Author: Miriam Theilacker Photos: T-Systems, Thomas Friedl
"We've defined standards for processes, for security, for people"
Interview with Stephan Kasulke, SVP Quality at T-Systems and Chairman of the Zero Outage Industry Standard Association.
Stephan Kasulke has good reason to celebrate: his newly founded association – whose members already included major manufacturers such as Brocade, Cisco, Dell EMC, Hitachi Data Systems (HDS), Juniper, NetApp, SAP and Suse – recently welcomed IBM and Swisscom into the fold. Hardware and software vendors work closely with system integrators to develop a set of best practices for the entire industry. Compliance with the new standard will ensure stable, secure IT.
Mr. Kasulke, T-Systems has been advocating an industry-wide standard for nearly a year, but only recently established the Zero Outage Industry Standard association along with other big players. Why did it take so long?
The actual formation process didn’t take long at all. Once we had the idea of establishing an association to promote the Zero Outage Industry Standard a year ago, we quickly found several prominent companies who were willing to join “our” association. Over the next several months, we started working with them on developing and defining the standard. That demonstrates how much market interest there is in this idea and how little effort it took to recruit partners for the association. Now, if what you’re asking me is, “Why did it take so long for the industry to develop a standard in the first place?”, the answer is simple: no one has taken the initiative until now. Many companies simply told customers, “Just buy everything from me and it will all work out.” However, the spread of digitization has forced companies to accept that they can’t do everything themselves. It takes many different players to work together and develop common standards.
How did you come up with the idea of forming an association in the first place after T-Systems had established Zero Outage as an in-house quality program back in 2011?
The Zero Outage Industry Standard Association was founded by T-Systems and major tech-companies in order to start an industry-wide discussion and work out a common understanding of quality.
Around a year ago, Kai Brachmann and I were philosophizing – with some justification – about what could be done to prevent incidents in the future. We didn’t want to just tell organizations what to do; we wanted to engage with suppliers and partners as equals and jointly define a way to do things better. Active collaboration is the only way for our industry to define secure, stable IT quality.
You’re currently developing a framework for the Zero Outage industry standard to share with other organizations later on. What exactly does the framework contain and when should it be ready to use?
The framework is ready to use right now. We’ve already defined it and published the first release with extensive definitions, particularly for processes, training and security. The platform level of the initial framework still needs some content tweaks here and there. From now on, our job will be to gradually update and refine the standard as requirements change.
When will customers start benefiting from the Zero Outage industry standard and what concrete advantages will companies and consumers enjoy?
Here’s where it gets exciting! Customers won’t benefit until the association members start complying with the standard. It is when companies begin to base their components or system solutions on the standard that things become interesting for customers. Let me give an example: once a manufacturer like Cisco starts marketing Zero Outage versions of equipment that are significantly less error-prone because they’ve completed special maturity and testing processes, system integrators like T-Systems can begin to build solutions made solely from Zero Outage components.
Will the association benefit T-Systems customers? If so, how and why?
Most definitely! Stable operating behavior requires companies to control platform quality, train employees effectively, maintain clearly defined processes and secure the entire supply chain. The association defines vendor-agnostic criteria such as end-to-end resolution times for malfunctions, minimum employee training levels and security and platform requirements. Only if all companies come on board will we succeed in minimizing errors, increasing availability, ensuring security and providing customers with a full Zero Outage experience. It’s an incremental process: every time we make a component significantly less error-prone, we improve the system’s overall availability and stability. Our customers will benefit the moment that companies start adopting this standard – even if it’s initially only at the process level. These benefits will grow as companies move into the platform, people and security levels.
Do you see the association as a tool for improving your own Zero Outage activities? If so, how?
That was the main reason why we launched the association in the first place, at least as far as processes, security and training/certification goes. In these areas, we feel very comfortable setting standards and establishing our solutions in the market, and that stood us in very good stead last year. But at the platform level – where you have to define detailed technical standards and make components more robust – our technical expertise didn’t get us very far since you have to delve deep into the systems. At that point, the association became an excellent opportunity for us to make headway on technology platforms by leveraging the vendors‘ expertise to define additional standards.
Have you encountered any challenges that the association didn’t anticipate?
Things have been harmonious so far since all the companies are collaborating as equal partners despite having very different technical philosophies. All the major storage vendors have joined the association, after all. And if people have opposite views, that leads to good discussions. We expect this dynamic to pick up a little now that we’re refining the technology level.
How did you persuade companies like Cisco, Dell EMC or SAP to join the association?
SAP, for one, didn’t need a lot of persuading. Why? SAP provides integrated system solutions of its own and so faces the exact same challenges as T-Systems. Partners who aren’t integrators required a bit more convincing, however. The biggest selling point is that they can lower their technical support costs and offer customers higher overall availability. Customers are generally willing to pay more for that kind of improvement.
How is the collaboration working out? How forthcoming have the members been about sharing information?
There are many levels where it has been very painless and effective: in training and certifications, for example, or in the service business, which tends to focus on processes. These are all established partnerships where our Zero Outage philosophy has a long track record in the market. In these areas, the collaboration process has been fruitful and relatively straightforward. Progress has been more slow-going at the technology and security levels, though. Once you reach these areas, you’re often moving from the service unit to the product development department, which never interacts with our kind of organization otherwise. That means you need to persevere in order to have any appreciable influence as an outside organization. It’s no wonder, then, that we’ve made less progress on technology than on the process and people levels. However, we now have the right contacts for technology issues and can make even bigger advances in the second release. We are holding regular meetings and joint workshops to achieve that goal.
Have other companies signaled their interest in joining?
We're excited that IBM recently decided to come on board. The whole company joined, including its professional services, hardware and software divisions. That’s quite a coup. Right now, we’re in talks with several interested companies and will be welcoming new partners shortly.
What are the association’s next milestones?
First, we will publish Release 2 and 3 of the standard in spring and winter 2017. These releases will be fascinating from a technical perspective because they incrementally add new standards to the technology level, one layer at a time. We have a roadmap and plan to make considerable headway with each release. Our second milestone will be our new roadshows that we hope will bring even more key players on board. Also, we will be looking into opportunities to expand our offering in the access provider space.
What does it mean to you personally to be elected as the association’s chairman?
It’s primarily a big responsibility, first as its ‘midwife’ and then as its ‘father’ for the first year. People say that organizations are like newborns: the first years are the most important and most formative period in their lives. And so I now have to invest a lot of time and energy in developing our idea until it’s mature enough to run under its own power. But the chairmanship is more than a big responsibility; it’s also an opportunity. Watching the best practices from T-Systems’ internal quality program evolve into an industry standard is a dream come true. Five years ago, who would have foreseen that happening? I didn’t, to be honest.
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