What is IT operations (IT ops)?
The term IT operations (IT ops) describes the many processes and services that an information technology department administers. Traditional IT ops encompasses a range of hardware and software systems, as well as related functions, such as voice and data networking, physical security and cybersecurity, incident response and disaster recovery, audit support, project management, compliance and environmental management.
The operations team often manages the overall IT environment, quality assurance, and system and network infrastructure. The need for IT ops has grown as IT environments have become increasingly complex through the adoption of new technologies such as cloud computing and software-defined networking, and changes resulting from widespread remote work.
Every organization that uses computers and network technologies has some form of IT operations in place. The work of an operations team is usually separate from IT application development and system administration, though it might support those teams. For example, IT ops in a software development company might include all traditional IT functions in addition to providing technical and planning support for software development and management.
Different organizations define IT operations in various ways. The term also is used to describe the department that manages IT ops, as well as the collection of services, processes and standardized procedures of the department.
Why is IT ops important?
Weak IT operations processes can negatively affect the quality of IT services and other business processes, undermining an organization's competitiveness and reputation. Therefore, it's important that IT ops focuses on improving business processes and ensuring operational stability. In addition, strong IT operations helps a company refine its business processes so that it can quickly adapt to shifting customer needs and competitive activities.
Digital transformation, cloud services and cloud infrastructure, advanced cybersecurity, and other technology trends all can contribute to modernizing IT ops. They reduce operational costs and increase IT's agility and efficiency. This type of transformation is required if a company wants to perform well, remain competitive and protect its reputation.
Transforming a large environment is a costly and complex undertaking, but results in long-term benefits, such as the following:
- Reduced complexity.
- Improved visibility across the entire IT infrastructure.
- Increased ability to make preemptive and immediate corrective actions that minimize risk.
- Ability to adopt advanced technologies, such as artificial intelligence (AI) and cloud computing.
- Maximized efficiency across the company.
- Increased productivity and profitability.
What does IT ops do?
IT operations is responsible for defining the way an organization manages software and hardware. The department provides other IT support, such as network administration, device management, mobile contracting and help desk services.
IT operations management (ITOM) and IT operations analytics (ITOA) are roles within IT ops that help an organization refine the way IT approaches tasks such as service provisioning; system deployment, networking and data storage; and maintenance and support of all resources. ITOM and ITOA professionals help ensure consistency, reliability and quality of service.
IT operations processes
IT operations is made up of several different management approaches and processes, including the following:
- Incident management. This refers to the steps a business must take to safeguard against events that aren't part of normal operations and might disrupt operational processes. They include cyber attacks and unplanned outages. The objective of the incident management process is to resolve issues and restore IT services as fast as possible.
- Problem management. This is related to incident management, but with a focus on preventing incidents before they happen and minimizing the effects of incidents that can't be stopped. Problem management includes analyzing incident reports and detecting issues using IT service management (ITSM) metrics.
- Access management. This process provides authorized users with the rights to access and use a selected service. It also prevents unauthorized users from accessing services. Access management is also referred to as identity management and rights management. An organization's information security policies determine who gets access. Role-based access is a method that limits access to data and systems based on an individual's job roles and responsibilities. Multiple types of authentication -- such as biometrics, tokens, proximity cards and passwords -- are used to prevent unauthorized access.
- IT operational control. This approach seeks to monitor and manage a company's IT services and service desk as well as the underlying infrastructure. These controls include routine tasks related to the operation of software applications and infrastructure components. This can include backup and restore activities, patch management, app installation and upgrades, routine maintenance, job scheduling and output management.
- Facilities management. This is all activities and resources involved with maintaining a company's physical environment, including building access control management and power, water, cooling, heating and environmental monitoring. The goal is to protect the physical environment where the IT infrastructure is located through maintenance and support.
- Technical management. This process seeks to deliver technical expertise and service to improve the operations and management of the IT infrastructure.
Some methods used to improve IT operations processes include DevOps, kanban, ITSM and IT infrastructure library (ITIL). The goal of these methods is to prepare employees to prioritize, manage and delegate multiple tasks at any moment.
- DevOps helps IT operations teams adapt to a fast-paced Agile development environment. It also provides a comprehensive approach to project management that improves cross-team collaboration and communication.
- Kanban helps IT ops teams implement DevOps and become more like a DevOps team. Its task scheduling system boosts productivity and tracks the progress of a project, maximizing communication and efficiency. Kanban is often paired with Lean software development to increase collaboration between IT operations and other departments.
- ITSM improves the management of IT systems to maximize the ways businesses use IT resources.
- ITIL provides a set of practices within ITSM that address how IT service delivery happens and is used to empower the daily business operations.
What does an IT operations manager do?
IT ops managers oversee the daily activities of an organization's IT department and ensure it's up to date on current technology trends. Aspiring IT ops managers need to gain experience in a core IT field; obtain IT ops certifications, including basic project management; and have strong communication, problem-solving and decision-making skills.
Some areas that an IT operations manager must be knowledgeable in include the following:
- Latest technology trends.
- Industry regulations.
- Security threats and issues.
- Network design.
- System performance and monitoring.
- Software installation and upgrades.
- Working with vendors.
- Overseeing and mentoring IT staff.
To do well in IT operations, an individual must possess a combination of technical and soft skills. Having a degree in a related field is essential, as is experience with networks, systems, software applications and programming languages. Strong interpersonal skills are required so that an IT ops manager can effectively communicate technical matters to customers and executives who don't have a technical background. Organizational capabilities are necessary for managing multiple projects and allocating resources.
IT ops vs. IT infrastructure
IT operations and IT infrastructure are two key parts of any IT organization that must work in tandem. IT ops ensures the smooth running of IT systems and services. IT infrastructure encompasses the physical components and software that enable IT systems.
IT infrastructure is all the hardware and software that comprises an organization's IT environment. This includes personal computers, servers, networks, storage devices, virtual technologies and all the software that makes the hardware run and that runs on the hardware.
IT ops ensures an organization's systems are available when needed and can respond to changing needs. Ops teams use automated processes and comprehensive monitoring tools to respond to technical and security issues as they arise and before they become major problems. IT ops teams also ensure IT systems can scale to meet future and growing needs.
IT operations also facilitates collaboration among other IT teams by providing visibility into complex systems and performance metrics. Comprehensive monitoring tools give stakeholders across departments access to real-time insights into system performance and help them make better decisions. This improves efficiency and ensures everyone is on the same page when it comes to system maintenance and use.
IT ops vs. DevOps
IT operations and DevOps overlap in key areas, so it's important to understand what each does and how they differ. IT ops is the management of operations related to the development, maintenance and support of IT systems. This includes activities such as monitoring and management of networks and servers, system upgrades, patches and security updates, user account maintenance and service desk support. The ops team oversees all daily IT tasks with the goal of maintaining existing infrastructure.
DevOps combines both software development and IT operations activities to create an efficient, streamlined product and service delivery process. DevOps uses automation and continuous system monitoring to increase speed, agility and reliability in the development and delivery process.
DevOps uses Agile software development methodology to ensure changes can be implemented fast without affecting an organization's operational stability or performance. Like IT ops, it encourages collaboration among different departments and facilitates better communication among teams. Automation and continuous integration processes simplify product deployment. Both DevOps and IT ops ensure faster resolution of issues through feedback loops that detect problems earlier in the system's lifecycle.
IT operations trends
Three major trends are reshaping the future of IT operations:
- Serverless computing is a cloud computing model that, along with a related capability called function as a service, is designed to simplify cloud application hosting. Serverless computing reduces the need for infrastructure management and provisioning.
- AI and AIOps are optimizing IT operations and automating infrastructure and operations functions, such as failure recognition and predictive analytics.
- Edge computing puts workloads and client data on the network periphery, as close to the customer as possible, reducing latency and improving customer experience.
Other trends influencing IT operations in broader ways include the following:
- Digital diversity management. The modern enterprise is becoming an increasingly diverse and digital environment that, in most cases, stitches together legacy applications and infrastructure with cutting-edge, multi-cloud strategies. Digital diversity management focuses on the need to identify, monitor and manage technologies that affect and support modernization.
- Reducing the role of the traditional data center. A growing number of organizations are expected to shut down their traditional data centers or move to smaller facilities, based on shifting IT operations into cloud environments.
- Network agility. Automation and AI are among the advanced technologies contributing to network agility. Over time, AI-enabled networks are expected to show impressive increases in network speeds as networks evolve to meet the needs of 5G wireless technology and edge computing.
- Global infrastructure. An organization's customers and suppliers are more likely to span the globe, requiring operations leaders to make IT resources available everywhere. As a result, IT leaders must look for partnership strategies that provide affordable and accessible capabilities and support.
- Cybersecurity threats. Cyber attacks -- including phishing, distributed denial-of-service attacks, viruses and ransomware -- are becoming more frequent, targeted and destructive. Such attacks can shut down business operations if they aren't quickly caught and stopped. This makes security management among the biggest concerns for IT operations managers.
Popular IT operations vendors
Vendors that offer IT operations management platforms and related services include the following:
- CA Technologies.
- Flexera, which acquired RISC Networks in 2019.
- Hewlett Packard Enterprise.
- Interlink Software.
Find out what skills IT operations professionals will need in the future.