Every IT leader strives for efficiency — making the best possible use of available resources. Yet seeking efficiency and actually achieving it to any meaningful degree are two very different things. Often, despite careful planning, efforts at building efficiency fail to meet anticipated goals and key operations remain mired in mediocrity with wheels spinning in the mud.
Restoring traction to stalled efficiency initiatives requires commitment and vision. “To be more efficient, focus efforts on improving effectiveness and experience,” advises Kumar Krishnamurthy, a principal with PricewaterhouseCooper’s strategy consulting group.
To bring the right focus on effectiveness and experience, Krishnamurthy recommends understanding and managing cost to serve across three core categories: optimizing to reduce cost to serve the business, re-engineering to drive effectiveness, and pushing to improve experiences
Here are seven additional ways IT leaders can make their operations more efficient and productive.
1. Use data to increase visibility
A key to making IT operations more efficient is focusing on business outcomes, such as increasing revenue and improving customer satisfaction, suggests John Matthews, CIO of analytics technology provider ExtraHop. “To achieve such goals, all teams across IT require accurate and up-to-date data to efficiently monitor customer experience and provide the line of business with actionable insights,” he says.
Equipping teams with relevant, actionable data will allow them to rapidly identify and resolve issues that threaten availability and performance. Data analysis can also be used to pinpoint lurking problems before they become apparent. “Visibility improves collaboration between development and operations teams by helping developers better understand how their code is working in production, as opposed to their test environment,” Matthews notes. “Moreover, complete visibility enables IT operations to drive successful digital transformations, such as cloud migration, data center consolidation or a critical application rollout.”
2. Focus on business needs, not technology
Many IT leaders have fallen into a habit of focusing on technologies rather than on the customers they serve. “There are so many new capabilities hitting the market, and this can cause IT organizations to become gridlocked in decision making,” observes Merim Becirovic, IT managing director at business and technology consulting firm Accenture. “This kind of approach often leads to tools and services that are not adapted to their users’ needs and misses out on IT’s new mission: enabling the business and uncovering new streams of revenue.”
3. Build connections with stakeholders
Essential for achieving maximum efficiency is connecting with business stakeholders, helping them to understand and support enterprise goals, says Colleen Campbell, a director in the operations excellence practice at West Monroe Partners, a business and technology consulting firm.
“If a technology leader can state clearly how their technology choices have impacted ROI, business leaders will listen and see the line that is drawn from cost to benefit,” she explains. “This is accomplished through relationship building, stakeholder management, communications strategies, program management, metrics, skill capabilities, cultural alignment to goals, and organizational changes.”
There’s an underlying assumption that business and IT leaders have collaborated on and projected the IT needs for the upcoming year, rather than just replicating last year’s IT plan or developing an IT plan in a vacuum without the business side’s input, says Matt Mead, CTO of digital design agency SPR. “Too many IT departments are perceived by the business as just cost centers and business inhibitors rather than a true partner that will help creatively think of ways that things could be done differently.”
4. Lean into the cloud
Just about any IT organization can become more efficient by taking advantage of the cloud/SaaS offerings, states Bob Worrall, Juniper Networks’ CIO. He believes that such services make IT organizations more agile while allowing teams to take advantage of best-of-breed solutions to satisfy ever-changing business requirements.
Last year, Juniper Networks’ IT team shut down its last physical data center, officially capping a seven-year journey that saw the company transition from 18 data centers to a completely cloud-based operations environment. “While this effort clearly took some time, I’m not looking back” Worrall says. “Moving to the cloud is challenging and can be very complex; however, we were committed, sought out this simplified approach to our IT operations and we’re already seeing a significant amount of ROI.”
While data center to cloud transition costs can be high, medium- to long-term cost savings usually mount quickly, thanks to lower physical infrastructure expenses as well as reduced IT management and user support costs, observes Gabe Giordano, chair of the MIS department at Ohio University. “The rapidly increasing cost of IT security will make these savings even more significant in many settings moving forward,” he says.
5. Automate, automate, automate
IT leaders should consider automating recurring IT processes, such as code deployments, configuration management and quality testing, recommends Brandon Evans, CTO at Yapta, a Seattle-based company that tracks airfare and hotel prices for corporate customers. “IT leaders often fall into the trap of thinking they can’t invest in automation, mostly due to a lack of understanding the cost tradeoff between automating IT processes and continuing with their manual approach,” he explains. “This can do tremendous harm to their organization, especially if the business is in a growth mode with an expectation to scale IT operations.”
When IT automates processes, the department is better positioned to scale in pace with enterprise expansion, support growing infrastructure needs and even handle a larger number of IT help desk requests, explains Kevin Prow, CIO of TempWorks Software, which offers recruiting, staffing and payroll processing products. “Beyond scalability, automation also significantly reduces human error from the equation,” he adds.
6. Consider a new department model
IT’s role has evolved from simply maintaining IT service levels to the far more complex, demanding task of leading the organization through an era of unprecedented digital transformation. “When it comes to organizational models, it’s extremely important to create cross-functional teams around specific projects, rather than using a factory approach,” says Hriday Ravindranath, chief technology and information officer at BT Global Services. “This is how the most successful product companies are organized.”
By creating integrated teams of product managers and engineers oriented around specific projects, the traditional functional organizational structure is rendered obsolete and new methods of efficiency are created, Ravindranath explains. “This structure encourages cross-collaboration and helps to overcome some of the traditional barriers that have in the past contributed to cumbersome and inefficient setups.”
7. Allow team members to shine
Every IT leader possesses specific skills on how to run a project. “The mistake that many leaders make is forcing their own experience onto other team members,” Prow says. Each IT team has valuable experience working with different platforms and tools. “It’s important that IT leaders understand their teams’ unique strengths and leverage them appropriately to increase efficiency,” he notes.
The best way to avoid underutilizing team experience is to have an in-depth knowledge of the platforms, processes and systems that each team is focusing on. IT leaders can then effectively assess each project individually and select the team members that offer the best strategic fit. “It’s important to align team members to projects that fit or stretch their abilities while avoiding overextension of their talents, which leads to inefficiency,” Prow advises.
The right IT efficiency strategy evolves constantly, Becirovic observes. Enterprises are facing increasing expectations from consumers, employees and business partners. As technology matures, business needs shift and customer demands change. “Strategies must be updated to follow suit faster than ever before,” he notes.