An IT assessment is more than an evaluation of the technology in a company. It’s actually a business assessment that defines the technology needs of the company and evaluates how well those needs are being met.
While it would be easier if you could complete your assessment by just heading to the IT department and asking a few questions, the groundwork you do beforehand—by interviewing senior management, company departments, and external clients—provides the critical context for your conversations with IT.
Why is this necessary? You simply can’t measure the delivery of IT services if you don’t know what expectations and standards to measure them against, and you should not depend solely on IT’s version of the company's technology needs. Determining the needs from the client’s perspective is key.
Once you define the company's technology needs, you can then go to the IT staff to validate whether they're on the same page. Here’s a look at how you can approach IT and what questions you'll need to ask.
Fourth in a series
This consultant’s view of an IT assessment follows three other articles that examined what questions you should ask of senior management, company departments, and external clients and what you should learn from their input. Next week’s article will show you how to present your findings and recommendations to your client.
Same company, different vision
Don’t be surprised if the clients and the technology groups are not in sync. I’ve conducted more than 50 IT assessments, and there are two constants: The client (company departments or external clients) expressed a lack of confidence in the IT organization, and the IT organization described an environment in which they worked very hard, were focused to client issues, had clients that were difficult to satisfy, and in which IT was not funded well enough to do the job effectively.
In every situation, I can say that insufficient funds were not the problem. In most cases, problems stemmed from a lack of communication, poor follow-up, a lack of strong client-service skills, or simply not listening to the client.
How you deliver and support your technology is as important, if not more so, than what you deliver. With this in mind, it’s important to understand the business needs of technology first and then assess the technology organization’s focus and capabilities in delivering on those needs.
The technology review is multifaceted. In this part of your IT assessment, you will want to review the technologies in place as well as conduct interviews with key people in the IT organization.
How to structure your IT review
These are the three main areas on which to focus your IT review:
- Capability to meet company needs
- Capacity and scalability
- IT organization
- Expertise and depth needed to support the business needs
- IT processes
- Change management
- Software licenses
- Project management
- Policies and procedures regarding technology
- Tracking and measuring performance
A technology organization has many functional parts. Begin with the CIO, or equivalent manager, to quantify his/her IT organizational structure. Typically, it will include part or all of the following:
- Networks (LAN, WAN)
- Desktop Support
- Business Applications
- Research and Development
- Installation Services
- Professional Services
- Help Desk
- Computer Center Operations
- Technology Assets
- Processes and Procedures
What to cover in your IT review
The interviews discussed in our first three articles have created a mental picture for you of the IT organization’s strengths and weaknesses. As you work through each of the functional sections within IT, you will want to confirm whether these perceptions are valid. Break your review of each functional area into two parts:
- Physical review
Conduct your IT interviews as you would any other interview. Gather observations, and try to identify and verify issues that have been raised. Recognizing consistencies between your previous interviews and your interviews with IT will tell you how well the IT organization is focused on the company’s priorities.
Every interview will likely create a whole new set of questions, but try to keep your process flow grouped by the functional areas described above. In other words, complete the infrastructure discovery before moving to the business applications section if possible. Even small organizations tend to have separate focuses for the different disciplines of IT. Staying with the same discipline until you've completed your evaluation of each area will help your focus.
Figure A lists some questions to consider:
You will also have other questions on specific issues that were discovered in earlier interviews. Weave them into your interview conversation to help you verify issues that you’ve identified.
The interviews will essentially provide you with the material you need to size up the IT organization, its capabilities, and its ability to meet company needs.
Physical reviews are conducted to actually look at the technology. By walking around and observing the network, the data center, the staff's office space, etc., you can get a good feel for how well the IT team is organized. You'll also want to take a look at documented change-management processes, escalation procedures, organization charts, vendor contracts, etc. to determine how well staff responsibilities are defined and how well the IT department is organized.
As you walk through the organization and begin to learn about the technology that exists, look for the fire from the smoke you’ve heard about so far. There may not be any; but if there is, you need to find it.
One time during an assessment, the users told me they encountered quite a bit of downtime. The IT staff, however, indicated there was very little downtime. After walking through the computer room and seeing soda cans on top of CPUs and a general disarray, it was fair to say that the environment was indeed conducive to downtime.
After probing deeper, I discovered that there was a solid week of downtime during the past year due to insufficient data backups. My conclusion was that it was time to call 9-1-1. I needed to work fast.
In my past, I’ve conducted due diligence of more than 35 technologies to support company acquisitions. Because we were doing so many acquisitions, I developed a simple IT business assessment checklist that I would send to the CIO of the new company in addition to the due diligence materials already requested.
We would discuss what I was going to be looking for in discovery prior to my on-site visit, and the checklist helped us both prepare for the review. It also kept me on track during the discovery process and helped ensure that I covered all the bases.
Click here to download a similar checklist you can use to prepare for your next IT business assessment.
Mike Sisco is President of MDE Enterprises, an IT management training and consulting company based in Atlanta. Check out MDE’s IT Manager Development Series for more of Mike’s advice for IT managers and CIOs.
Have you been part of an IT assessment?
Have you, as a consultant or as a staff IT manager, been included in an IT assessment? What kind of information did the assessment require? How was it handled? What is the best way for consultants to gather such information? Send us your suggestions in an e-mail or post them below.