IT Pyramid of Pain: How the CIO of IBM retains top tech talent

Supplying employees with the tools they need to be successful will keep them more engaged and satisfied, according to IBM's CIO.

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Employees quit their jobs for a number of reasons, whether it be unequal opportunities, feeling disconnected, a lack of recognition, or getting stuck in a routine. Managers and leadership are often to blame for employees leaving, as the precedence for company culture is usually set from the top. 

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However, more than half (51%) of employees also believe that outdated or insufficient technology make it more difficult to retain and attain top talent, according to a recent Harvard Business Review Analytics Services survey

The IT Pyramid of Pain identifies the four levels of major pain points tech professionals deal with at work. By identifying these issues, business leaders can fix them and make their employees more satisfied, according to IBM CIO Fletcher Previn.  

Inspiration behind the pyramid

The idea for the IT Pyramid of Pain came from Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, a psychological theory that outlines five levels of basic human needs, Previn said. 

"Translating this into our IT World, I created a four-tier pyramid of user needs," Previn said. "From the bottom of the pyramid upward, the user needs are: Technical underpinning, end-to-end processes, applications, tasks. We then took the about 5,000 applications and core IT services in our IT portfolio and mapped them to this pyramid."

Previn gave the following examples of symptoms that can manifest on each level: 

  • Level 1, Technical Underpinning: These are the elements of the workplace that underlie everything else and impact usage when they perform poorly or have outages. For example, core networking and wifi services.
  • Level 2, End to End Processes: These are conceptual spaces that are made up of related tasks and tools. For example, email & calendaring, performance management, & device management.

  • Level 3, Applications:  These are the tools that must be used to complete tasks. For example, setting up a new laptop or mobile device, or engaging with the help desk.

  • Level 4, Tasks: Tasks that specific goals the employee needs to achieve. For example, buying an accessory, booking travel, or having a video conference.         

Pyramid objectives

The pyramid helps the organization look at services from the user's point of view, Previn said. By viewing services from a user perspective, the company can see where services lack, lag, or succeed, placing all employees on the same page. 

Having common goals and values is crucial for an effective, cohesive organization, and the pyramid helps the whole organization look at processes from a foundational view.

"It can be very tempting to focus one's time and money at the top of the pyramid, but if the foundation is poor (i.e. the network is unreliable, employees are being handed sub-par equipment, and the help desk is poorly run), then it is virtually impossible to get credibility with the business to perform larger, more complex transformative work," Previn said. 

"There is an interconnectedness between all the IT functions: For a person to successfully submit an expense report, for example, it requires that the network be operational, SSO identity service is up, the employee's mobile device is functioning properly, and, eventually, at the top of this pyramid, the expense reporting application to be up and running," Previn added. "Each of these services rely on the foundational services below it, and they are interdependent."

To keep quality talent, an organization needs quality technology and resources, which all begins with awareness. Previn's pyramid is a helpful tool for business leaders study and discover ways to improve. 

For more, check out How to win at digital: 3 things successful companies do on TechRepublic. 

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