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.