The Open Group Blog

The IT4IT™ Standard – What is all the fuss about? Isn’t it just an architecture after all?

By Tony Price, EMEA IT4IT & ITOM Strategic Consulting, Micro Focus

In October 2015, The Open Group launched a new standard, The Open Group IT4IT™ Reference Architecture, and I personally feel this may have been one of the biggest events when it comes to the history of IT. At last, IT is starting to really mature! Let me tell you why I have this view.

I have worked in IT all my working life. I have not done any other type of job. So you could say much of what I am about to say is both self-critical and a reflection of the IT industry as a whole. And to a large extent you would be correct as now we have the benefit of hindsight.

When you are immature, what you consider “earth shattering” is often only a baby step forward. Take the example of a baby. Standing and walking are major things for a child’s development as they do this instinctively as a human and much to the delight of their parents. Though the child responds instinctively to the desire to become mobile and more self-sufficient, it simply does not have the skills or experiences to process much above these basic instinctive behaviours.   For example, it would be pointless telling a baby that one day you will run a race faster than any other human on the planet. The baby simply cannot understand this even if you take away the vocabulary challenge …. The baby cant walk so has no concept of running!

Add to the above, as humans we are really good at forgetting or what some now call un-learning things as we develop. We have all seen images of new born babies swimming under water with no fear and instinctively not breathing under water.   But fast forward a couple of years when the same children have been influenced and have “life experiences” they can no longer swim or even put their head under water! So instincts / learning/ unlearning and experiences are all party of maturity development.

So why is this relevant to IT? The IT community and its maturity is no different to the above and sadly, in my opinion, we have in general matured very slowly.   But why is this the case and is there influencing factors that we can learn from and improve our maturity?

Let me use some personal reflection to answer. I was fortunate enough (and old enough) to start my working career as a “Computer Apprentice” in the late 70s on large mainframe computers. This was considered an engineering skill as much as a scientific/creative skill (we were only just inventing the words IT at the time!). The engineering skills instinctively told us we needed discipline to plan build and run this new technology. We had big computers and massive computer rooms with air conditioning and big power consumption. We talked about “building” as part of our daily routine – building the mainframe, building the computer room etc.  But in contrast the scientific and creative skills drove us to both embrace the technology and constantly push the boundaries developing new technology and new exciting possibilities.

Personally, I have always leaned more towards the “engineering camp”. So all my career I have sought structure, discipline, control etc. so it’s hardly a surprise I was involved in the very early days of ITIL® and ITSM. One of my fellow “apprentices” from the start of my career is still a good personal friend and he firmly sits in the extreme part of the scientific/creative camp. Over the years we have had had prolonged arguments about why I should be using the latest and the greatest technology and I respond that he needs to get a grip and get control rather than just playing with the latest toys. So who is correct?

Before I answer, let’s look at IT people in general. The majority of people in IT today are here because they like IT. They want the latest. They also enjoy stitching together lots of different technologies as this is as much of a mental challenge as it is a business requirement. In other words it’s fun! They want to push the boundaries. They don’t want to be constrained. But to me they look like young children on a soccer pitch… they all chase the ball. The ball being the latest technology. They don’t seem to care if the technology adds value. They just seem obsessed with using it and working out what to do with it as they go along.

Conversely, they look at people like me and critically state “Dinosaur” or “boring” as I appear to be constraining things! So many times I have heard the following statements:

But to me instinctively, I know it’s correct that we do need controls, structure and process. But equally I don’t want them to be a barrier and I know we have to deliver value to survive!

So we have a dilemma and two totally different perspectives.   About 15 years ago, I was fortunate enough to work on IT projects that really took me into the associated businesses. For me this was a turning point.   I realised we needed both perspectives. We needed control and we needed creativity and innovation all harnessed to meet a common goal. Business value being king. Eureka moment you may think….. but what could I call upon to help me? What was there at that time which embraced strategic thinking, new requirements and the ability to deliver what the customer wanted with control and governance? ITIL was actually the best thing (in my opinion) available at the time.

ITIL really helped as we used it to break down technology stove pipes and start to make people think about services and the lifecycle. But typically we un-learnt and then created process stove pipes! In many cases, IT staff often became far too evangelistic about the purity of ITIL process and quoting chapter and verse about the contents of the ITIL publications.   I have to smile at this point as again we un-learnt something fundamental and now ITIL gets blamed (inappropriately for this).   ITIL was always positioned as “Adopt and Adapt” and “People, Process & Technology”.   But then consumers of ITIL implemented it in such a manner that it became restrictive. This is clearly not the fault of ITIL and more the fault of the consumer i.e. IT.

So go back to my early mainframe days and engineering skills examples.   You would never have built a “Computer Room” / Data Centre without an architecture.   You simply could not build a mainframe without an architecture. Have we un-learnt something? Why am I saying this? Look at typical IT environments and the IT Delivery Chain today. Many run technology from every era of IT.   Mainframes are still used and often still a commercially viable option for many companies. Yesterday’s innovations in technology have already become today’s legacy and are will be used for many years. We now have fashionable initiatives and new technology initiatives such as IOT, Big Data, DevOps, Mobility, Security, etc. which are also all being used today.   Also now multiple suppliers are involved in the delivery chain many of which provide elements of all the previous things mentioned. They bring their own standards. They may even bring their own view of ITIL. Then someone, the IT Department, has to somehow bring all this together and deliver the service required by their associated business.

No wonder IT is busy! Hardly a surprise IT departments are finding life challenging. Hardly a surprise budgets are stretched. Hardly a surprise people feel over worked. Oh and they do this without a prescriptive architecture. So it’s like building a house and just making it up as you go along (albeit with some experience and know how).

Now maturity pops up again in this as many vendors would lead you to believe you are doing it all wrong. “Move everything to the cloud” you hear them cry….. But can you? Realistically there is always a cut off when old technology is either no longer commercially viable or the risks outweigh the benefits of staying on it ….. But until you hit that cut off point chances are you have to run the old alongside the new.

So are these vendors wrong? Are they the children chasing the technology ball? Are the vendors immature? Well I have to say in some cases yes as they have a vested interest in you chasing the ball as this results in financial gain for them. But the good news there are some vendors that stand out from the crowd and that have recognised the true hybrid world that most IT departments have to work in today. And these are the vendors that really are helping IT to survive and thrive.

Now didn’t I start this long story with the IT4IT standard and what is all the fuss about? Yes – and now you have the benefit of hindsight after reading this story you can hopefully see why the following is so important:

  1. IT4IT provides a prescriptive reference architecture for running the business of IT

At last, IT does not have to make it up as it goes along! At last, vendors can comply allowing plug and play / interoperability of solutions. At last, IT can step up the maturity curve and move from chasing the latest technology ball to delivering true value to their associated business

  1. IT4IT is prescriptive. No more adopt and adapt. IT can ensure consistency through prescription and stop wasting time and money customising. Customisation increases TCO and support cost – something organisations simply no longer want to happen!
  2. IT4IT focuses on Value. Moving from technology to value based delivery is key to the future of IT. That is a leap for many IT professionals and having prescriptive guidance will help then move into the value delivery space whilst at the same time increasing their overall maturity.
  3. IT4IT is vendor-neutral. No single vendor dominates IT4IT and all vendors can potentially adopt IT4IT and comply which ultimately will make technology selection and integration so much easier.
  4. IT4IT enables IT to think big but start small. The prescriptive reference architecture applies to everything we do in IT, but you don’t need to do it all in one day. You can start to address the biggest areas of business pain and value whilst progressively leveraging more and more elements of IT4IT – effectively completing more and more of the big picture as you go. Remember it’s always easier to complete a jigsaw puzzle when you have the picture on the front of the box!
  5. IT4IT will make IT Flow! Didn’t I say ….No wonder IT is busy? Imagine if you could stop trying to juggle all the IT initiatives and switch resources from one thing to the next under ever decreasing budgets.   With IT4IT you can view all the IT initiatives in a single backlog, opening the door to Kanban style thinking and approaches.

So what is all the fuss about?

This is why I think the launch of IT4IT in October 2015 was one of the biggest events in the history of IT. This is why I think IT4IT is the missing link we have needed for so long. This is why I think IT4IT is brilliant!


Tony Price‘s passion is for IT Service Management which has developed over 30 years, and his particular interest being large scale IT Transformation Programmes. More recently, he has become an advocate and practitioner of IT4IT from The Open Group as this brings together the “missing link” in IT – a Reference Architecture, value-based thinking, and a far more perscriptive approach to running the business of IT.

Tony has worked across the majority of industry sectors. Regularly working at Global CIO / VP levels within the organisation.

Tony is currently driving the IT4IT Strategic Consulting & IT Operations Management Consulting within Micro Focus Professional Services.

Specialties: IT4IT, Global ITIL / IT Service Management deployments , Process Engineering (Design and Deploy), CMM, Cultural Change, Management of organisational change, Business development, Large Programme sales.