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Comment How does your IT department define success?

It's an interesting question to ponder and if you ask around you will probably get a lot of different answers.

At one extreme we have the highly business focused CIO who works in harmony with his executive peers on the board and defines the success of IT as synonymous with the success of the business. At the other extreme, there is the BOFH perspective, with success defined as achieving a harmonious balance between an easy life and scoring the most points in the daily battle with users.

The truth is that most IT departments are probably somewhere in between with more common definitions of success being things like getting through to the end of the week without a major disaster, finishing this damn project so you can actually have a proper holiday for a change, making the meagre remnants of the IT budget stretch to the end of the financial year, and other less lofty objectives.

The next question is how do business managers define the success of IT?

Indications from a recent research study conducted by Freeform Dynamics suggest that this boils down to three things:

  • Delivering value from IT in line with business requirements and priorities
  • Communicating and engaging effectively to keep the business and IT in sync
  • Delivering IT solutions quickly, predictably and cost effectively

Well, that’s alright then. If only they’d said before!

Actually, from what we hear, they probably have it said before in many cases. When 100 IT managers were asked to name the top three requests they hear from their business peers in relation to IT delivery, most of the comments related to these three areas. Some examples that provide a flavour of the feedback received are as follows:

“We see the cost of IT, the question is whether it provides value for money”

“Users don't always get what they hoped for because IT often doesn’t understand what they hoped for in the first place”

“We need to achieve genuine improvement in IT service delivery and efficiency”

As an aside, other comments suggest that the BOFH is perhaps not a purely fictitious animal:

“IT needs to develop a more ‘can-do’ approach”

“Better interpersonal skills are required for dealing with non-IT people”

From the nature of these quotes, about 250 of which were collected in total, it is also clear that many IT departments are not regarded as achieving complete success in the eyes of the business. In fact, over 90% of respondents alluded to perceived shortcomings to one degree or another.

But we do have some clues as to how things can be improved. The research suggests that IT departments who engage more broadly, using a variety of mechanisms to synchronise IT and business activities, tend to do better. Within this, proper two way exchange, with IT participating in business planning and vice versa, has a particularly significant impact, which is further enhanced by adding joint decision making into the mix.

A fuller discussion of this is contained in a free report entitled Aligning IT with the Business, a copy of which can be requested here. If we are honest, a lot of what it contains in the way of insights should seem just common sense, but they are the kind of things that are often overlooked or forgotten in the cut and thrust of everyday life in IT.

Whether the wishes and dreams of business managers will ever be totally fulfilled in relation to IT services is probably doubtful, but it does seem that more of a collaborative partnership approach between the two camps will increase the chances.

Dale Vile is Research Director at independent analyst firm Freeform Dynamics

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