“You can’t handle the truth!”
This memorable movie quote from “A Few Good Men” comes to mind when discussing how Information Technology (IT) services are delivered within organizations. Leaders often don’t want to know or can’t find the time to ask questions. Typically, the primary demand is that IT services are working as expected and that technology-related costs are kept under control. This raises the question -- are the complexities of underlying technology and processes really important and relevant to nontechnical senior management?
Some IT managers would prefer to keep the powers that be in the dark to protect their kingdom of servers, desktops, networks, and software. Other IT managers would welcome more attention to their proposed initiatives for improving service as well as their challenges with managing increased workloads with shrinking staffs and budgets. But there is one word that sums up why senior management should care about how IT services are delivered – improvement. If you can improve how your internal and external customers are supported, you will advance customer satisfaction, save money (or apply cost savings elsewhere), and enhance employee satisfaction.
The fact is that IT organizations are under continuous pressure to operate efficiently and effectively and to do so with transparency and an explicit value proposition. This is increasingly difficult when every budget line item is closely scrutinized. According to Gartner, 2010 will be about balancing the focus on cost, risk, and growth. For more than 50% of CIOs, growth in the IT budget will be zero percent or less. One avenue IT management has pursued to have a fighting chance under these difficult circumstances is process improvement. While these initiatives are primarily focused on IT development practices based on quality focused frameworks like the Capability Maturity Model Integration (CMMI) and the rise of professional organizations like the Project Management Institute (PMI), there is an emerging focus on IT support services, also known as IT Service Management (ITSM).
A recent Gartner survey of IT senior management shows ITSM as a key initiative for 2010, with the majority adopting Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL) as the de facto standard for IT operations and services. By implementing a widely used best practices framework, IT organizations will provide more reliable service at a manageable cost. More important, this type of process improvement is critical to an organization’s overall risk mitigation strategy. This is because future governance, finance, or security audits will go more smoothly as a result of the improved documentation and consistency experienced by implementing well-defined ITIL-based processes.
But is ITIL just another process improvement or reengineering fad? Not likely, because it has been evolving for several decades and is built upon simple terminology with understandable and manageable concepts. Complemented with organized training and certification requirements, ITIL provides extensive process definitions and flows, and a definitive and comprehensive vocabulary that bridges generations, cultures, and the industry elite who pride themselves on coining the next buzzword. The bottom line? ITIL just makes sense.
To properly embark on this journey to improve IT Service Management, it’s important to set expectations throughout the organization and enhance focus on the very impediments that tend to go unaccounted for in many basic engagements – dealing with the people factor. Here are three key strategies to consider.
Ask the right questions to learn the truth. To truly understand the status of your IT Service Management processes, there must be full exposure without fear. More is required than a cookie cutter maturity assessment survey that measures an organization’s IT services against a best practices framework like ITIL. Instead, take a holistic approach that incorporates critical “people-centric” success factors such as performance management, inter-organizational relationships, human capital, and team effectiveness.
Prepare organization to handle truth. Senior management must convey how important this effort is to all employees. It must be made clear that only the truth is acceptable and that it is in everyone’s best interest to be forthcoming. By communicating the overriding goal of alignment with organization, team, and individual performance goals, it will become clear that this is a sincere, long-term effort.
Address common pitfalls that lead to avoidance of truth. To improve the probability of ongoing success and acceptance of these efforts you must train employees to develop knowledge and awareness, incorporate cross-discipline team collaboration, define bite-size high-return early objectives, and communicate progress toward process improvement goals.
The truth uncovered from the assessment and the preparation and education of your organization will be the foundation for improving how your IT department designs processes, transitions changes, and operates your information systems.
Keep in mind that improving IT Service Management is just one piece of the puzzle in your overall IT strategy. Letting IT management know this is an area worthy of focus and dollars will benefit your entire organization. Burying heads in the proverbial sand until there is a major problem with system outages or failed audits is just not good leadership and may end with disastrous results. Take the time now to find out what is behind the IT curtain. The truth may very well set you free.