Standardise and deliver

Best practices, ITIL, SOA - still only buzzwords to many organisations. ACN talks to an IT manager who is implementing all three: Zaki Sabbagh, CIO at Zamil Industry Investment Company (ZIIC), and asks him what the real business benefits of standardisation are.

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By  Administrator Published  April 1, 2007

Arabian Computer News: Can you give an outline of how your IT department works with the rest of the business, and the work you're doing on standardisation?

Zaki Sabbagh: For us, we are one IT organisation, which supports 13 business units. We have one data centre, one organisation, we have integrated networks, standardised processes based on ITIL, we have SLAs between us and our business units. We have implemented most of the monitoring processes like availability management, change management, incident management - all the deliverables, the delivery and support processes.

It's about discipline at the end of the day - without having these, we wouldn't be able to monitor and benchmark our performance for every business unit, and make targets for them.

It's a culture change - this is the only difficult area of it. You need to push people to act in a disciplined way, and go with the life-cycle of any process. What simplifies things is the automation - when these processes are governed by an automated tool, this will simplify the implementation of it. This is what we have done - for example with the change management.

ACN: Is there a specific return on these standardisation efforts, in terms of reduced cost or other returns?

Sabbagh: We are going through a transformation process to be a profit centre; so far, out of 13 business units, we are three profit centres and ten recovery cost centres. The profit centres are companies we acquired recently or a sister company that we're giving support through an outsourcing model. In these cases the return is very clear, because we give them a certain cost per service - this is the price of workplace management, the price of email, and so on. We have identified internally the costs of these services to us.

For the areas we provide for internally as a recovery centre, the RoI has been identified in the strategic planning. For example, we're working on two areas: we support existing services, and try to improve them; and we also manage new projects. For new projects we identify the potential RoI coming out of these projects for the business unit, such as improving performance, or quality or production or revenue. This is monitored by the strategic planning process.

ACN: What advice would you give to other organisations which are starting out on this process?

Sabbagh: Not to waste a lot of time, but to go and apply best practices straight away. ITIL is very flexible - it's not a bible, to be implemented as-is. It's a set of processes that should be mapped to suit the organisation, and then to be modified to a certain extent, based on the organisation's needs.

What makes things easy now, is that all these processes are fully integrated with the three components of IT - people, processes and technology. The full cycle is now supported by so many vendors - this will help in achieving the full integration.

So now these processes can be integrated with the infrastructure management - this is a huge area which is being addressed across the region - the proactive support of the infrastructure.

This is also one of the key trends I'm seeing in the region - huge projects are going on in this area. And it is now easy to implement, because it is easy to integrate with other processes, such as impact management, prediction management, optimisation, configuration management, SLA - the list goes on.

ACN: What is the day-to-day impact of implementing these processes?

Sabbagh: Most organisations cannot now afford to have any downtime, depending on the SLAs they have. The enterprise sector cannot afford email downtime, or spam, or to be hacked or have another security breach. In order to avoid these problems, you have to manage your infrastructure proactively, in order to predict the problem before it happens, and take action to improve your availability - this is what infrastructure management means.

These areas are currently ad-hoc for many enterprises - if the server stops they upgrade it; if the hard disk is full, they add another; if the performance is slow they replace something. But these are all handled to the degradation of the service. I don't remember in the last three years, I don't remember any downtime in ZIIC's email service - you can consider this an achievement, as we cannot afford to have any downtime, or security breaches in our services - these are mission-critical services.

This is absolutely down to the approach we take towards managing IT - it's a business continuity issue. To reach the business layer, in terms of applications, there are six or seven layers before the business application layer - you have infrastructure, network, security, and so on. That's why you'll see a trend to see hosted services in the region.

Why are so many enterprises using hosted services? It relieves them of a lot of hassle, in order to ensure the availability of IT services. To do it themselves requires a lot of investment in the data centre - in electricity, air conditioning, redundancy, backup. These are all unseen issues to the business - they don't know about it, and they don't see it directly. It requires a lot of focus and investment for an enterprise to maintain its own infrastructure.

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