How To Position IT For Maximum Business Benefit.
The goal of IT must be to deliver technology to the business in a way that directly benefits the organisation. That may sound obvious but the number of business executives and managers who feel frustrated or confused when talking to IT professionals paints a different picture. Many corporate IT teams are striving to provide IT as a utility service, similar to power & telephone services. This is a worthy goal and one that has gained credibility in recent years, increasing value and standard of service whilst reducing unwanted and unplanned costs.
Enterprise organisations seek to emulate the ease with which these established businesses provide cost-effective, reliable services in terms that customers understand. In reality, these utilities are complex, expensive and fragile with complexity hidden behind friendly, business or consumer words and pictures. Increasingly, IT leaders want to hide the workings of IT from the business. That way, everyone benefits, IT is left alone to do "it's thing" and the business is isolated from the underlying complexity and techno-babble.
Firmly Aligning IT With Business Goals - The business sets the rules
Embracing Quality - Delivering Value
The value of IT is not lost on business managers but they often struggle to communicate with their IT providers. The disconnect is acute in many cases, and so the business fails to embrace IT's full potential. This can be changed as soon as IT and business managers learn to communicate. For example, the IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL) lets you "pick-and-mix" from the best practices of the world's most proficient IT operators - large enterprise, service providers and government agencies. The result is a framework of processes, terminology and applied wisdom that any organisation can benefit from selectively adopting. The ITIL books are written in business terminology but they describe processes that IT managers can easily relate to. In fact, experienced IT professionals will recognise much of them as common sense. It's a pity that it is not very common.
The 3 ICT Service Tiers
It is helpful to break IT into 3 service tiers - utility, commodity and competitive. Within each are individual IT services that must be described in business terms. How else can the business understand their value and how to harness them? A mature, well run service has clearly articulated goals and quality provided within a well-defined pricing structure. The entire collection of services are described in a document called the service catalog. By creating a catalog of business-facing IT services, IT can most effectively market its value and establish dialog with it’s stakeholders. A service catalog lets IT be managed as a business, It provides a vehicle to manage customer demand, govern fulfilment processes, ensure service level compliance, drive process efficiencies and track costs. Commodity computing resources like desktops, laptops, servers, networks, storage, databases, internet & messaging are managed to control costs but not at the expense of reliability. Stacked on top of these are the utilities. Applications such as backups, email, web services, ERP, CRM, HR and accounting, they are essential and must be delivered consistently. It is wise that utility and commodity services are deployed and managed by 3rd parties according to a service level agreement. A service provider can hold specialist skills and tools then amortise them over multiple clients to reap economies of scale.
The ultimate goal of structured IT delivery is automation or outsourcing. These strategies are employed to ensure that IT professionals who understand the business, it’s culture, markets dynamics and goals are not squandered.
If it's not core business then IT can delegate to the most cost-effective provider.
From definition to delivery - Transparent Sourcing
Alignment with ITIL enables a 3rd party organisation to transparently deliver services to the business with minimal involvement from the IT team. We must ensure that IT fulfils it’s mandate - to serve the business.
The business is funding IT to serve it’s goals - whether that’s an internal team or outsourced model. The metrics used to measure the effectiveness & maturity of IT should reflect the goals, risk management and align with corporate & regulatory governance initiatives. Business process owners are empowered with total responsibility for all aspects of their business process. In particular, this includes providing adequate controls. Metrics such as availability, application & support response times, mean time to restore service combined with predictable costs are amongst the most desired controls. An increased focus on the business offers opportunities to reduce costs, acquire skills-on-demand, and improve reliability. Many IT projects fail because they lose focus on the business goals, are poorly conceived or mismanaged. The common cause is an inappropriately skilled and staffed IT team focused overtly on technology features rather than business outcomes. We know that seasoned IT experts are at a premium & the business must ensure that it’s best minds are exploiting technology for the business - not for IT’s own sake. External assistance is critical as complexity rises, it must become trivial to use specialist resources and measure their performance in the same way as internal staff. The knowledge contributed by both internal & external teams must be captured & re-used without re-alignment. Incoming talent must quickly adjust to the culture by adopting best practices, ITIL makes that easier that do so.
Focus On Competitive Advantage
The business-aligned IT team will work with stakeholders to create services that fuel growth by innovating, enhancing or automating business processes - both new and old. It is through these competitive services that IT begins to positively contribute to the balance sheet. As new users, roles or branches are created - these services are provisioned according to the formal definitions laid down. It takes little or no business knowledge from that point to deploy, monitor or maintain any of these services. When deployed, every service should fit into the best-practices operational framework (ITIL) and be delivered to an agreed level of service. Once again, the IT team is freed from the mundane to focus on the next round of internal business improvements and client-facing innovations.
Goals of Mature IT
The mature IT team continues the dialog with the business to understand their goals and use their broad knowledge of information technology to propose, architect, test and deploy increasingly valuable IT backed business services. This is where IT truly shapes the organisation and delivers a measurable return on investment. What is outlined here is neither a simple exercise nor is it rapid or painless. To transition from fire fighting to proven business benefits requires strong executive support, tactical leadership and a practical financial investment. The ROI is not measured in weeks or months but years. Organisations that are still fire fighting can be identified by a (hyper)active help desk.
In the end, the core business benefit is to thrive rather than survive in today's challenging economic climate.
“We needed to become more mature in the way we design, deliver and support IT solutions. ICE Systems help us demonstrate our successes in a way that the business can understand.” Darrel Van Dort – Regional IT Director - Asia Pacific