It seems that every couple of months I read another article about the search for the Higgs Boson, and how that will either confirm or call into question various all-encompassing "theory of everything" in particle physics. While that story of particle-colliding is interesting in its own science-geeky way, I also think that the drive towards the all-encompassing answer has echoes outside of physics and large groups of grad students spending years underground building super-colliders. The drive to establish some underlying theory for "how things should work" is not only intellectually satisfying, it also provides a lot of insight into why things should work one way versus the other, and why some things work and others don't.
So, getting right to my point - I think IT needs a Unified Theory. There are so many conflicting pressures on IT organizations pulling in different directions. ITIL calls for deliberation and adult supervision at all times. Cloud sometimes seems to be turning IT personnel into short order cooks, rather than thoughtful chefs. And then Agile Development has developers seething at IT for being too slow, plodding, and behind the times. So, what is an IT organization to do?
To even get to that theory of everything, we need to ask - why do company IT departments exist at all? The answer is not "to buy expensive computers and provide a living to hard working geeks everywhere". It's not even "to run the company's IT stuff". At the end of the day, companies would not be spending millions of dollars/euros/pounds if IT weren't essential to the business. "Yeah, duh" you say. Well, yes, it is obvious, but do we run IT like the whole reason it exists is to make the business successful? Many times, the answer is no. Most companies are entirely dependent on their IT infrastructure to run the business, yet decisions are often made for "non-business" reasons.
Ok. So, IT departments exist for the good of the business. Now how should IT run, based on that observation? I suggest that IT should be managed in order to provide the best service to the business - that is, the most value for the least cost. Taking that a bit further, I think that means that IT should run as a service-oriented organization - IT as a Service. Again, this seems rather obvious, but do we do this? This is really a fundamental change in the relationship with the business. IT should focus on making decisions based on achieving the greatest value for the business. Interactions with the rest of the company should be framed in terms of the services provided - not hardware, CPUs, or MS Sharepoint directories.
Now, we could spend a lot of time on what it means to be service-oriented, but I want to focus on one part. IT as a Service - ITaaS - means standardizing requestable services into a service catalog - and then fronting that service catalog with a self-service portal. Now, that is where it becomes the Unified Theory. Instead of having all of these different, silo-ed approaches to requesting services from IT - the self-service portal becomes the ultimate equalizer. And this shouldn't just be for the obvious services - like requesting a new cell phone, or a cloud-based server. It should also include core-IT functions like scheduling the release of an application, requesting a compliance scan, or request a new patch. My vision is of the worlds of Systems Mgmt, Workload Mgmt, Cloud, and DevOps all meeting together in a unified structure that removes the complexity from the requester. But it also means that IT needs to get serious about standardization and automation.
To illustrate this, I have added a graphic that show the basic thrust of the argument. So, do you agree? Isn't a "Unified Theory" essential to IT's survival?