IT doctors can prescribe better business performance
By Brian Hendry, Senior Consultant, Axios Systems.
‘Health checks’ carried out by IT Service Management (ITSM) specialists can show how well the department is performing and its conformity with IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL®) processes, and identify possible improvements.
Personal medical check-ups or vehicle MOT inspections can become even more important as the subjects get older but these ITSM investigations can be beneficial no matter what the organisation’s age or stage of development.
Some organisations - in both the private and public sectors - can lapse into a false sense of security or even complacency. Independent advice from outside specialist consultants can provide valuable insights into how the IT function is performing and is perceived.
An organisation often requests a process health check when hunting for a new ITSM tool to handle activities such as incidents, problems, changes and assets. Sometimes it undertakes the project as a stand-alone exercise.
The project tends to take place immediately before or after major organisational change or as part of a product replacement programme. In a sense the choice of tool is irrelevant because it is processes which are the key. No matter which tool is purchased, bad processes will always be bad processes - a good tool just implements bad processes faster!
What is involved in this IT MOT and what kind of tonic can it yield?
Like all good doctors, consultants carefully study the symptoms before providing an expert diagnosis.
Fundamentally, they are looking at what the organisation wants its IT department to deliver. This will determine the length and scope of the investigation which can last anywhere between five to 60 days.
The check is no treadmill but a useful learning experience with practical benefits. It can range from a quick look at how the department’s Service Desk is doing through to measurement of the entire IT function.
Current structures and processes are identified, then benchmarked against ITIL® and, increasingly in the future, BS15000 - the first worldwide standard for ITSM which is substantially based on ITIL® Best Practice principles. In order to achieve BS15000 accreditation, an organisation has to be independently assessed by a registered certification body.
Staff in other disciplines as well as within IT should be questioned to obtain their views. It is vital to get a perspective on how the main business believes IT is performing. Computers are there to support the organisation so even if 100% is ITIL®-compliant, what use are they if they are not serving the business?
Data is obtained from users and other respondents plus metrics from the existing Help Desk tool on items like call resolution times.
How big a priority are cost savings?
Organisations have different agendas. Some simply want to find out how well they are doing but huge savings can certainly be gained by improving processes. In product replacement programmes, for example, IT directors often say: “Show me how much fat we can cut by adopting a new system“ and it is quite possible to prove that substantial cost reductions can be achieved. These can easily run into hundreds of thousands or even millions of pounds in the short to medium term.
The scale of such savings will depend on the organisation’s size and how well the IT function is performing.
These health checks can put new heart into any organisation of significant size. Processes will be in place no matter how many people the IT department supports and their efficiency and effectiveness will have a big impact on the business. Small organisations may just be able to save tens of thousands of pounds rather than millions but relatively this can still be important. It is a matter of scale: being small does not mean you are efficient.
Often it is less a question of cost reductions than simply improving service to customers. After all ITIL® - internationally accepted guidelines for Best Practice in ITSM - is all about quality of service. In some cases the bill of health might actually mean an increase in costs, for instance if the organisation decides to beef up its Service Management team. Generally, though, replacement of inefficient processes will have a positive impact on the bottom line.
Can false expectations be raised?
Certainly, although at Axios Systems we tend to be conservative and provide realistic estimates. At the end of the day it is up to customers to implement the recommendations.
Health checks can enable an organisation to breathe fresh air, often for the first time. As ITIL® and BS15000 gain further ground such inspections will become more popular since they provide benchmarks and documentation against which an organisation can measure itself.
The consultants’ report documents the current situation and business users’ perceptions. Good areas are highlighted too, with credit given where credit is due. Recommendations can be costed if required.
Once a software tool has been installed it is a good idea to carry out a health check within about six months and perhaps at one year intervals thereafter. The original scope may have changed; the people involved in the implementation or the organisation itself may have moved on. Existing unused functionality can be harnessed.
What are the pre-requisites for a health check’s success?
Above all, it is essential to have top management buy-in. You must have commitment from the top - without that nothing will ever happen. The IT Director must be behind the project. He or she does not necessarily have to do much - just back it and be seen to do so. Others can sort out the details.
The front line IT support delivery team also has to be willing to accept the project and implement any necessary changes.
Reaction to these health checks is generally very positive, even if they spring surprises. The most common surprise is the business’ perception of how IT is dealing with it as a customer. IT can often be divorced from the business which maintains that the boffins have little idea of its priorities. IT can be performing well but if it is not meeting the needs of the business it is not doing its job properly.
If an organisation has taken the plunge and commissioned a health check it tends to be sensitive to these issues, so real progress is made.
Once the pulse has been taken and other tests completed, the usual next step is for the organisation to launch a Service Improvement Programme and implement at least some of the recommendations.
Commissioning a health check can be a courageous step. IT Directors and their staff must be prepared to hear some things they might prefer not to hear. Generally, they accept the challenge and are ready to accept the bad news as well as the good.
It is certainly better than waiting until the illness is terminal.
Axios Systems is a leading provider of Best Practice-based IT Service Management (ITSM) solutions. Our customer-centric approach combined with our award-winning solutions, ensure customers worldwide can align their Service and Support organizations with the overall business goals. Our core solution, assyst, intuitively steers users through the ITIL® processes. Axios Global Services provides a range of consulting, project management and training services. Our commitment to Best Practice is demonstrated through being the first to achieve BS 15000 certification which has now become, ISO/IEC 20000, the International standard for ITSM. Axios is headquartered in the UK, with offices across the Americas, Europe and Asia Pacific.