Monday, February 28, 2011

What Does The Business Need IT To Be?

Checking around the ITSM universe lately, there's a lot of discussion around getting IT to the grown-ups table so we can take part in strategic direction.  It makes sense to those of us in IT.  Even for the most historically low tech companies, technology is a critical element of driving innovation and the future of the business.  Of course IT must set the course for driving new revenue streams, starting now.  At least that's how the IT logic goes.

Why the struggle, then, to get your business partners on board?  Are you feeling left behind when the rest of the company talks of new revenue streams?  We are IT, we should be leading the talk of innovative revenue streams, right?

Then there is the other side of the coin.  Maybe your IT shop has done yeoman's work to cut costs and streamline processes.  Incident responsiveness and resolution times are degrading, but the CEO appreciates your contributions to the bottom line.  Yet the rest of the business has started complaining about lackluster IT, and your credibility is slipping rapidly.  The perception that cutting costs is the primary way to demonstrate IT value abounds.  ITSM gurus aren't wrong, are they?

What we often forget is that "value" to the business is a subjective thing.  It varies depending on what the business needs and/or currently expects us to be.  Non-technical business units are notorious for not knowing what they really need, so it's easy to assume that we can't wait for them to tell us.  But there is a simple answer.

Gartner (yes, Gartner!) developed a simple, handy model to help clarify four roles for IT.   Susan Cramm, author of 8 Things We Hate About IT, provides a good overview of the four roles, the Grinder, the Butler, the Team Player, and the Entrepreneur.  Gartner subscribers can access a more detailed description in the article "IT Organization Transitions: Critical Success Factor Choices and Road Maps to 2013", November 2009.



There is a disconnect between the role IT performs and the role the business expects us to perform, and that disconnect fuels problems like the ones mentioned above. ITSM is all about having a common lexicon to share with the rest of the business. What good is that lexicon if we still don't have a common understanding of IT's role in the business?  We'd all love to be the Team Player or Entrepreneur, and I'd suggest that most ITSM pundits write and speak with the assumption that we are; but the reality is that is not always the best role for IT to play. So, before we start talking about services and value propositions, we need to sit down and come to some agreement around what role we are to play. It's good to have some value propositions in your back pocket, to help your business partners see where a stronger IT partnership can help them. Ultimately, however, we need to come to terms with the fact that your business may not have the technology-driven strategy that calls for a Team Player or Entrepreneur role.

The COBIT framework, within the Plan and Organize section, provides a nice starting point for looking at business strategy and applying it to help find the best fit within the Gartner model. See www.isaca.org for details around the free (yes, FREE) COBIT framework. COBIT provides an excellent companion to ITIL in your ITSM efforts. I'll expand on application of COBIT in a future post

Until you know what role the rest of the business expects you to play, how do you know where to focus your ITSM efforts?

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