If you work in IT management, you are probably no stranger to pressure. It never ceases to amaze me how much management expects out of the IT department, and how few resources the IT department is given to meet these expectations. For example, in my first IT management job, the help desk department had to support a user base of nearly 1000 users in two facilities with a staff of three.
Although management frequently asks for miracles, the IT department is not always able to deliver. According to Aberdeen, 90 percent of all completed IT projects are completed late and 30 percent of all IT projects are canceled prior to completion. Furthermore, according to Gartner, 50 percent of all IT projects are delivered over budget and 50 percent of all IT projects fail to meet their intended business objectives.
A company named Mercury Interactive has come up with an interesting idea for solving these problems. According to Mercury, its customers experience far lower levels of late project deliveries (40 percent), projects delivered over budget (20 percent), projects that fail to meet objectives (10 percent), and canceled projects (3 percent) than the national average. This article explains how Mercury is achieving those percentages through business technology optimization (BTO).
IT as an expense
How does Mercury do such an impressive job of keeping IT on track? The idea is that companies should do for IT what they have been doing for other departments for years. Departments like accounting and sales have used computers to automate all of their critical business tasks. Furthermore, management generally treats such departments as being the company’s core business. On the other hand, management tends to look at the IT department differently. IT is often thought of as a department that exists for the sole purpose of assisting departments that conduct the company’s primary business.
To give you an idea of how little management thinks of IT, consider this: Several years ago, I was the CIO for a group of hospitals. The CEO put the IT department on the balance sheet on the same page as the building maintenance department and the janitorial staff. In this and in many other companies, IT was treated as a necessary expense rather than an asset.
How Mercury does it
When I first read about Mercury’s philosophy of optimizing the IT department, I thought they were a high-priced consulting firm whose consultants knew all kinds of different management philosophies, but were clueless about IT. As it turns out though, the Mercury approach relies more on software than on high priced consultants. Mercury offers four different software packages that they refer to as optimization centers. Each of these optimization centers are designed to help to align disparate IT functions. The four optimization centers are:
- IT Governance Center: Designed to optimize the IT department’s strategies and the execution of those strategies.
- Quality Center: Designed to optimize the delivery and quality of new applications.
- Performance Center: Designed to optimize the performance of software applications.
- Business Availability Center: Designed to optimize the availability and management of applications and systems.
Each center is designed to take an analytical approach to monitoring IT functions, and then present the current state of the IT department through a dashboard view. This dashboard view allows IT managers to quickly determine which areas are falling behind and, therefore, need attention.
IT Governance Center
The IT Governance Center has two main purposes. The first purpose is to help IT departments spend effectively. The second purpose is to help IT departments comply with complex government regulations. The governance module allows you to track demands being placed on IT departments and to prioritize tasks. For example, you could flag one project as an essential day-to-day activity while another project might be listed as a long-term strategic goal. You can then configure this module so that management can view the status of each individual project along with projected costs, completion dates, and so on.
As the name implies, the Quality Center is designed to help you make sure applications developed in-house meet the highest quality standards. Mercury has worked with over 3,000 customers to come up with a list of quality assurance practices. You can then create an audit trail based on who did what quality assurance test and when. Having this knowledge available makes it easier to determine how soon an application will be ready to roll out to a production environment.
The Performance Center is designed to help organizations test applications for scalability while conducting performance tuning. The neat thing about the way the Performance Center works is that it eliminates the need to recreate specs for every application. For example, suppose your IT department has developed an application that will be used by 1,000 people and uses a specific database. If six months down the road your company creates another application that will be used by the same people and uses the same database, then a lot of the performance requirements and specifications will be common between the two applications. Therefore, the Performance Center can reuse parts of the data and save the IT staff work.
Business Availability Center
The idea behind the Business Availability Center is that IT departments are frequently engaged in crisis management. The Business Availability Center uses a dashboard to display the business impact of each problem. This allows the IT staff to set priorities in choosing which problems to work on first.
IT as an asset
The BTO philosophy that Mercury uses is that IT is just as important as any other department in the company. Furthermore, departments such as accounting and sales are run as a business, and IT should be run in this manner as well. By running IT as a business and using computer technology to optimize and organize the IT department, resources can be used where they are needed the most. In this way, the IT department can reduce the number of projects that are delivered late, that are over budget, and that fail to meet the company’s objectives. When these numbers start dropping, then the IT department will become more valuable to the company.