“What the hell do all these IT people do all day anyway?” That's a great question often posed by staff members, CEOs, CFOs and line-of-business managers. As a senior IT executive or manager, can you answer that question?
I often see IT staffers engaged in ridiculous pursuits that provide no value to an organization — printing business cards, acting as intermediaries for support calls to external vendors, repairing equipment that is under a service contract, and generating reports that should be created by end users. Moreover, I see too many menial, repetitive tasks like patch management being performed by expensive humans rather than by automated systems. Many IT directors either don’t recognize the dysfunction or see it as a way of keeping their overstaffed empires intact.
Even worse, IT staff members often engage in activities for which they are not even remotely qualified, but which they insist on performing because of some misplaced DIY (do it yourself) philosophy. Such activities are often part of what I call a wild-west management style where IT staff members decide for themselves which activities are of value to the organization. I recently had an encounter in which an IT minion told me that TCO (total cost of ownership) information I was requesting as part of an audit was “not going to provide value to the organization.” Huh!
What is important to your organization?
Services that are valuable to one organization may be of little or no value to another. Establishing what services will provide value to your organization is a critical business activity in which you and your executive leadership team should be fully engaged. These decisions shouldn’t be left to the whims of minions. Unfortunately, this sort of strategic planning occurs in few organizations. If you are working for one of the majority of organizations not following any best practices for IT service delivery, this conversation with your leadership is even more important. There is really no such thing as an IT problem, but management issues abound.
As a manager, one of your primary functions should be to "make resources productive" (as Peter Drucker wrote in The Practice of Management). Are you doing that? Can you instantly produce reports and metrics demonstrating that your IT operation is delivering real business value to your customers? Can you summarize exactly what services and value your IT operation provides? "Serving the needs of my customers" isn’t a good enough answer. Trying to be everything to everyone generally results in being useless to everyone.
The biggest risk to an internal IT operation isn’t external contractors; it is poor customer service. Let’s discuss how to reduce that risk.
Solutions: Start with the basics
Do you know what your staff members are working on? Are they using a clearly defined service catalog, adhering to a service-level agreement (SLA) and using a professional services automation (PSA) system? These are basic governance documents and operational tools that should be in deployed in even the smallest IT operations but they are often absent even in large, well-funded IT organizations. Indeed, smaller organizations with scarce resources would benefit most from these tools.
Instituting just a few of the basics will dramatically improve your IT service operations. Let’s take a look at three best practices you should be using. We can think of them as a poor man’s ITIL (IT Infrastructure Library), but you don’t need a full-blown ITIL implementation to improve the efficiency of your operations. Use common sense, a structured approach and a cycle of continuous improvement. The perfect time to begin is right now!
A service catalog is “an organized and curated collection of any and all business and information-technology-related services that can be performed, by, for or within an enterprise.” (Wikipedia)
The catalog should be developed with your executive leadership so a clear and universal understanding of the services you are providing is available to your customers. Which services are provided internally and which will be performed by external contractors? How much do they cost? When are they available? There is a downside to service catalogs, but this can be managed.
Focus on high-value services that you can realistically support. Strive for quality rather than quantity. Doing a few things well is preferable to doing many things poorly.
SLAs are often treated as requirements for external vendors, but why shouldn’t internal service providers be held to the same standards as external ones? CIO provides good discussions here, here and here.
Once you have an SLA in place, it must be enforced. You are the manager, so do your job and start managing.
An overarching problem in our industry is that end users often complain that IT is not responsive to their requests for service. Is that really true? Did they really report a problem to IT or did they just go home and tell their cat? Or did they casually mention their problem in the break room? All encounters between IT personnel and end users should be fully documented in a highly automated PSA system that has audit trails and escalation policies.
Lack of a PSA system is my biggest IT pet peeve. There is no excuse for not having such a system, and they are downright cheap compared to the cost of IT labor. In an IT assessment or audit, the lack of an auditable system to manage service requests can bury you — the vulnerable CIO or IT director. The reports and data from such a system can prove what a super manager you are. Or they can demonstrate your total incompetence.
You will incorporate your catalog of services and SLA into your PSA system.
It's no accident
Providing superb, high-value IT customer service doesn’t happen by accident. By following a few relatively simple steps, and having discussions with your executive team, you can dramatically improve the quality of your operations.
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