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Adapt or die: An evolutionary approach to change

Charles Darwin said “it is not the strongest or the most intelligent who will survive but those who can best manage change”.
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The theory of natural selection has important parallels to business technology. Technology changes constantly and the businesses most suited to that change, or most able to take advantage of it, survive and flourish.

Species die out because they cannot cope with new climates or compete with a more aggressive species. Businesses do too, but unlike animals, they do so because of their own choices: they choose whether to respond to change, adjust their strategy, embrace new technology and bring on new skills. Those that respond survive. Those that let the world change around them die out.

Changes bring uncertainty

Despite this need for agility, the drive for change is often met with resistance. There is a conflict between desire to progress and reluctance to change. This must be carefully managed.

On one hand development teams, those charged with driving the business forward, will be constantly looking at how new technologies can benefit the business. These technologies can help in areas like connecting offsite employees, harnessing social media, better understanding customer habits, and going paperless.

On the other hand, the IT operations team are often under huge pressure to maintain a stable infrastructure. Change often means incidents, and ensuring new technology is implemented securely is a big challenge. Saying ‘no’ can be the default response for an over-stretched, underfunded operations team. The reasons are easy to understand.

However, continually citing security concerns and disruption to business critical systems means IT becomes the ‘no’ department. In the long run, both development and operations need to work together, understanding and respecting each other’s motives. This is the ultimate objective of a mature change management function.

The Switzerland of IT

Change management occupies the no-man’s-land in the middle of the DevOps battlefield. It is the Switzerland of IT. Its objective is to give development teams the agility they need to support business growth, and give operations a means to retain stable infrastructure and services.

It can be easily overlooked, but is a vital function to effectively advancing the business. To make it work, both sides need to give up some ground. Development needs to realise that following a defined process avoids expensive re-work and increases the probability of success. On the other hand, IT operations need to understand that a robust change management process negates the risks of change, and that change doesn’t always mean a flood of calls to the service desk. Change management, besides having a process that satisfies both groups, must also ensure a good understanding between them.

Becoming the ‘yes!’ department

The IT department can be a barrier or a facilitator – both can be valuable at different times. Change isn’t always good and those who will bear the operational brunt of it, may have a good reason to say no.

But this must not be the default position. Before saying ‘no’ to a development project, the IT operations team needs to ask themselves “what is the ultimate cost of missing this opportunity – in business terms?” The development team needs to ask “what is the risk to our existing infrastructure, services and business processes if we go ahead with this change?”

This is where change management is necessary. The change management process needs to make sure the right questions are asked along the way: Is the change necessary? Is it worth the cost and resources? What are the risks? How can we negate these risks? If the right processes are followed, and the right questions are asked (and answered), there is almost always a mutually agreeable solution that can be found. A solid change management function turns the ‘no’ department into a responsive ‘yes’ department, and turns a ‘bull in a china shop’ development team into responsible agents for business change.

Agile business

A mature change management function means more agile IT and a more agile business. Putting controls and people in place to get it right is a strategic no-brainer, but there are challenges and objections to overcome along the way. The success of IT change management relies largely on organisational change, in the broader sense – changing people’s attitudes.

So change management needs to be staffed by good managers and good communicators with both IT and business understanding. They need the skills to manage the process of using IT to change the business by helping mediate between the visionaries who want to stay ahead of the game and IT operations who will bear the work-load brunt of this change.

Arvind Parthiban is marketing manager at ManageEngine.

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