Michael Hughes featured on FierceCIO
IT is still largely viewed as purely a service provider to meet the needs of the business. In these situations, IT service is typically operated in reaction mode--trying to keep up with the different requests coming in from across the organization.
This includes requests through defined processes such as the Service Desk, but also "fly bys" to everyone's favorite IT person that may not be captured.

Some requests are tracked, others are not. Requests also continue to grow in number--for example support for new (and in most cases, unplanned) applications, desires for ad hoc reports and support of individual devices such as smart phones or tablets.

Over time, it becomes easier for IT to continue to accept more work (say "yes") and try to get to it, versus trying to step back and rationalize the work.

IT typically does its best to work through the requests and maintain communication with the business on the status of requests.  The nature of this relationship can then become adversarial.  Business questions arise about why more work is not being accomplished … IT requests more resources … executives push back, asking for supporting details … IT does not have the processes or information to do so. It's a counterproductive cycle.

In order to change the nature of this relationship and move to a more strategic partner, IT needs to become proactive in workload management. IT can no longer say "yes" to every request.  This does not mean literally saying "no"--but involves being selective in when to say "yes."

IT should create a more collaborative and two-way relationship with the business--being a strategic partner and advisor.  Key characteristics of this relationship include:

  • Defined and agreed to services (a menu of common requests)
  • Understanding of the work required to provide these services to set budgets and expectations of thresholds (what is possible)
  • Entry points and prioritization for different types of services (strategic projects, maintenance/enhancement and "run/keeping the Lights on")
  • Education of business and IT staff on the agreed-to services and appropriate entry points
  • Coaching of IT staff on the importance of driving requests through appropriate entry points to ensure the right handling, prioritization, etc.

There will always be needs that fall outside of the agreed-to services. These might be warranted (e.g., need for a new application) or ad hoc (e.g., support for a new kind of personal device).

IT needs to collaborate with the business to determine the approach to these requests--informed decision making by both sides. Examples can include:

  • Agreeing that "no" is the appropriate response: This can be the case for requests that fall outside of defined services and should not be evaluated as a new potential service (e.g., one-off applications).
  • Changing priorities: In a budget or resource constrained environment, the discussion might be focused on priority. Can something else take a lower priority to free up budget or resources to address a new need? Is the volume of certain types of requests appropriate?
  • Evaluation of current work: In one organization, this type of evaluation brought to light that ad hoc reports requests represented greater than 50 percent of all maintenance/enhancement efforts. With the majority of the required information available as standard reports, business leaders re-set guidelines for report use to help shift focus to higher priority projects.
  • Defining new services: This can include identifying a new/essential service with the business, expected volume and the IT budget/resources needed to effectively service these requests.

The key to success is for IT to run itself like a business--with a focus on its customers.  Like any business, this requires understanding the current needs of its customers, the broader environment (e.g., how can technology be a differentiator for the company) and how to be both effective and efficient in meeting these needs.  Additional characteristics include:

  • Work with the business to define services, desired thresholds (e.g., 25 percent of work focused on strategic projects) or SLAs
  • Align processes and staff by these types of work to avoid people being pulled across multiple efforts
  • Track time to work types and meet with the business to review and evaluate progress and ongoing focus
  • Develop a relationship management function to maintain and further develop relationships with the business
  • Define and implement a governance process that drives prioritization, ongoing review of services, performance and focus areas. For example, ask the question "Are we focusing on the right things?"
  • Communicate. This includes but is not limited to the value IT is providing, upcoming trends, and the achievement of business strategies and needs.
The shift of IT to a more strategic partner will be an evolution versus a revolution. The focus on stronger workload and resource management is a first step to enable IT to be a greater value provider for the organization.

No one likes to hear "no," but sometimes it is a necessity--if it's for the right reasons. Through building strategic relationships with the business and implementing the appropriate governance processes, the hope is that IT and the business make informed decisions together. This should be further supported by ongoing communications by both the business and IT around progress, new recommendations or needs and progress in meeting corporate objectives.

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