Emerging Tech

Why is IT so reluctant to look at itself?

Nearly everyone in IT talks about improving processes throughout the organization but often ignores its own idiosyncrasies.

There is an interesting tendency among IT organizations to be hesitant to looking inward, with a view of improving internal processes, performance, and interactions with other elements of the company. Perhaps since IT is tasked with performing these functions for others, it seems frivolous to expend time and energy internally, when there is always a large backlog of work for the consumers of IT's services. This is a misguided notion however, and if IT is truly going to sell itself as able to digest, implement, and improve on corporate strategy, it is imperative its own house is in order.

Perception matters

While many are loathe to admit it, perception and appearances matter. Just as one would be hesitant to hire an obviously out-of-shape personal trainer or a tattooed and pierced estate planner, organizational appearance can have a similar effect. At the most obvious, the IT shop whose frontline staff constantly complains about those jerks in "the business" and reflexively answers "no" to any and all requests is not going to be positively regarded. More subtly, the CIO who is in a constant state of panicked chaos, always too busy to talk, and late to every meeting negatively impacts IT's perception just as badly.

Strive for a perception of control, pragmatism, and openness at all levels of your IT shop. The junior analyst should be just as willing to frankly discuss an idea with a business peer, as the CIO should be scheduling regular meetings with colleagues in sales, marketing, operations, and finance. An IT shop that appears to be staffed with a cadre of business professionals will garner far more appreciation than one that seems loaded with propeller-head prima donnas.

Benchmark thyself

Most IT organizations will proudly proclaim they are excellent at benchmarking, producing rafts of charts, graphs, and reports that minutely analyze everything from server uptime and performance, to the cost to send a single email, calculated with seven decimal places of precision. While that is all well and good, few IT organizations effectively track their performance and perception in the larger organization. While knowing technical benchmarks is fine, it is far more valuable to know if the larger company perceives your IT shop as inflexible, incapable, and generally incompetent. This need not be a mind-numbingly complex endeavor, and an external party can perform a basic benchmarking exercise for a minimal investment of "time and treasure." Furthermore, knowing where you stand and continually monitoring your organizational performance allows you to quantify and measure the results of efforts toward improving your internal practices.

Practice what you preach

Nearly everyone in IT talks about improving processes throughout the organization but often ignores its own idiosyncrasies. From eight people being involved in a process that really needs only two, to poor internal management of incoming requirements and project requests, most IT organizations have myriad opportunities to improve their internal processes and systems. Rather than being frivolous or self-centered, making your internal processes more effective creates an IT organization that is more nimble, quicker to respond to changes in the business, and a more enjoyable place to work. The IT organization that is constantly in a reactionary mode is never going to get a seat at the strategy table, nor is it going to be perceived as a valuable asset to the company.

While it may seem unsettling to look inward when problems abound outside IT, each hour spent improving your internal practices can pay long-term dividends. With some targeted investments, you can shift your IT shop from a reactionary, "break/fix" driven entity, to one that can thoughtfully approach a business problem, propose a considered solution, and confidently guide its implementation.

Patrick Gray is the founder and president of Prevoyance Group and author of Breakthrough IT: Supercharging Organizational Value through Technology as well as the companion e-book The Breakthrough CIO's Companion. Prevoyance Group provides strategy consulting services to Fortune 500 and 1000 companies. Patrick can be reached at patrick.gray@prevoyancegroup.com, and you can follow his blog at www.itbswatch.com.

About

Patrick Gray works for a global Fortune 500 consulting and IT services company and is the author of Breakthrough IT: Supercharging Organizational Value through Technology as well as the companion e-book The Breakthrough CIO's Companion. He has spent ...

12 comments
mark_bennett
mark_bennett

The core problem here isn't that IT isn't measuring itself correctly, it is that the correct behavior isn't being incented by IT leadership and demanded by the company. If performance is measured by technical benchmarks alone then yes, this can lead to a problem of perception (which oddly enough often results in consultants being brought in - the great circle of IT life as it were). This quote "While knowing technical benchmarks is fine, it is far more valuable to know if the larger company perceives your IT shop as inflexible, incapable, and generally incompetent" demonstrates a consultant mentality - it is more important to a consultant that the customer perceives that the consultant be capable - delivering tangible results is a secondary consideration. The truth is you need both. IT shops need to demonstrate their ability to deliver as a service provider and business partner, which requires measuring the organization with technical as well as business benchmarks. Ensure you align your IT deliverables with corporate objectives, measure the technical aspects as well as the service aspects of achieving those goals and when you deliver, the "perception" issue will take care of itself.

waltersokyrko
waltersokyrko

Internal IT processes seem to be OK. Extenal IT processes (i.e. accepting new work from business users are bad: no priorities; everyone wants everything now. The only saving grace is that business processes are worse: 13 different ways to approve overtime; 17 different ways to request travel authorisation; major business processes not even defined.

dcolbert
dcolbert like.author.displayName 1 Like

A well oiled and smoothly running IT shop should drive the rest of the organization nuts, because the people in the IT team should appear as if they've got nothing but leisure time. It is unfortunate that most departmental and executive management doesn't understand this, and subscribes to the idea that a frentic and stressed IT staff represents an effective and productive IT staff. Over the last several years my staff has grown, spun off another department in our organization, and upgraded our datacenter with nearly $3 million in updated equipment and DC infrastructure, all at a time when the rest of the IT industry was complaining about staffing and capital upgrade cutbacks. During the biggest project rollout periods, things might get a little bit heated - but in general, my organization reflects my attitude - our goal is to make this look so *easy* that an outsider might assume that there isn't much to what we do. If things are running smoothly, if systems, performance, reliability and prodcutivity are constantly improving at your organization - if things run better today than they did 2 years ago - you shouldn't be worried about how *busy* your IT staff seems, (or doesn't seem). The proof is in the value that IT delivers to the organization. It is unfortunate that even many CIO and IT Department Managers do not realize this. Much of your interaction with your larger organization is out of your hands. You can only do so much to affect the corporate culture, the perception on the value of IT to the org, and other traditional hurdles to delivering world class sytems and support as part of your IT mission. But if these challenges own your IT department, you're doing something wrong. Constantly assessing your own organization and being *very* critical of how it can improve is a key cornerstone to achieving this goal. I have no doubt about that.

steven.taylor
steven.taylor like.author.displayName 1 Like

Over the last 15 years, I've worked in 4 different IT departments at 4 different companies, and we were always looking for way to improve processes, efficiencies and the like. But then, considering that the author is a consultant, the question is answered.

slatimer76
slatimer76

This article is great for outsourced IT deptments, commonly called consultants. My company looks at its processes and is very transparent to its clients. We know they can easily take their business elsewhere and strive to bring quick, quality, trained technicians to solve their pains. We do not have the luxery of a salary job, where it doesnt matter if our "clients" like us or not, we are just going to keep going to work because it is what we are paid to do. I have worked in IT departments, I was IT manager and Director of IT at the company before I started my own. The benefits of benchmarking help you show a need for raises for you guys when you are meeting and surpassing the users expectations. Also, when IT is going well, we are hidden, and not needed, and benchmarking can show why IT is still needed. A paradigm shift needs to occur and get the idea that IT and the rest of the company are seperate to go away. More IT people need to spend the time out of IT and in other parts of the company to have a fuller understanding of what the clients needs are, and they will see why benchmarking is important. If nothing else, with proper benchmarking, upper management will know who to get rid of when the marks are not met...perhaps this is what most IT departments are scared of.

nberigan
nberigan like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 2 Like

Perceptions, very unfortunately do matter but that doesn't mean we should put everything into that avenue. I think the survey mentality that results from this approach can result in self delusion just as easily as doing nothing. An organization with problems can acquire a superficial glow of responsiveness in the same time that actual customer service (at the base customer interaction level rather than "higher" media level) heads further south.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

I recently had a knock-down mud-roll with another guy in our department. He created a form in Word for users to request hardware and software purchases. It requires the signatures of the requester and his or her supervisor. The blocks for those signatures were locked, preventing users from inserting signature images and requiring printing the form to sign it and then scanning it to e-mail to IT. He couldn't see the value in unlocking those areas.

Englebert
Englebert like.author.displayName like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 3 Like

...but not a single specific sentence on how to accomplish this noble nirvana. The fact is that IT works long hours, lunch breaks, on-call, drop-everything-and-respond-to-the-next-emergency etc. That's why it's a burn-out occupation. Ever work oodles of hours on a simple Excel/Access/Outlook issue. Multiply that by a factor of 10 for complex IT systems. Users need to access the proper channels when they want something done rather than attempting to short-cut the system with an " I Want this done last week " attitude. IT staff are different from others. They are the creative innovative type who needn't be trying to choke themselves with a tie and stifling suit. So, get used to geeky dress code Benchmarking is a waste of time, time that can be used more productively. What exactly are you going to prove with benchmarking. Remember this, IT makes a huge paradigm leap in improvements. Not the slow minor minute benefits, but radical shifts. Of all the disciplines from accounting to actuarial science, Technology has been the one that has achieved the greatest progress.

wstromer
wstromer like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 2 Like

This attitude that "we are IT, we are different, we don't need no stinkin' benchmarks" is exactly what the author is referring to.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 2 Like

the processes, what they have some deep seated fear of is admitting the one they came up with last time they looked at it, might not last until the next time they do. Processes have to be managed, not reconceptualised every X. Okay you've let it go, lot's of meetings, piles of diagrams, turn everything upside down. Now monitor the damn thing, look where it starts falling off and do some corrective actions and follow them through. It's not rocket science. Oh and try to get the processes to match the real need not some fictitious one, you wish we had.

davdgreat
davdgreat

I have agree that monitoring the process and tweaking the weak points are so very necessary.

Spitfire_Sysop
Spitfire_Sysop

Many IT consultants should take this lesson to heart.