Kaizen, the Japanese production concept of continuous improvement, has been a true game changer in the manufacturing sector and is a central tenet of Lean Thinking. By making incremental improvements to IT deliverables each and every day, however large or small, an organization’s operational benefits compound over time like a high-yield security, resulting in improved quality, reduced waste, and better customer satisfaction.
Implementing kaizen in the IT department, however, has proven far more challenging. While there are certainly plenty of opportunities to improve IT service delivery, CIOs face the obstacles of shrinking budgets, decreased headcounts, and constantly increasing complexity as they try to meet enterprise technology needs. As a result, corporate IT departments are forced to spend 70-80% of their time just “keeping the lights on.”
IT leaders are coming to realize that the only way they can implement sustainable change is through automation, and they many have found the solution to be software-defined infrastructure (SDI). With powerful orchestration software automatically capable of improving data center operation on the fly, SDI is quickly becoming the perfect way for CIOs to implement kaizen to meet the technology and business needs of the modern enterprise.
The Toyota legacy of kaizen
In the decades following WWII, Japanese engineering genius, Taichi Ohno, propelled Toyota from the brink of bankruptcy to premier auto maker in the industrialized world. Ohno believed that small daily improvements to the Toyota production system would eventually result in sustainable quality that must translate into satisfied customers. He was absolutely right. By the 1980s, Toyota had become synonymous with quality and manufacturers the world over sent their engineering chiefs to learn Ohno’s methods of continuous improvement.
Many CIOs see value in Ohno’s management principles in IT service management (ITSM). But as they attempt to apply kaizen to the modern IT department, they find they often must change the culture of their organization in order to make kaizen work. Every programmer, analyst, and staff member in the entire unit must be trained to actively look for small mistakes and be empowered to correct them. Firms that can do this, however, inevitably discover four significant realities of kaizen — the same ones that Toyota succeeded with over half a decade ago.
- Self-aware – Opportunities for improvement come from within the department, itself. Employees can be taught Ohno’s principles of observation to spot imperfections, regardless of how small they may be.
- Self-healing – By training people to address problems as they find them, IT leaders can delegate daily improvements to the professionals best able to handle them.
- Self-optimizing – Problems are far cheaper to fix before they are deployed to production. IT workers who understand this can work together to increase customer satisfaction while decreasing operating costs.
- Self-scaling — By eliminating minor operational imperfections, IT leaders can focus on high-level growth initiatives as they increase their span of control to meet the growing needs of the business.
Software-defined infrastructure – a key to kaizen
Every CIO who has ever undertaken a Lean kaizen initiative has started with high hopes for fundamentally changing the way his department thinks and operates. Unfortunately, most have found their process improvements to be short-lived. Without persistent supervision and automated testing, teams invariably regress to their most comfortable IT service delivery methods, particularly in departments with high employee turnover.
Software-defined infrastructure holds the potential to change that. Rather than provisioning IT assets by hand, administrators can apply kaizen improvements in powerful orchestration software programmed to produce identical IT assets with every execution. By removing the human tendency to assume the path of least resistance, SDI allows IT chiefs to implement kaizen initiatives once, and implement them every time the business needs infrastructure. No supervision required.
Silicon Valley chip maker, Intel, is putting SDI to work to improve their core operations. A recent white paper illustrates how automating manual system provisioning enables them to reduce capital expenditures, increase IT flexibility, and become more agile in meeting the growing needs of the business. The company also uses open interfaces to limit their need for specialized knowledge, another Lean example of kaizen in the IT environment.
Taichi Ohno’s principle of kaizen, continuous operational improvement, is as effective as it is timeless. But the fast-moving, high-stress environment of corporate IT leaves little time or bandwidth for ITSM enhancement. Software-defined infrastructure evens the playing field by giving CTOs a way to bring lasting changes in a guaranteed repeatable way. By automating tedious and error-prone tasks inherent in IT service delivery, CIOs can drive effective and sustainable kaizen into their IT organizations regardless of bandwidth limitations.