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For many years IT has been admonished to run “more like a business”. What this phrase meant was never clear. Some strategist envisioned “more like a business” to mean profit driven, a concept that never gained much currency for internal IT organizations. Others took it simply to mean more structured management.

Whatever the phrase might have meant, the change called for represented the dissatisfaction of business departments and corporate leadership with the services provided by IT. It reflected a need to move from a crisis driven management style to a more structured and planned organization.

More recently, “like a business” has taken on a more concrete description. IT is now called upon “to align itself with the business”. Alignment is interpreted as demonstrating value, measuring results against a business scorecard, and showing a return on investment (ROI). While these concepts are useful to improve the integration of IT with corporation objectives, they remain vague as to what IT is specifically called upon to do. They beg the question of “What is value?” They do not state what metrics to put on the scorecard. They give no direction as to how to calculate an ROI on such common infrastructure projects like improving security or a business recovery planning. Without an answer to these issues, business alignment as a strategy lacks focus as to what actions IT should undertake. Business alignment as a strategy still does not provide a realizable architectural model of how IT should present itself to the user community or how it should organize itself internally.

Today we can begin to describe and build that realizable architecture. It derives from a concept of IT as a catalog of business services that are offered to the lines of business within the corporation. These services can be listed as if they are on a menu and described in terms that a savvy business consumer of technology can readily understand. The lines of business can then chose those services that are appropriate to their needs. They can shop for value and evaluate cost. They can choose levels of services recognizing that premium services command premium prices. They can place orders for a particular period of time within listed pricing structures.

The service catalog is part of an overall re-structuring in which the business of IT becomes business. It does not require IT to become a profit center, but does force more market driven initiatives. It is built on the business process optimization model called for by ITIL and uses new technologies such as the utility data center, SOA, and SAAS. It is the concrete fulfillment of IT being run like a business.
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