners perform an exacting, high-stakes balancing act: Over-provisioning can waste millions of dollars in capital and operating expense, while under-provisioning can hurt application performance and availability. Talented capacity planners are generally knowledgeable, experienced, and expensive. By automating labor-intensive, time-consuming tasks - such as data collection, correlation, and presentation-your skilled analysts can focus on interpreting data, making predictions, and ensuring that the environment will support planned growth.  You can manage bigger, more complex, and more volatile environments with fewer analysts - and with better accuracy.

Operations Management: Experts estimate that more than 50 percent of all critical data processing is performed in batch, making good management vital to the business. IT operations staff must define and execute these job streams and ensure that everything runs on time, in the proper sequence, and without errors. When human errors occur-and they inevitably do-the staff must recover and restart the system in the most appropriate place. Today, batch jobs can span the entire environment, and these dependencies create enormous complexity, which is amplified by the number of batch jobs.  

Optimizing job scheduling processes across all platforms is one of the more high-leverage investments you can make, giving you a unified view of scheduling with automated notifications, insight into events, and policy-based management. Service optimization can reduce the complexity of production management and job scheduling, reduce errors, save considerable amounts of staff effort, and prevent costs to the business caused by application downtime.

Storage Management: Most storage environments are growing exponentially, causing a critical need for storage administrators to increase productivity. More storage means more space-related ABENDs (unintended program terminations), reallocation problems, and other difficulties that require intervention by a storage administrator.

Service optimization improves storage management through the use of sophisticated utilities and comprehensive diagnostic reporting with best practices automation. For example, it is critical to claim unused and idle space and make this space available for use by other application allocations. 

The solution can automate much of the lower-level work, such as manually monitoring space allocation, and enable administrators to be more proactive, preventing many ABENDs. Easier diagnosis can significantly reduce the number of problems that require administrator intervention and can speed the resolution of escalated problems.   In addition, this lets you know how much storage you have so you optimize what you need. Reducing or delaying infrastructure resources associated with storage has the potential for saving 10 percent or more in energy costs alone. Realizing the cost savings through automated storage management solutions and best practices will position your organization for a future savings as well 

A Three-Stage Approach to Service Optimization

Service optimization offers an effective approach for increasing staff productivity. But it would be unwise to try to implement system-wide changes in all areas at once. The key to success is to proceed in deliberate stages. You can achieve solid results with the following three-stage model: Enablement, Exploitation, and Empowerment.

Stage 1: Enablement. As you begin to implement service optimization, consider the processes and workflows related to a discipline. Ensure that existing technologies can automate and streamline manual and repetitive tasks. Focus particularly on tasks that increase as the size and scale of the environment increases. By implementing tools and enabling technologies, you lay the foundation to support increasing scale with improved productivity. You can also simultaneously reduce costs and business risk as well as improve availability and performance.

Stage 2: Exploitation. With any solution, there are features and capabilities that can significantly improve productivity but that are often overlooked. In this stage, you identify those value-add and productivity-enhancing features. (For example, many people become frustrated when trying to use a spreadsheet to analyze data, until they discover the magic of pivot tables.) As a result, you reap tremendous rewards and maximize the return on investment for a particular management solution.

Stage 3: Empowerment. In this stage, you perform ongoing measurement. You improve workflows based on measurement and analysis of key metrics, with a focus on continuous improvement. It's also important to provide the administrative staff with technology to eliminate repetitive, error-prone manual processes. And you enable staff to focus on leveraging the value of the technology to the business itself, thereby maximizing the value of the IT infrastructure.

 Strive for Continuous Improvement to Increase Productivity

No doubt, IT will continue to be asked to do more with less for some time to come. As you implement the three-stage approach to service optimization, be sure that the solution you choose includes features that will make the process smooth and seamless for your team to become more productive.

Look for automation that simplifies daily operations. In particular, you'll want intelligent automation that quickly monitors, identifies, and fixes problems. Another important capability to look for includes solutions that emphasize online maintenance or no-outage utilities, in addition to well-engineered, robust infrastructures and automation with proven track records. It's also important to have simple web-based interfaces designed to meet the needs of both experienced and new users.

For those seeking the benefits of business service management (BSM) throughout your enterprise, service optimization is an essential element of the program. BSM is a comprehensive approach and unified platform for running IT. Automated and efficient management of mainframe applications and supporting z/OS subsystems can be directly tied to the BSM strategy, allowing you to prioritize actions according to business requirements.

Service optimization will certainly save your department money, helping you do more with less. But there's another benefit, too. With service optimization in place, you free talented staff from repetitive tasks and give them work that challenges their minds and increases job satisfaction.

No matter how sophisticated or how automated your mainframe IT management processes are, there are almost always places where even small improvements can deliver big productivity returns. Service optimization combines best practices with intelligent automation, so that "less does more" both effectively and efficiently.