From a previous weblog entry, a tour of a modern aircraft carrier prompted the questions:
Is it possible to run your IT shop [like an aircraft carrier] as such an incredibly structured, high functioning, ready-for-anything organization? Is this right way to manage a technology group?
There are three general consensus answers for this question:
1. Absolutely. This is what IT groups everywhere should strive for.
2. Irrelevant. Such comparisons are overly idealistic and inherently flawed.
3. Good for perspective. Some concepts should be used and applied to illustrate possibilities and how to approach things differently.
Three different managerial personalities are each defending their respective answer. Mr. Absolutely gets to go first…
Knowledgeable and experienced IT managers know that Answer #1 is correct. A technology organization is a complicated function and needs to be run with standards and precision in order to function optimally. Treating it as anything less is being negligent in the duties of serving and supporting your business. An ongoing focus on process and procedure and being prepared for contingencies is what guarantees the best possible service levels to the business.
Just like on an aircraft carrier, activities such as DR drills are critical so that when a real disaster happens, nobody panics, and everyone already knows what to do. By tracking impact and probability risk levels, scenarios can be prioritized and planned for depending on the likelihood.
In the long run, this is the most cost effective approach because there will be a time sooner or later when a disaster does strike, and the investment in preparedness will be far outweighed by faster business recovery. As the saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
There must also be continuous improvement, and having a model in place with progressively more challenging targets such as Mean Time to Recovery will ensure that service always gets better.
Additionally, like aircraft carrier operations, this approach brings cohesion to the team. The team is only successful if everyone does their part, and no one wants to let the team down. Trust is built up in each other and in turn commitment to the organization.
Both Answer #2 and Answer #3 are not viable and are an indication of not taking one’s position and responsibilities seriously. Mr. Irrelevant and Mr. Good for Perspective are both going to be thrown overboard when they are called on the carpet to answer for why they were not prepared when there was business impact that could have been avoided.
Answer #2 indicates an utterly clueless manager. Such a parallel cannot be irrelevant, as there are so many principles that carry across between the two in the comparison. There is no such thing as a perfect analogy; I’m not landing aircraft in my data center or storing munitions in my satellite server rooms, however I’m vigilant and prepared to handle issues in an effective, standardized and efficient manner.
Answer #3 is just plain lazy. This kind of thinking sets one up to cherry-pick convenient comparisons, not forcing one to think harder and deeper; to challenge the what-if’s. Managing technology groups is serious, and one cannot only face the conveniently explained problems. There is a whole set of underlying logic that must be accounted for.
Overall, the principal concepts of operating an aircraft carrier are indeed analogous to operating an IT shop. Be it servers or aircraft or bandwidth or jet fuel, like an aircraft carrier, IT needs to be dependable, reliable and predictable. Just like this photo of the hold under the flight deck of the USS Ronald Reagan; a place for everything, and everything in it’s place.
Stick with Answer #1 and you’ll be best off.