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.
Promise, Practice, People and Performance- Four Key Components of IT Branding (Branding IT Organizations Part 4)
IT branding is the process of building and improving the IT brand identity. This identity is shared by employees and groups that control the way they interact with each other, with stakeholders and with internal customers. It is a powerful tool in transforming the IT group into people who perform calculated, yet seemingly spontaneous, service delivery in the best interests of its internal customers.
This is part four of my series on IT branding. We have covered several perspectives on IT branding in the first three articles of this series. Part 1 talked about branding in general and how IT branding is linked to the Process Culture Maturity. In part two, the concept of IT branding was defined and how it was related to IT team culture. Part three talked about high quality IT service delivery as the best brand identity.
This post will delve more into the subject of IT branding, understand its key components and examine how it shapes the IT organization. The four key components of the IT brand, the four Ps — Promise, Practice, People and Performance, will be defined. These can be seen in the diagram below:
One establishes the IT brand by building trust in a promise about what the company does, what it stands for, what its vision is, and what added business value it can provide the internal customers and stakeholders. This is represented through the established IT vision and mission statement, customer value proposition and service offers. This promise must be developed by IT top management and its sponsors through extensive analysis of internal and external environment, interviews, and research. The Promise component of the IT branding process is achieved through vital scoping, visioning and strategic planning.
After writing the organization’s promise, the next step is to build the engine that will enable service delivery. This is the IT Practice – comprised of IT operating model, mode of service delivery and various other methodologies. It ensures that IT teams achieve optimum results and performance. It will define the discipline in which IT systems, operations, projects and evolution will be managed. However, this discipline should not be constrained to a particular use of a vendor’s product; rather, it should focus on providing a framework to structure IT related activities and the interaction of IT personnel with business customers and users.
The most important element of the IT brand is the People component. Everyone in IT must be in sync. For new team members, this is achieved through an adequate on-boarding process. For existing employees, ongoing organizational development and engagement initiatives will work. Communication is critical in this aspect. Top management must fully engage employees. It starts by communicating the Promise (IT mission and vision, strategy) and Practice (IT operating model and methodologies). Each team member must know his role and value in the overall service delivery system. It is important to note that the internal perception of the IT brand are affected by the IT team members’ behavior, and that one must therefore shape the IT team culture in ways that encourage IT brand-committed actions on the part of all IT employees.
As discussed in part three of my articles on IT branding—what is central to IT branding is the relentless pursuit of quality IT services. Organizations build its IT brand by living up to its promise. IT teams strengthen its IT brand by relentlessly improving its IT brand promise. The surest way to do this is improving performance. IT managers must define key performance indicators to monitor performance against objectives. Measuring the success of IT branding initiatives is challenging; however, it is essential that every effort be made to measure results versus targets set forth.
A Final Note:
One’s perception of the IT service is often reduced to a phone conversation with a helpdesk service agent. IT branding depends on each and every individual working in the IT organization—the “People”—from the top, the CIO to middle IT managers then to the frontline helpdesk service agents. It is important that all IT personnel are in sync because the service brand is all about them. It is strengthened by the established “Promise” and “Practices” that enables IT organization to deliver with high “Performance”.
Typically, big companies invest one percent to four percent of revenue in IT. This investment is usually spent on integrated business model implementations, continuous innovations, and day-to-day IT operations. There must be a way to assess and take full advantage on the return of these investments; otherwise, IT organizations cannot move from being cost centers to value centers. Optimizing the value of IT is a top priority in today’s tough economy. Companies rush to reduce IT operating cost and IT capital expenditures mainly because of falling revenue sources.
Many companies are so focused on evolution in order to always be steps ahead of competitors. They, at times, push themselves hard through IT implementations and afterwards, fail to take advantage of the benefits. They resort to old habits, making change process difficult to achieve.
Once you implement new systems and processes, you need to aggressively drive value creation from it. Peter Weill, in his book IT Savvy wrote, “The firms that are best at this start driving value early. If you start driving value early as you take the first small steps towards building it, you will reduce the disruptions of major transformation. The goal should be—build a little, benefit a lot; build some more, benefit some more; and so on.” 1 In other words, keep it simple! Now is probably the best time to resort to this time-tested principle where investment is placed only on IT solutions that are cost effective and that deliver better value and greater performance for the business. Below are just some key initiatives that can help organizations maximize value of IT in a company.
Define Clear Strategic Vision
The first step is to have clarity of strategic vision for each of your IT portfolios. Executive managers in Steering Committees have the responsibility to clearly define the main business objectives of projects and portfolio of projects. They are the ultimate architects for the organizational transformation that will happen. The objectives that they define will guide IT project leaders in their decision making and will help them prioritize business requirements.
Maximize ERP systems
Most big firms implement a digitized platform anchored on a major piece of purchased enterprise resource planning software such as SAP and Oracle. Implementation should be kept within the standard configuration as much as possible. This is a difficult challenge though. Of course, some business requirements cannot be addressed by standard functionalities. They will have to be developed or coded to change standard functionalities of the application to suit business needs. The challenge is to keep the balance between benefits and costs of these developments. Keeping solution within the platform configuration standards will reduce consulting cost, configuration and development effort. In the long run it will reduce cost of IT operation and application support. Additionally, companies can leverage on continuous evolution of those ERP platforms whenever new releases and versions become available. They can change to the new version without lengthy and costly upgrade process.
IT Infrastructure Consolidation
Data center consolidation is a major focus of many organizations today. According to Computer Economics, in 2008, 76% of organizations had some level of activity in the area of data center consolidation. It is one of the most essential ways to lower the cost of IT operations. Bigger data centers are simply more cost-effective on a per unit basis. Therefore, for many organizations, consolidating multiple data centers into a single facility should be a primary strategy for cutting cost. Additionally, this consolidation effort can also result to mitigating risk and improving service levels. Concentrating computing resources into one or a small number of physical locations can boost the productivity of IT assets and personnel. It will also simplify IT operations management. Most organizations will realize quantifiable returns from such efforts.
1 Weill, Peter. IT Savvy: What Top Executives Must Know to Go from Pain to Gain. 2009.