* This article is intended for small and medium businesses, however the general concepts could be applicable on all business sizes
Within my years of professional customers engagement, I have been in deep touch with the IT (or technology) departments there, visiting, helping, consulting or advising, all of them shared a lot of commonalities, problems, achievements, failures and successes…However, if I might categorize these customers, I can say they could be mainly put under two major types, type one which I can say they are mostly calm, confident, leading their businesses and more futuristic (these are minorities) and type two, who mostly are usually complaining, worried and lagging behind their business (the majority), and for sure, type two customers wish is to always go to type one side!…I would say that the journey for any organization from being a complete type two to compete type one is long, hectic and requires a deep will of change to embrace among all levels in the organization, the payoff indeed worth it!
Describing type two of organizations in one word can be surely: “Chaotic”, why chaotic? Because they simply fail to answer some simple questions like “what our infrastructure consists of?” “how are our systems customized?” “why our systems are not reliable enough?” “How many licenses do we really have?”… In all my meetings with this type of customers I ask them some sort of such questions. and all answers are of type, we don’t know, it was XX from x years/months but now we don’t have a clue or after moving the site we can’t have a clear view…etc.
Going up to type one, I can give them another different word: “performers”, because simply they can (in a very high accuracy level) answer the same kind of question with quantified answers
I don’t like to call knowing all details of you IT infrastructure inventory management, inventory is more a product/goods related term, but for IT, I’d rather like to name it “IT assets management” and to split that into two parts, hardware and software, mixing both in one word (which is inventory)is a first mistake any customer may fall in, as so, they will fail in reporting the exact portfolio of what they really have in place.
From the customers’ side, they only care about what services and utilities they consume and In a world of virtualizing everything, IT clients wont even care what or where the hardware is, rather they do care only about the service they have and utilities they use, but on the backend side of IT organization we should care about both, we should quantify both, accordingly, dividing them into hardware and services is a better way of definition that can aggregate both internal and external points of view
From a top managerial point of view, the whole IT assets picture compromising of the 2 parts mentioned above, adding people to it, as following:
Back to type two customers (the chaotic), they suffer from high level of mess that prevents them from accurately tracing their IT assets or defining clear relations between them, if I can briefly think of how a chaotic customer looks like I can highly see the following symptoms:
1- They lack accurate trace of their IT assets
2- They have high level of communication gaps between different teams
3- They don’t have any real periodic operational control
4- They suffer from internal negative impacting competition and absence of transparency between teams
5- They are under high tension
6- They always tend to Put blame on their backend service providers rather than do a self assessment
7- They are usually on high risk of losing their jobs!
8- They tend to buy time in service restoring activities rather than investing time in root causes or performance optimization
On the other side, first type of customers (the performers) are of clear vision and clear targets, more dynamic and more open to change…they are not perfect, however, they are ahead of their troubles which is good enough!
If I can also, characterize this type of customers I can easily find the following:
1- They have very solid visibility of their IT assets
2- They have very strong managerial vision
3- They have very solid Periodic operational control process
4- They have clear goals and acceptable employees incentive systems
5- They are active at work and open for feedback
6- They have a clear managerial hierarchy
7- They are confident and believing in the work they do
Thus the hard question here will be, how can a chaotic customer be a performing customer?
The answer is really tough and tweaky, most of IT environments are total mutts!, coming from different vendors, many individual contributions, different services models..etc, the main key here is tracing all that in consolidated methods, then another important stuff to follow or even to be done in parallel…the following points are mainly what should be done for moving from a chaotic to a performing status
1- IT assets visibility
This is the most important task: knowing what is there, not only what’s there, but also what their statuses are (and this should be always available in real time), having these 2 main pieces of information will lead to a very solid understanding of what the real utilities are, and a confident foundation to go up to business intelligent level, through that, knowing the different resources relations then having a high visibility on them will answer very important queries on areas of expansions and growth, in the figure below I am putting the different stages of IT assets visibility maturity, business intelligent is the top level, at that stage the IT organization is in a position to initiate new services and drive new business lines confidently
The most dangerous problem among all organizations that suffer from this chaotic dilemma is people, very great talents could be there, but they are either not motivated enough, not well directed, not well recognized or not trained..etc
The crucial player here is management, putting the right goals to individuals and teams then binding that with genuine incentive system can transform the situation altogether, all companies have a system for that, but not all companies have the right system or apply the most efficient model
People should believe in their importance and the role they are playing, putting them under continuous pressure and risk of losing their jobs is a fatal mistake that I have seen a lot, this has increased a lot recently with the unstable economic situations
3- Follow a best practices standard
Whether its ITIL, CoBIT, eTOM or whatever standard it is…it’s not a luxury anymore not to follow a standard, it’s a core requirement for any organization that is really looking for performance!
Putting the right process is a the best way to manage costs, and the return on investment of adopting a standard is definitely guaranteed, on even very short terms (could be in less than a year)
I don’t need to go through a lot of details on the benefits of that (it will be in another article), however, following a standard should always start with people, not to just be compliant in a formal way, rather than that, people should believe in following a process and the existence of a standard that they should abide by, again, management is the key player here in building the right culture that can diffuses within all the organization and be the core of anything positive to continue and grow!
4- Operational control
Taking the feedback, improve performance, correct errors, trace changes, review approvals, correct mistakes, guide people..etc, this should be done regularly, a lot can be said here, without the right operational control there will be an assured risk of losing everything made before!, this indeed needs active management, a management with a committed ownership and awareness of the importance of a continuous (endless and persistent) operational control, it is the only way to strategically keeping the level of services and growing the business
5- Knowledge management
A smart environment is the only future ready environment!, back to point 3, following a standard, why? Because Knowledge management cannot exist without a process that warrant the maximum benefit out of all efforts being done, a centralized knowledge hub that all contribute to is the best way of managing knowledge
Information sharing is also a key vital initiative here, knowledge management should be a core inherited part of the organization culture, a culture without knowledge sharing is not what’s really needed for any solid, “grow ready” organization.
The journey from chaos to performance is a mainly a culture shift journey more than anything else, with successful execution of the five “Go To Performance” pillars stated above, organizations will move to be clear performers, and this would be a result of agile, smart and clear managerial model