Characteristics of an Effective IT Organization

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How effective is your IT organization?  How do you know?  Do your business sponsors agree?  Determining effectiveness, like quality, can be highly subjective.  In many cases, effectiveness is determined by the last service or project that your organization delivered.  Additionally, disappointing outcomes are given much more weight than positive outcomes.  We need to define effectiveness characteristics of IT organizations before we can improve effectiveness.

Let’s begin by establishing the mission of IT “to provide the information processing capability required by the business at a cost that represents value”.  Many of you are reading this statement and observing that it is highly variable.  Business requirements change and so does the perception of value.  Effectiveness can only be determined against the current expectations, service level goals and available budgets.  For this reason, one of the most important characteristics of an effective IT organization is the ability to respond to changing requirements.

In order to be considered effective, IT organizations must exhibit the following characteristics:

Flexible: IT provides on-demand services (problem resolution and consulting) as well as scheduled services (enhancement and projects).  High priority problems, mandated requests, and changing business requirements disrupt planned completion dates, scope, and estimated effort.  Effective organizations must balance variable demand, changing priorities, and changing requirements.  In order to achieve this flexibility, organizations must manage requests, schedules, priorities, scope/requirements, staff deployment, and staff knowledge to optimize results and minimize impacts.

Adaptable: IT organizations must respond to changes in the types of services that are required, they must accept and support new technologies, and they must adjust to organizational changes in the business and IT.  In order to adapt, IT must re-define roles, transform planning and delivery processes, and investment in training.
Predictable- Repeatable results can only be achieved by enforcing standard processes and a commitment to quality that avoids heroism custom solutions.

Efficient: Each of these characteristics conflicts with others.  A balanced approach is required.  Efficiency is typically sacrificed to improve flexibility.  Efficiency can be improved by documenting knowledge, cross-training, using repeatable processes, management tools, and limiting the variety of technical environments.

Reliable: Reliability applies to the applications, infrastructure, and the people delivering services.  The processing capability (infrastructure, networks, applications) must be reliable but the staff must also reliably deliver IT services.  This means defining success criteria, conducting quality reviews, testing, and numerous other activities that ensure the consistent delivery of services and processing capability.

Innovative: The business does not understand the capabilities and limitations of technology.  IT is in a better position to recommend strategies to the business rather than waiting for the business to define the strategies.  On a more tactical level, IT should be looking for ways to reduce problems and improve processes that align with the other characteristics.

Pro-active: IT must be able to anticipate requirements or problems and take steps to prepare for spikes or avoid problems.  By understanding the business need and the existing capability and tracking changes, IT can anticipate and manage pro-actively.  This will require repeatable processes, metrics, and increased communication with the business.

Solution Strategy
These characteristics can sometimes contradict each other and result in waste.  The extra process rigor that makes us predictable may also impede our efficiency.  In order to balance the characteristics, IT must redefine their role and their culture.  In addition to operating and supporting the existing processing capability, IT must recognize that business requirements will change and that an effective organization must be able to respond to changes.  In order to deliver value, IT organizations must exhibit the Effectiveness characteristics that have been defined in this document.  This will require running IT like an independent business which is accountable for costs and revenue and they must prove their value to their customers on a daily basis.

Success is not measured by meeting or exceeding expectations.  Expectations may be impossible or unreasonable.  Success is measured by managing expectations, making commitments, and meeting or exceeding commitments.  IT must provide leadership and not simply wait for the business to decide how to leverage technology.  When IT demonstrates their value, they will once again be viewed as an investment and not simply a cost to be reduced or eliminated.

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