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Unix Enterprise by Harris Kern & Randy Johnson

Evangelizing change

Evangelizing change -- or who will be your agent of change! Making the move to client/server requires a new way of thinking

August  1995
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Change: Without it, implementing client/server technology will fail. The inability of an information technology (IT) department to effect this change may draw a whole organization asunder. Like any institution, IT resists change. Overcoming this inertia necessitates a call for action from the very top of an organization. Not only must your CEO and CIO understand the need for client/server -- they must demand it!

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When we started our move to client/server back in late 1989, there were many technology issues to resolve, including:

Today, IT is addressing most of these issues by migrating the technology and techniques from mainframes to the client/server world. So, what is the major stumbling block? It's the culture! The IT culture must change to thrive.

Why? Travel back in time to rediscover why islands of computing formed. With the advent of microprocessors, local business units began solving data processing problems on their own. Local business units, of course, possessed an intimate understanding of their informational needs, and PCs or small Unix systems fortified with LANs offered enough technology to get the job done. Many central IT organizations were left out because business units viewed central IT as a gang of glass-house priests too lethargic, domineering, or expensive for the services rendered.

It may be 1995, but these same forces and attitudes threaten IT groups -- unenlightened centralized IT may disappear or be outsourced beyond recognition. We faced the same issue. Some Sun management people even argued we should "blow up the glass house." As described in our February 1995 Advanced Systems, column "The IT/Unix revolution," we had to become sales people and pitch the business units on our services. We had to show them that we could be helpful, provide effective service, and support their business requirements.

Our IT group responded with a methodology we called the Unix Production Acceptance (UPA) process (See our Advanced Systems column for June 1994, titled "Our No. 1 priority"). We had to prove to the business units that switching to client/server did not diminish the need for stong central IT. Showing them that central IT was important to their success and that we knew how to provide high Reliability, Availability, and Serviceability (RAS) was of utmost importance.

So, we offered to take over the mundane, day-to-day operational support process and let them concentrate on the fun stuff -- new development. Over time we were able to be successful, but it would never have happened without management commitment to transitioning our culture as well as our environment.


CEO/CIO's must commit
Moving to client/server creates pain. Also, change is never easy, which perhaps explains the otherwise baffling vigor in mainframe sales. Success when making painful, difficult change requires a commitment from the top. Change for changes' sake is not easy, and most IT folks won't bother with it unless someone from the top puts a stake in the ground. We'll bet you've heard central IT staffers say, "We don't have the time. We're too busy supporting our current environment."

This inbred glass-house culture and attitude will continue until a mandate forces IT to face change. We caution that if this doesn't occur, full decentralization of the infrastructure is inevitable. And even if you heroically retain central control of the infrastructure, competitive forces outside of your organization will force central IT to enter the 1990s.

Agent of change
Some industry pundits indicate that it requires someone "entrepreneurial" to make the transition to client/server. We tend to look at this person as an "agent of change." Whatever your terminology, this brave visionary must be willing to forego politics and evangelize the need for coordinated control of the infrastructure (including networking, data center, and systems administration) through central IT, while allowing the local business units to solve their unique IT issues.

Networking standards, from LAN to WAN, are the key to providing effective service. The data center knows how to provide high RAS and reduce support costs, and system administrators know how to provide end-user support. All this can happen with standards, controls, processes, and procedures. The agent of change must evangelize these things. Without it, business units will implement their own LAN technology, their own data center operations support, and hire their own system administration. Many analysts argue it costs more to implement distributed systems, and we think improper controls is the reason why.

Increased costs will only occur if you allow implementation without controls. Don't let that happen! There is no need to swing the pendulum 180 degrees from the centric corporate structure to fully decentralized. You must have centralized control, dictates, and standards. Someone must step up to the plate in your organization and be the agent of change!

We were the agents of change in our organization and we admit it wasn't fun for several years. People didn't like what we stood for and thought our centralized control methodology wouldn't work. They even started forcing us to look at new "distributed" paradigms but our perseverance led to success.

Now we can write and talk about it to people all over the world. Remember, a production system is a production system is a production system. It does not matter what platform you run on, they all require the same RAS! Be an agent of change at your company!

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