Blog February 28, 2019

Think “Lean” in 2019 for More Efficient, Agile IT Operations

Many organizations are looking at “Lean” as a way to improve business operations. This is especially true for industries like manufacturing and healthcare, but Lean as a formal business approach has found its way into other, less inventory-intensive industries such as financial services as well.

Even if you’re not in an industry that has adopted the Lean philosophy, applying it to your IT department can help you reach your objectives in 2019. But before we jump into how Lean can help, let’s do a quick level-set by discussing what the Lean philosophy is all about.

What is Lean, and how does it apply to me?

Lean has been around since at least the fifties, and some have argued that its origins extend all the way back to the manufacturing processes invented by Ford. At the very least, it became “famous” in the Toyota Production System developed in Japan in the decades following World War II.

Different industries emphasize different aspects of Lean, but there are a few concepts in Lean that apply pretty well across the board.

Focus on the customer – Lean philosophy revolves around providing value to the customer. In our era of the customer-centric business, this should be a pretty easy concept to buy into!

Reduce waste – The Lean organization is one that looks to reduce the amount of waste in the organization. Waste is essentially anything that doesn’t add value for the customer.

Commit to continuous improvement – Lean strives for perfection, understanding that while perfection isn’t necessarily obtainable, there is always something that can be improved.

This just barely scratches the surface of the Lean philosophy, but it gives us enough to have a solid discussion on how applying the Lean philosophy to your IT department can help you reach your goals in 2019.

Important!: Lean is often seen as doing more with less, which can cause resistance when people interpret a Lean initiative as a prelude to down-sizing. Lean is not about getting rid of people so much as it is about using human resources more effectively.

5 steps to applying Lean to IT

Keeping the focus on the customer in mind, the key to applying Lean thinking to your IT operations is to look for areas where you can reduce waste and then to take action as appropriate. We’ve separated this into 5 steps:

Step #1: Review your processes – Lean practitioners call this step Value Stream Mapping, and it can get pretty sophisticated. IT professionals may want to just think of this step as flowcharting their current processes. Let’s say your organization is growing, and you need to add data center capacity. What are the steps required to do that?

Step #2: Redefine – Now that you’ve mapped out your process(es), are there areas where the process could be redefined to reduce the amount of wasted activity? If adding additional capacity requires you to procure additional hardware, can that process be smoothed out by negotiating a more comprehensive contract with your supplier? Or perhaps leveraging hyperconverged devices will allow you to shorten the time it takes to procure capacity and deploy it.

Step #3: Automate – Very likely, your processes will have large chunks of activity that could be automated. Server virtualization and software-defined networking and storage have increased the number of activities that can be automated or at least made more efficient.

Step #4: Outsource – As you review your processes, you’re likely to identify a few areas where your organization lacks the expertise to perform a function well. Other Lean businesses, such as manufacturers, are quick to outsource functions which a supplier can do faster, better, or less expensively than they can internally. For some businesses, this might mean outsourcing specific functions, such as IT security, but for others, it might mean outsourcing data center operations as a whole.

Related post: Solving the IT Skills Gap Starts with Diagnosing the Problem

Step #5: Repeat – As mentioned earlier, the Lean philosophy is one of continuous improvement. Once you’ve implemented a round of improvements, it’s time to evaluate those changes and look for additional areas of improvement.

Let us partner with you on your Lean journey

A qualified managed service provider can be one of your greatest assets as you strive to create a leaner, more agile IT organization. For example, our managed cloud solutions can help you expand capacity almost instantaneously while addressing gaps in your in-house skill sets in areas such as security, compliance, code deployment pipelines, or DevOps toolkits to accelerate your speed to market. One of our advisors would be happy to discuss your goals and unique requirements with you.

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