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Category Archives: IT Management

Leveraging the Cloud – What is driving businesses to the cloud | Part 2/3

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This is the second of a three-part post on how cloud computing can be leveraged by businesses. In the first post, we defined cloud computing and discussed the ongoing shift to the cloud by many sectors and industries, including the US Federal Government. I think cloud computing is in its early stages but there are strong signs that the tipping point might be just around the corner.

IT organizations are increasingly seen as service providers rather than developers of business solutions and keepers of infrastructure. The relationship between the CIO and business leaders is becoming more collaborative and there is more natural focus on improving the “business of IT”.  This relationship, coupled with capital-constrained times, is fueling changes to IT funding models. One of the reasons firms turn towards using cloud computing is that it gives them a simpler and more straightforward way of funding IT. If you have been involved in pushing for the IT projects budget or are familiar with how your company is controlling IT costs, you know what I am talking about.

Simple Pay-As-You-Go Approach

Is cloud computing cheaper than what traditional IT provides? Some would argue that over the long haul, software-as-a-service or platform-as-a-service will cost you more than running the applications in-house. I think it will be a long time before really reliable measures of the costs and benefits of cloud computing for corporations are available. What is driving business to the cloud is not about overall total cost comparison. Businesses want a cash flow friendly approach to IT funding. Cloud computing solutions offer that with its simple pay-as-you-go approach. You pay only for what you use; costs are directly proportional to your requirements. The ability to perform charge-backs to business owners based on their utilization of IT services is greatly simplified with the cloud model. This is difficult to imagine in enterprise software models where multimillion dollar, up-front capital expenditures for IT infrastructure is required.

Consumer IT and Business IT Convergence

Another major reason for the business move to the cloud has something to do with consumer IT. Information technology for the consumer world means eBay, Facebook, iPad, etc. IT was once the exclusive realm of the IT professional, but today, consumers have taken on many of the same roles. Vaughan Merlyn calls this “The Convergence of Consumer IT and Business IT” and he discussed this extensively in his blog. True, there is a big difference between consumers and IT organizations on the use of technology and the challenges that brings. However, technology today has brought IT literacy to many people and changed the way consumers communicate and work. Consumer familiarity with new technology that comes out everyday makes them more knowledgeable with technical tasks. This is the new reality for IT managers — having to pay attention to what users (IT consumers) want. This is where cloud computing becomes a tempting choice for IT. At this time of capital constraints, cloud computing provides an on-demand solution with more options and less implementation time. Perhaps, like me you are also wondering: when is the best time to venture to cloud computing and where do you start? I think the answer to the first question is NOW. As to the second question, let me quote Vaughan’s suggestion on this that came as a comment on my previous post:

“Don’t look to the cloud to do things you are already doing, but do them cheaper. Rather, look to do the things your business wants, but you haven’t had the time to do! That’s where the big wins are to be found!”

Has you IT organization or company ventured to using cloud computing for some of your IT and business needs? What has driven your business’ turn to the cloud? Share us your comments, questions and experiences here. 

Photo by Hinnamsaisuy

Leveraging the Cloud | Part 1/3

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“You know a major shift is coming when even software giant Microsoft is putting its old, reliable and profitable Microsoft Office in the cloud with the Microsoft Office 365.”

Let’s say you are in-charge of your IT business office. Your main responsibilities include making sure that all employees have the right hardware and software needed for their job. Before even talking about enterprise applications that enable business processes, you start with the basics— computers and office tools. You need to buy computers and software licenses to give employees the tools they need to do their job. Whenever your company brings new employees on board, you have to buy more software or make sure your existing software license agreements allow another user. Not only is it difficult to get the budget to pay for software but it is also difficult to administer, install and support it. If you have more than 5,000 users in your area of responsibility, imagine the amount of investment, money and time you need just to give employees their computers and basic software. What if someone told you that you could provide your users with the software they need without the usual hassle? What if someone told you that on top of having to do less work, you will require less capital expenditures from the business? If you figured out where I am heading, then you will understand why there is so much buzz about cloud computing. “It’s become the phrase du jour,” says Gartner senior analyst Ben Pring.

What is Cloud Computing?

Cloud denotes the “Internet” and when combined with “computing”, the definition becomes even more complicated. There are a lot of definitions out there, but I like this one because it attempts to cover the 3 forms of cloud computing.

“Cloud computing is a general term for anything that involves delivering hosted services over the Internet. These services are broadly divided into three categories: Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS), Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) and Software-as-a-Service (SaaS). The name cloud computing was inspired by the cloud symbol that’s often used to represent the Internet in flowcharts and diagrams.” [Definition from techtarget.com]

The areas where organizations are increasing focus on virtualization are in applications that include web, database, email, calendar and office tools. Critics of cloud computing are concerned about security, disaster recovery, and encryption. The loss of physical control of data and fear of hijacked accounts are giving IT executives some reasons not to move enterprise solutions to the cloud.

I think cloud computing is in its early stages but the tipping point might be just around the corner. There are obvious signs that the shift that is underway. Former United States CIO Vivek Kundra set a target of 25% of the federal government’s $80 billion dollar yearly budget to the cloud. This data is from the “2011 Federal Cloud Computing Strategy Report”. The cloud may represent a bigger transformation for IT organizations—even larger than “e-business” in the 90s and “social media” today. Is your business ready for this transformation?

The next questions are: What is driving the turn toward the cloud? What are the underlying business issues? Find out the answers on my next post.

Photo courtesy of Idea Go.

Does your IT Value Proposition Resonate?

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Satisfying internal customers means every employee must be constantly aware that customer service is everyone’s business in IT. That constant awareness generates genuine teamwork among all departments in the IT organization: Operations, Projects Department, Support Groups, IT Infrastructure, Business Applications, Process Management, etc. This challenge emphasizes the importance of internal customer service as an IT organizational accountability. Excellent customer service doesn’t just happen because IT teams and individuals want it to, it has to mandated by IT leaders into a service model that includes specific responsibilities to perform and a standard service level to achieve.  

Revisiting your IT value proposition periodically is an important exercise for IT managers. This will help you understand the tangible and intangible elements that define and differentiate your services portfolio. For internal customers, the IT Value Proposition is the collection of services they receive upon investing in IT capabilities and services. We have to understand that it includes more than just the core IT services (like equipments, applications, and infrastructure), and even more than just good quality— it also involves the softer elements that differentiate the total service offering such as: responsiveness, innovation, collaboration and commitment. 

These are two perspectives representing the two words of the terminology “Value Proposition” — “Value” and “Proposition” – broken down into: 

  • Value (Internal Customer’s Perspective) = The benefits received by the business upon investment on IT capabilities and services.  
  • Proposition (IT’s Perspective as Service Provider) = The total offering to the business in exchange for their investment.  

Defining your IT value proposition is the first step to clearly identify how your IT services portfolio are different and better than your competitors. If you run an IT organization that is purely composed of internal employees and do not think you don’t have competitors, you are wrong. There are many 3rd party IT services providers out there who can offer the same type of service that you have. Some, I could tell you, may even offer the same level of service at a better cost than you. Outsourcing companies that provide IT services have increased and matured over the years. Advancements in technology and development of new operating paradigms have made them more accessible and acceptable. They are your competitors and they are out to get your job. If you can’t define some unique feature or benefit that makes you stand out, your internal customers may default to the other option – lower cost. And believe me, you don’t want to be forced to play the low cost game — even when you win, you lose. 

Photo courtesy of Pakorn.

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Strengthening IT Accountability – Lack of Accountability, a Symptom of Lack of Organizational Clarity

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A very insightful comment in my blog from a well respected IT management consultant, Vaughan Merlyn, motivated me to write this follow up article. IT Accountability is an interesting topic and there is a lot to uncover and delve into. In Part One, I wrote about accountability as something that does not only happen when things go wrong — it is taking ownership from the beginning. It is continuous rather than something that has an end point. There are three important areas where IT accountability comes into play: (1) IT Accountability in Operative Teams; (2) IT Accountability Cost Management; and (3) IT Accountability to improve service delivery. These are just three of the many facets of IT organizations where accountability is an important driver for success. They are meant to illustrate the meaning of IT accountability and to provide examples.

Part Two aims to tackle the challenges on how to deal with the problem of lack of IT accountability. According to Mr. Merlyn, lack of accountability is a symptom of a lack of organizational clarity. I agree withVaughan. The main reason why IT leaders fail to address the accountability issue is a lack of clarity on what the team is accountable for in the first place. Accountability matters as much as any other IT capabilities. The key to directing individuals and teams towards success is to clarify the organizational purpose up front. The organizational purpose is a declaration of what the organization wants to be and, in broader terms, what it wants to achieve. It provides meaning to the day-to-day tasks, triumphs and setbacks that make up the daily operative grind. A lack of purpose will create disconnection among the different levels of the IT organization. Teams and individuals will not know why their effort matters. They cannot connect their work to a larger story. Their work becomes a matter of going through the motions. When that happens, team members lose accountability.

The following statement is Vaughan Merlyn’s assertion on this subject:

“If organizational purpose is not clear (i.e., the goals, values desired business outcomes and guiding principles for a given capability are defined and well understood?) then organizational commitment (i.e., sponsorship and accountabilities) will be lacking or confused. With weak organizational commitment, ability (i.e., clear processes, well-defined roles, competent resources filling those roles, appropriate tools and technologies supporting the processes) will be deficient. And with deficient ability, there is virtually no way accountability (i.e., criteria for success and related performance requirements) can be meaningful.”

Root Cause: Lack of Organizational Clarity

When there is a lack of organizational clarity, it will be harder for IT managers to inspire people because they don’t have a clear direction, performance measures and objectives to follow and to communicate to their teams. This disconnect will open the door for individual managers to interpret directions, formulate objectives and determine their own priorities. On the other hand, for IT team members, it will lead to inconsistent performance of day-to-day operations that will cause low morale and productivity. It will be impossible to expect accountability from team members who may ask themselves the question—“How do we know if we are doing a good job? How do we know if we are fulfilling our obligations to the team and we are achieving results for the company?” Without organizational clarity, chances are you will have a lack of accountability from your people.

Creating the culture of accountabilty starts with the IT leaders – to me this process is always top-down. They define the IT strategy and vision based on the desired results and business strategy of the company (IT to Business Alignment). The desired objective of IT or the entire company could be to: become the easiest to conduct business with, be the most innovative organization in the industry, have technological excellence, increase profitability, or create the best sales and distribution network. IT leaders must clearly understand the business strategy of the firm which it provides services to. They must also work to provide the right IT strategy, platform, experiences and actions to achieve these results. The role of IT leaders is to communicate this organizational purpose clearly to the whole team. It requires persistent effort and a clear message to get the right commitment. By doing this, they can be certain that their subordinates know or are reminded what they are accountable for. This is where IT leaders make all the difference. Leadership is about reminding people what it is that we are trying to achieve—and why it matters.

Photos courtesy of Renjith Krishnan and Sheelamohan

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Strengthening IT Accountability

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Unfortunately, accountability in some IT organizations has become something that happens only when they are dealing with major problems. What you have is a working environment with members taking responsibility only when things go wrong. That is, when someone or some group has to own and be answerable for the consequences that impacted the business operations and later on work on reactive solutions. This kind of accountability seldom works because it is founded on the wrong principles.

Accountability in IT happens when IT team members or teams take responsibility in performing functions and work to achieve objectives. Here they take ownership of the services they provide to the business. This kind of accountability impacts both IT services delivery and ultimately, the company’s results.  This kind of accountability makes things go right and far from being a punishment for failures. This kind of accountability develops the culture that produces people with the right attitude and managers that execute the right IT strategy. Highly accountable IT organizations have that commitment at all levels — from top management to IT operators that manage day-to-day functions.

IT Accountability in Operative Teams

In my current occupation, I am fortunate to lead a team of professionals with a strong sense of pride in what they do and with the goal of contributing to the organization. That sense of pride translates into a positive attitude and best practices that govern how we work to provide the best service to our internal customers. I once told my team that what I admired most about their work is their culture of shared responsibility. I like that each one has a sense of ownership of the team’s overall performance. They have the initiative to perform certain functions within the scope of their responsibility — very mindful that they are accountable for keeping business operations running efficiently. In our team, doing things above and beyond for the sake of customer service is daily routine. To me, that’s accountability in every sense of the word. The way we hold ourselves accountable defines the very nature of our working relationships, how we provide support to the business, how we work in projects, how we respond to problems and how we interact.

IT Accountability in Cost Management

Accountability in cost management practices is one of the most important areas where IT can really impact the business’ bottom-line. IT leaders need to start by responding to the following questions: What are my cost drivers? What business objective is driving spending? Is spending aligned to the business strategy? Is IT cost transparent and does business understand the value? Accountable IT confronts these tough questions together with their business counterparts. The practice of shifting the focus from IT cost to one of business value no longer works, especially during these tough economic times. It has to be a balance of both. IT needs to be accountable for the business cases that go with its project portfolio. I think that the biggest challenges in IT are those that deal with the intersection of both technology and business — how the cost of investment in certain technologies translates to business value. IT management needs to be at the forefront in taking responsibility for cost efficiency and value creation of their products and services. IT management needs to understand what drives IT cost. The basis for effective cost management is understanding cost structure and analyzing the costs flowing through that structure. 

IT Accountability for Improved Service Delivery

Better accountability improves service delivery performance. But how does this work? IT accountability for improving IT services delivery is not simply a question of providing the technology needed to run its business or ensuring service availability. It is also about its service culture as well as better partnership and alignment with the business. In short, the challenge is as much about partnership and customer relationship as it is about providing the right IT business solutions. Service culture is one of the softer elements of the IT organization’s identity but it’s extremely important when you want your organization to have a strong sense of accountability in delivering excellent services. Essential to improving partnership with the business is a deeper understanding of the business strategy, objectives and the service levels that are required. How do we engage business leaders? What is the current and evolving business strategy of the company? How can IT be leveraged to gain competitive advantage? How do we manage ongoing innovation and process improvements? Does the business understand our capabilities to maximize our value? How do we communicate and manage perception about IT services? These are some of the difficult questions and challenges that must be addressed head on by IT leaders. There must be a structure used to allow learning from business engagement about strategies, core elements and innovations to improve service culture.

Although the concept of accountability is often reduced to ‘answerability’ or ‘enforceability’, a more complete understanding includes the actions that take place at every level and every internal customer touch points. Again, accountability does not only happen when things go wrong—accountability is taking ownership from the beginning. It is continuous rather than having an end point.

Photos courtesy of Salvatore Vuono and Michal Marcol.

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The Helpdesk Model – What It Means to Put Helpdesk to Work and Improve

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Have you considered the impact your IT helpdesk has on the business you support? Think about your company’s reliance on technology and IT applications— when service interruptions happen, they impact processes and cause business disruption. The IT Helpdesk is much more than answering the phone and helping users solve their IT problems. Helpdesk has a direct impact on running the business, providing quality customer services and ensuring business profitability. If you are implementing an IT helpdesk in your company or in the process of improving your existing one, this article is for you. First, let’s discuss the IT Helpdesk Model. The diagram model shows the eight components of the IT Helpdesk Model. Each is briefly described below.  

Eight Components of the IT Helpdesk Model 

  1. IT Helpdesk Organization – This component represents the managers, staff, functions and supporting groups that comprise the IT helpdesk organization.
  2. Enablers – Enablers are tangible and intangible components needed to operate the IT helpdesk. This includes technology, tools, communication channels and analytics. Other important enablers are the required competencies of the individual staff working at the helpdesk and the group’s combined capabilities. 
  3. Service Review Board – The  Service Review Board is the steering committee or sponsor of the IT helpdesk organization. The group is composed of key IT managers, business/customer representatives and (if necessary) external consultants. They are responsible for providing strategic guidance, support, resources, and feedback to the group. 
  4. Business / Customers – This represents the customers that receive the IT helpdesk services. Your customers are everyone in the company; not just everyone who has computers, but everyone who has access to one that uses it as part of his / her function. It is important for IT helpdesk to know its customers and be able to identify and segment them. 
  5. Mission – The mission statement is the declaration of purpose, values, direction and tactics. It governs how the IT helpdesk will run its service delivery to its customers and guide every interaction it has with the users. 
  6. Service Offer – Your service offer represents the scope of your services to your customers. The services that your IT helpdesk provide are determined by business or customer needs. A good service offer is composed of service elements that are manageable and provide the best value to the business. 
  7. Performance – It is critical for part of the IT helpdesk function to be tied up with performance measures.  Performance should be measured periodically if the service offers are attained in a satisfactory manner. This component represents performance indicators that have to be defined and tracked. Performance also includes how the IT Helpdesk receives and handles feedback from surveys and customer focus groups.  
  8. Continuous Improvement – This component is tied up with performance measures. Your IT helpdesk will have to adjust services regularly — as business changes and as your customers demand more. Continuous improvement includes working on actionable items from performance monitoring or data analysis. 

Five Ways to Improve Your IT Helpdesk

1. Understand your Purpose, Involve your Customers and Set the Right Expectations  – Understand what senior management and your internal customers expect. Have focus group discussions with business leaders and key customers. Listen to feedback—positive and negative. Understand their concerns and identify opportunities. Invite your key customers to join and participate in your Service Review Board. When you and your customers communicate and understand what your service offers are, it easier for you to keep them satisfied because you have set the right expectations for your services. 

2. Establish a Clear Mission Statement  – Your mission statement is your declaration of purpose and values. This will set the direction of the group on how to interact with customers. It governs every interaction that deals with a call, request or problem. Putting together a mission statement must be a collaborative process. Let key members of the helpdesk and internal stakeholders participate in putting together a mission statement. A sample mission statement could read, “Focus on the needs of the business and support the customer in making the best use of technology in business.”  A sample value statement would read, “We aim to minimize downtime by restoring service as fast as we can. We solve problems, not symptoms, and work to resolve the root causes.”

3. Develop Needed Competencies and Roles. – To have an effective helpdesk organization, there needs to be clearly defined roles and an effective way of performing them. The major competencies and roles within helpdesk are: stakeholders, problem solver or experts, data analyst, communicator, and the customer service liaison. Stakeholders are represented in the IT Helpdesk Model as the Service Review Board. This group is established to provide sponsorship, guidance and support to the IT helpdesk organization. Problem solver and experts are senior members (level two or higher) of the helpdesk whose task is to solve escalated problems and find solutions to recurring incidents. Data analysts consistently mine helpdesk databases for trend analysis. The Communicator is responsible for the continuous improvement of helpdesk communication and customer service competencies. They are also responsible for call quality assurance. Customer Service Liaisons are members of the helpdesk who manage customer relationship and gather feedback from the customer through surveys and focus group discussions. 

4. Develop Your Service Offer – Your service offer should be tied up with your mission, customer need, budget and internal capabilities. Focus on providing services that give the best value to the business. Eliminate non-value creating services from your portfolio. If you provide too many services on a broad range of domains, you are setting your helpdesk group up for failure. Avoid situations where your resources are thinly spread and customers with important needs are forced to wait while you attend to a service that does not create value. Services are manageable, supportive of the business needs, well defined and well understood. After defining your service offer, communicate and market services to your customers. Remember that the service offer needs to be adjusted on a regular basis in order cope with changes in business needs, budget and customer expectations. An example of service offers are: “Provide support between 6am to 7pm daily. Allow customer channels such as email, call, voice mail, chat, and intranet site. Provide consulting on software recommendations. Broadcast information about system availability and planned maintenance. etc.” 

5.Have a Culture of Continuous Improvement – Most existing IT Helpdesks have massive amounts of data at their disposal—yet fail to utilize it in any meaningful way. Running an IT Helpdesk means gathering a lot of data for the purpose of evaluating service performance and resolving problems. Use data effectively to discover valuable insights and evaluate performance versus set target and objectives. Use data to conduct trend analysis on recurring issues so as to implement proactive measures in reducing the number of calls and incidents. Have a culture of continuous improvement. Don’t settle for mediocre performance. Always challenge your IT Helpdesk to continuous improvement in every aspect of the service it provides.

Please share with us your experiences in implementing and managing your IT Helpdesk. What were the challenges and key learnings? You can also post your questions about the topic so that I and readers can respond to them. Thank you.

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Build Value Proposition That Improves IT Customer Experience In and Out

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Refine Your Service Value Proposition

IT organizations are service organizations. They don’t become service leaders through sightless evolution. IT leaders must engage their counterpart business unit leaders (i.e., the heads of logistics, purchasing, etc.) to have a good grasp of their own departmental goals, plans and objectives. Understanding the strategy and goals of the business it serves is critical to the alignment of objectives. The IT organization can provide better service if it understands the objectives of internal customers.

Revisiting the IT value proposition during annual planning sessions is an important exercise for IT managers. This will help IT managers understand the real and softer elements that are the differentiators of IT services. For internal customers, Value Proposition is the collective services they receive upon investing in IT capabilities and services. We have to understand that it includes more than just the core IT services (equipments, applications, and connectivity), and even more than just quality— it also involves several softer variables that will differentiate the total service offering such as responsiveness, innovation, collaboration and commitment.

These are two perspectives representing the two words of the terminology “Value Proposition” itself— “Value” and “Proposition”. This is broken down into: 

  • Value (Internal Customer’s Perspective) = The benefits received by the business upon investment on IT capabilities and services. 
  • Proposition (IT’s Perspective as Service Provider) = The total offering to the customer in exchange for their investment. 

IT best practices such as Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL) and IT Services Management (ITSM) ensure that IT is aligned with the goals of the business organization. IT’s challenge is beyond technology. Its challenge is to deliver services that enable the business to balance performance, quality, risk and cost. IT’s attention is shifting from discrete technology initiatives to optimizing the value of business services delivered by IT, driving positive business outcomes and improving customer experience. 

Commitment to the business’ end-customer

Although the IT organization’s direct customers are typically internal (the business units), IT is expected to play an important part in the ultimate value proposition— the value proposition to the customers of the business units (the end-customers). When I was an IT business process manager in the Philippines, we used to program appointments that will require IT personnel and managers to accompany Area Sales Managers on their sales visits with customers. These visits allowed us to experience the action from the frontline and engage our end-customers. At the time, we were implementing Internet and mobile applications to enhance customer service management. These personal meetings with end-customers allowed me to hear first-hand the affirmations, complaints and suggestions. That experience enriched our perspective and allowed us to improve and design better customer solutions for our commercial organization to sell and serve to our end-customer.

Do your information technology (IT) capabilities enhance the experience of your internal customers (business users) and external customers (customers of your internal customers)? Do IT managers throughout your organization recognize their responsibilities for effective customer relationship and business alignment? What’s it like to actually walk in your customers’ shoes?  Do you know what your customers actually experience? Simply put, do your IT capabilities achieve meaningful differentiation by enhancing customer experience, in and out? 

Photo courtesy of Ivy Remoreras Photography.

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