When people talk about the last 18 months, most will remember it as a disruptive time when nothing felt certain. Yet, for many IT Ops and network operation center (NOC) leaders, it was the year they stepped out of the darkness and into the spotlight. Suddenly, it mattered deeply who was maintaining those services we relied on to shop, work, eat, live – and it became clear that IT Ops teams – who were previously thought of only as the number you called for a password reset – had been keeping our businesses running all along.
While there may have been some recognition before the pandemic, that awareness certainly gained momentum during 2020 and, now, shows no signs of stopping.
As Ben Narramore, senior manager of operations with Sony Playstation Network said at a recent customer conference, “Today, I am able to talk to leaders across the company that I would never have talked to a year ago. They didn’t care about operations, they didn’t care about the NOC, didn’t care about incident management, and now they’re like, ‘Wow, this is great stuff,’” he said. “I’m excited right now. We’re at a place in operations where my team has evolved, doing more than just problem-solving.”
I am excited to hear sentiments like that, because for the last 10 years or so, application development has been the golden child of IT. The faster you could crank out code, the faster the business could move. For years, every dollar and every resource went to building out amazing applications and services, leaving the IT Ops people to keep it all available and performing. Sure, some companies like Hulu and Expedia had the dynamics worked out and built a modern, optimized organization that could run as fast as it built, but most companies paid a high price in time, focus and resources to keep their services up and running.
For most companies, it felt like a war of speed versus availability. Engineering wins when they can deliver what the business needs, quickly. They do not need to look beyond their group for much and – if it works as intended – they are good to go. IT Ops, on the other hand, needs a broad view of the entire technology landscape. They need to think about the availability of all services, which requires them to have visibility across the entire enterprise stack, often dealing with the downstream implications of outages and incidents that cross networks, hardware, software and clouds.
Now, it’s 2021, and the war is over. And it turns out, the rise of operations wasn’t about a revolution. It was about recognition. IT Ops teams needed a seat at the table. They finally got the chance to explain that they want to move fast, too – to streamline operations, consolidate awareness, automate wherever possible and help support and enable the velocity the business demands, side by side with their partners in engineering.
Jeremy Bragg is an infrastructure automation architect at Abbott Labs. I thought his role description was really compelling; here’s how he explained it: “Probably the most interesting aspect about being in automation is that we break down silos. We cannot just be a server team or a network team or a mobility team. We work across the board with all the teams to try to further their causes. We ask ourselves: where are we doing manual work today that we could automate?”
Over the next five years, I believe more teams will start to take advantage of AI and machine learning to set the pace for the modern IT organization; more of the mundane work will be automated so they are free to lead innovation, not just react to it.
Ben Narramore also has a lot of passion for that very topic. “If I look at my teams in the last ten years, we were firefighters; we’re good at it out of necessity. Now, we’re at a point with cloud computing [and] with AI that gives us a chance to reassess our team. I’m excited about how our team has evolved from day-to-day problem solving to looking at our business with the future in mind. Being able to automate manual operations and workflows gave us the ability to do new, more exciting work, as well as helping out with incident management and problem management.”
My own take on IT is that the shift is happening, and I am excited to have a front-row seat as IT Ops teams step out of the shadows and into the light, taking their well-deserved place as strategic partners at the table, and helping drive the business forward.