Standards will enhance the maturity of IT, says Shell's Karel van Zeeland

Shell's Karel van Zeeland is founding member and lead architect of IT4IT Consortium and campaigns for open standards for integrating IT

Royal Dutch Shell has joined other enterprises and IT service providers to launch the IT4IT Forum – a supplier-neutral consortium that provides enterprises with reference architectures. The aim is to simplify IT management, cut costs and improve IT efficiency.

Other enterprises in the group include BP, PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), Munich Re and AT&T. IT service providers include HP, IBM and Microsoft.

A lack of IT integration, which has the effect of forming infrastructure silos, are pushing big enterprises such as Shell to campaign for common IT standards, to help them simplify IT management, cut integration complexity and save costs.

At the launch of the initiative, Shell executives said new technologies – such as cloud, IT consumerisation and big data – are adding further complexity to the company’s already substantial IT infrastructure. This has had the effect of increasingly stretching the IT team in responding to rising demand, and increasing the need for agile working practices.

The IT4IT initiative is aimed at helping companies' IT departments address the strategic challenges brought about by the changing IT landscape. Once the forum has identified areas of IT infrastructure where standards will yield benefits in more closely integrated IT, other organisations can use these to model their own infrastructure. 

Rising costs leave little budget for innovation

Analyst firm Gartner said many organisations are finding the basic costs of running and maintaining their IT estates rising, leaving them with limited budget for innovation and investing in business applications. 

Hans van Kesteren, Shell’s vice-president and CIO for global functions, admits the company has multiple end systems in place and faces very large integration challenges.

"Standards will help us to mature our industry," van Kesteren says.

Shell’s IT estate comprises 18 datacentres, of which 10 are critical and enterprise-scale. It also has about 8,000 IT applications – 500 of which are absolutely business-critical – and 140,000 desktops and 25,000 networks.

“The forum will create a common language to share best practice and we will have common platform so, when we buy apps or services, it will all fit in and we don’t have to worry about integration,” says Kesteren.

Shell’s efforts to develop IT standards and improve IT integration started in 2011, when it jointly designed a comprehensive and integrated model for managing its systems and dealing with the challenges identified. 

Benefits of open standards for IT management

Computer Weekly spoke to Shell IT’s Karel van Zeeland, founding member and lead architect of IT4IT Consortium, about its campaign for an open standard for managing IT. 

Computer Weekly: What are the specific IT advantages Shell sees in open standards for IT management?

Karel van Zeeland : Once tooling has been developed and implemented in accordance with the standard, we expect to get much-needed deep and detailed insight into what is happening in the IT function across the total life cycle of IT – from strategy to planning, to development and deployment into operations. This will allow us to improve control over the costs, performance and risk associated with delivering IT services; and help us make better informed decisions on what projects we need to execute, to deliver IT faster, better and at lower cost and risk. 

Next to that, we believe that having a standard will enhance the maturity of the IT function overall, by establishing a common language. We expect to see training emerge in a similar way to how this happened for ITIL [Information Technology Infrastructure Library] or TOGAF [The Open Group Architecture Framework], for example.

Certified professionals will be a significant asset to any IT function.

Finally, we think we can leverage the standard when we need to make sourcing decisions for the IT services we obtain from external providers. Having them use the same standard would make contract negotiation easier, and would help speed up integration of their service offering into our overall portfolio.

CW: What are the interoperability challenges Shell faces with its big IT estate, in the absence of such open standards?

KvZ: Every supplier of IT services has developed their own tool set for managing IT and these are all driven from different underpinning data models. It is immensely complex to exchange information, even for something as simple as IT incidents with two or three providers – let alone if the number of suppliers grows to dozens or more. 

The problem even exists when you have all your IT services delivered from your own organisation and buy all your IT management tools from a single provider. Some major IT management tool suppliers have built their portfolio of systems through a model of acquisition and – because the components all have different architectures (data models, user interfaces, business rules and so on) – even the products in a single supplier’s portfolio may not interoperate very well. 

Open standards for cloud take-up

CW: Would it help enterprises such as Shell if big cloud suppliers also joined the consortium?

KvZ: Definitely. Cloud is a major industry trend, but the consequences of introducing various cloud technologies – IaaS, PaaS, SaaS and so on – are not fully understood. Having cloud providers and suppliers participate in the IT4IT Forum would be very valuable indeed. 

CW: How will open standards facilitate Shell’s move into adopting more cloud services?

KvZ: Cloud management is an area still in flux. Assuming the emerging standard gains acceptance, then it would make it much easier for us to use more cloud services, because we would know precisely what activity we would be accountable for in Shell IT, compared with what the cloud provider is accountable for. Once worked to the correct level of detail, these standards would make it possible to obtain cloud services from any certified cloud supplier, without having to re-develop information exchange capabilities. 

CW: Shell is deploying to take advantage of cloud services for CRM. Specifically, how will open standards help in Shell’s large implementation?

KvZ: It is too early to comment on the specifics of the use of this standard for in Shell. But this work is ongoing in the forum, through the work groups we have in place. The current reference architecture provides a good starting point for discussions on an open standard, but we need more details. 

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