Running IT like a business

February 11, 2015Written by

IT is changing.

And this sentence is probably the only element of IT that has remained fairly constant throughout its history. There is always something new on the horizon – new technology, new operating model, new ways to reach customers and support the business. It’s probably safe to say that most (if not all) successful CIOs and IT professionals are on the lookout for these new trends and opportunities. There is another component, though, that is critically important but which has not been receiving any considerable interest from the industry.

That lack of hype is perhaps understandable because the topic isn’t really as shiny as, say, mobile technologies or cloud solutions (both having been objects of considerable amount of excitement, promotion and coverage). The thing that we see as the key differentiator for IT organizations is a little more ‘bland’ – it’s looking at how your organization functions, day to day. It’s operational effectiveness. OK, so this probable doesn’t seem like anything particularly revolutionary or innovative but, based on our experience in the industry, we beg to differ so hear us out…

There are two trends that make life just a little bit harder for IT these days.

On one hand, having new/innovating technologies helps you gain competitive advantage only for a short while – your competitors will very quickly figure out how to do the same thing you do. On top of that, you’re probably experiencing more scrutiny from the Business. They want to know why IT costs as much as it does and they are asking more and more questions about budgets, deliverables and value-add. This is exactly where the operational effectiveness comes in or, what we like to call it, running IT like a business. Yes, your competitors have access to the same solutions but if you can get things done faster, cheaper and better, you’ll find yourself at the head of the race. And that won’t change when the technology changes.

So what exactly does it mean to run IT like a business?

First and foremost, it’s a mindset. It’s asking yourself: “am I doing this right?”, “is there a better way?”, “do I understand how this fits into the bigger picture?” You might argue that changing mindsets is just about the most complex and challenging change management exercise you can take on. True, it’s not easy but it is doable – especially if you set smaller attainable goals.

Everyone in an organization is responsible for helping make the corporate strategy a reality. That, however, is easier said than done. While most companies are good at creating strategic plans and roadmaps, surprisingly few are able to actually execute their plans. In fact, more strategies fail than succeed and in some research the level of failure reaches an astonishing 90%! The reasons, of course, are many but one theme stands out – execution is carried out by staff and staff is bound by the everyday, not by strategic plans. It’s the everyday processes, the expectations and the ‘way things work’ that, in the end, form the ‘as is’ state (much more strongly than any strategic roadmap). It’s not the competitors, the changes in the market or disrupting technologies; for most organizations, the enemy of their strategic plans is…..their own internal processes.

So what can you do to make things better?

Portfolio and project management is probably one of the most obvious areas. Effective delivery is key if you want to move along the strategic path. There are, however many more elements that will come into play.

  • Measurements and reporting are critical to how (and what) information is shared and acted upon.
  • Effective estimating gives you an ability to accurately assess future work.
  • Your knowledge management approach defines how much knowledge your organization retains and how much of it walks out the door when people do.
  • Your repeatable processes also need a tool/framework to ensure that everyone knows what to do and can get it done without excessive bureaucratic pain.
  • Resource management tools and processes allow you to see what your people are really working on and where they spend their time.
  • Active management of your sourcing model and vendor performance will help you apply the same standards to everyone working on your initiatives.
  • Your governance structure has to enable decision-making and encourage your team to share, communicate and propose new solutions.
  • The right testing methods will raise the quality to your solutions while decreasing the time it takes you to get them up and running.

And this is just the tip of the iceberg. Those, and many other, areas of your IT organizations have to be looked at through the perspective of practicality, usability, and fit to your size/industry/strategic goals.

The good news is that you don’t have to tackle all these areas at once to improve the performance of your IT organization. You do, however, have to ask yourself – are we running IT like a business? Once you do, the areas of improvement will become a lot clearer.

Running IT like a business means getting the job done right, on time, and within budget. A large part of it is ensuring that everyday processes support, and not hinder, your team’s ability to accomplish their goals. When that happens, your team will be more effective and more motivated. And with that, every move within IT will send a positive ripple throughout the rest of the company.

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