Do not let your communication hold you back!

These days it is not difficult to find CIOs who are excellent communicators. Unfortunately, it is also very common to see many IT leaders who struggle to communicate well. Some IT leaders are very good at communicating technical information with their teams whilst others communicate well with business users. However, many IT leaders find it hard to communicate effectively with all the stakeholders in the business. I have thought about why this is the case and what IT leaders at all levels can do to improve their message delivery, be effective at leading and motivating their team and engaging with the business.

Many people working in IT start in technical or engineering areas where technical knowledge and skills are valued much more than communication skills. In these areas, peer group discussions are about technical issues and are usually full of jargon. Even when these people become team leaders, they have a technical team and a technical boss so the style of communication does not need to change. Those that have to deal with business users often struggle to get their message across or to elicit ‘real’ requirements.

The inability to communicate effectively reduces one’s own performance and damages the reputation of IT in the organisation. It can affect their relationship between IT staff and their peers. When lT leaders talk in jargon their message is lost, misunderstandings occur and they fail to win others over to their cause. Communication blunders can adversely impact an IT leader’s career by reinforcing a ‘geeky’ image. Executives think if an IT leader cannot express their ideas clearly that they should hire someone else who can.

Here are some tips on improving communications:

Avoid jargon

What is true for board communication (Winning the Board Game) also applies to communication with other people. Speak in simple jargon free language. Even among technical people, talking in simple terms is always more effective than talking in jargon. When talking with jargon you are assuming everyone has the same knowledge level as you. When listeners don’t understand the technical terms they lose the message you are trying to deliver. It is even worse when talking to the business because they will just stop listening altogether.

Don’t dazzle them, get buy-in

Some IT people want to impress others with their brilliant solutions or ideas. They are very confident that they know the very best way of doing something or solving a problem. What happens then is that they become so enthusiastic about their own thinking that they fail to get a commitment from the others. They don’t get the perspective of others or try to build a consensus. In fact, the enthusiasm and confidence of these people discourages others from raising questions or making suggestions. Although others seem dazzled by good ideas, this doesn’t mean they believe them or will become part of the solution development process. Failing to get agreement at the start of discussions can create delays later as people struggle to comprehend why this solution is being implemented and why other approaches will not work.

Ask questions

Asking questions ensures an understanding. It also encourages others to ask for clarifications, make suggestions and present other points of view. Asking meaningful questions and listening to the answers engages the audience, making them active participants. It can help show important information, insight or feedback. If you are presenting an idea or business case, asking questions facilitates understanding, which can lead to a agreement.

Don’t act like a sales person

New IT leaders try to motivate their teams or get them energised by behaving like sales people or sport captains by saying phrases like, “go get them” and “play to win”. IT staff are generally low-key and like facts and arguments, not rah-rah. Learn to speak with the audience in their language.
Similarly, using scare tactics to sell ideas does not work. IT Leaders talk about catastrophic consequences when discussing technical upgrades or investments. Most experienced business executives have heard these type of doomsday scenarios from IT before and find them unconvincing. Using rational, measured arguments and discussing options improves understanding along with the presenter’s credibility.

Too many facts spoil the pitch

Just as too little facts don’t make a good argument, too many facts can confuse instead of enlighten. Some leaders think they would be more credible if they have a fact heavy business case or presentation, especially for IT investments. Telling a story can be more powerful than a litany of facts, charts and analyses. In addition to the facts, others are looking for passion and commitment to get them to join you and support your cause.

Don’t get bogged down in technical problems

Although technical problems may be the most pressing issue on your mind or in your day, most other people don’t want to know about your technical problems. The jargon in talking about technical problems can be boring and/or may cause others to misunderstand and panic. As a leader, you are expected to handle these technical problems yourself or ask others how they could help. When leaders regularly talk about their technical problems others may think you can’t handle the job. If the problems are important be brief with the details, tell others the possible impacts on their business and what steps you have taken to resolve the problems without resorting to detailed step by step explanations.

Don’t forget your team

Many IT leaders focus their energy and communication on the upper tiers of management and business managers. While it is important to communicate effectively with management, remember your team needs to hear from you as well. Your team will have questions and concerns and  will need direction from you. You need their agreement and support to meet your goals and do your role. Don’t forget this!

Don’t bypass other leaders

Many senior leaders believe they are better communicators than their managers and team leaders. While it is right for major company news or changes in direction to be communicated from up above, research indicates that communication to the team from their direct leader or supervisor is the most effective and most credible. Immediate supervisors know the on-ground realities and can address what is important to their staff. They can give specific direction. Employing the organisational hierarchy to cascade communications prevents mixed messages and conflicts from occurring. It also avoids the inadvertent undermining of subordinate managers.

Discussion or direction

In meetings, make sure it is clear when issues or items are being discussed and brainstormed. Many leaders don’t clarify when the discussion is over and a decision has been made, creating confusion within the team. If the team continues to discuss decisions after they are made, the leaders’ authority is undermined. In strict hierarchies, once the leader has an idea, the team feels it is disrespectful to challenge it. In this case, encouraging exploration and discussion needs to be very explicit. On the other hand, when a decision is reached, clarity in assigning responsibility and actions improves communication.

Written directions

Making a written record of the decision in meeting minutes or in a follow-up memo further facilitates clear communication. A written record of the decisions made and the instructions given provides useful information for those who were not part of the meeting or the discussion. Written instructions create clarity and avoid confusion as different participants may have a different idea of what decision was reached.

Final word

Remember, improving communication is not a one step process. Communication continues to be a problem in all organisations. To become better at communicating requires practice and more practice.

Good luck!

CIO role: A juggling act

CIO juggling act

In 2009 IBM published a study based on interviews of 2,500 CIOs from across the globe. They found:

“The voice of the CIO is being heard in new ways – as CIOs are increasingly recognized as full-fledged members of the senior executive team. Successful CIOs are much more actively engaged in setting strategy, enabling flexibility and change, and solving business problems, not just IT problems”.Many of the CIOs most important goals seemed to clash, e.g. how to be innovative whilst relentlessly cutting costs and how to introduce new services without causing disruption to the business.  These conflicting goals make the CIO role a constant juggling act.

The juggling act

The IBM study found that successful CIOs are simultaneously juggling three pairs of activities at any one time.

CIO juggling actFigure 1: The Juggling Act (IBM, 2009)

Juggling three roles

By integrating these three roles, visionary but pragmatist, value creator but cost-cutter and collaborative business leader and an inspiring IT leader; the CIO aims to :

      1. Make innovations real,
      2. Increase the ROI of IT and
      3. Expand the business impact.

Let’s look at each of these aims individually.

Making innovations real

Successful CIOs are active members of the executive team. They are always looking for ways in which technology and data can be used to improve products and services or open new market opportunities. They have a wide sphere of influence across the organisation and they encourage IT and business to co-create innovation opportunities. Visionaries also generate excitement from the business through ideas that differentiate the organization from others. They treat information as an asset and seek to leverage information for competitive advantage.

CIOs know that being visionaries and bringing new ideas is only part of the job. Keeping the wheels of the organisation turning smoothly and efficiently is a must. They recognise that faultless service delivery remains at the heart of their credibility and influence. Pragmatic CIOs understand what their organisations do well and effectively use third-party service providers to get results. They collaborate well within IT and with external partners to help make ideas a reality. These CIOs make it easy to work together and deliver results. To stretch as a Pragmatist, a CIO sets goals like achieving higher productivity and helping the organization become more flexible.

Raising ROI of IT

IBM found, “CIOs become Value Creators when they work with the business to enable superior customer experiences”. As more and more business is conducted via electronic means, customer interactions with business become easier and create value for the enterprise. Helping organisations leverage facts to gain new customer insights also leads to value creation opportunities. In some businesses, CIOs are leaders in establishing collaborative relationships with their high value customers / partners and finding ways to improve and enrich customer interactions.

While looking for new ways to create value, CIOs everywhere are continually finding ways to improve efficiency, streamline operations and cut costs where possible. Their mantra is to do more with less. CIOs drive centralisation of services and infrastructure to gain scale benefits. CIOs use standardisation, simplification and automation to cut more costs. Attacking business process inefficiencies and supporting IT solutions is another focus. Relentlessly focusing on cost cutting enables the CIOs to redeploy their departments’ efforts into creating more value opportunities.

Expanding the business impact

Successful CIOs act as true business partners. They work as collaborative business leaders in driving cultural change across organisations. “I help business leaders figure out what they want to do with technology, then I work on how to deliver it,” said a Defence and Security CIO in the United States. CIOs regularly meet with the board and executives and are fully across key business decisions and challenges. They understand changing future business models and remain alert to rapidly facilitating business model changes with enabling technology.

CIOs understand that while remaining engaged with the business leadership is important, maintaining IT expertise is also critical. They create an environment that helps the organisation to develop and apply IT expertise. CIOs encourage professional staff to learn and develop not only their IT skills but also their business acumen. Furthermore, many CIOs create IT centres of excellence to develop greater IT expertise. These centres can also create business technology innovation opportunities.

CIO profiles in high-growth and low-growth organizations differ

The 2009 IBM CIO study found that the profiles of CIOs who work in low-growth organisations were more like those of  IT Managers. They were good at leading  IT staff but weak in five other areas. On the other hand, CIOs in medium growth companies had a well-balanced profile across all six dimensions. High-growth company CIO profiles showed less emphasis on IT leadership skills but higher scores on every other dimension.

  1. An Insightful Visionary and an Able Pragmatist – The Insightful Visionary helps the business explore how technology can drive innovation, while the Able Pragmatist makes it possible to bring creative plans to life.
  2. A Savvy Value Creator and a Relentless Cost Cutter – The Savvy Value Creator devises better solutions by understanding customers’ needs, while the Relentless Cost Cutter stays vigilant about trimming expenses wherever possible.
  3. A Collaborative Business Leader and an Inspiring IT Manager – The Collaborative Business Leader thoroughly understands the business and builds strong partnerships internally and externally. The Inspiring IT Manager demonstrates personal IT expertise and advocates deeper skills across the IT organization.

Let’s look at these in detail.

A dozen tips for success

Not every CIO is strong on each one of the six dimensions above. The experiences of over 2,500 CIOs worldwide suggested some key actions to strengthen the areas where CIOs may not be doing enough.

Make innovation real:

  1. Champion business and technology integration
  2. Encourage innovation not just in the IT organization but in the broader group as well
  3. Make working together with IT easy
  4. Concentrate on core competencies and leverage suppliers where right

Raise the ROI of IT:

  1. Find way to reach customers in new ways
  2. Enhance integration between IT and business and transparency
  3. Standardize and centralize IT systems and technologies to economize
  4. Keep cost reduction a top priority.

Increase the business impact:

  1. Know the business well.  Present and measure IT in business terms
  2. Get involved with business peers in non-IT projects
  3. Lead the IT forces and cultivate truly extraordinary IT talent
  4. Enhance the data and turn it into usable information for the business

The balancing act

Many CIOs understand the balancing act necessary in their roles and work with goals that seem to be the opposite of each other. In doing so, they show a deep understanding of their role as CIOs and a high level of sophistication. Consequently, these CIOs are able to focus on what matters most in their organisations.

Happy juggling!!

Fad-free performance management

IT magazine articles and whitepapers regularly publish articles such as, “Building a high performing team”, “Reinventing the workforce”, “Transforming the organisation” and the like. These articles have stories from large (usually overseas) companies where the CIO has turned an under performing organisation around (with the help of a brand name consulting firm with their brand name methodology). Local CIOs and IT managers read these articles and begin to believe they too need a major transformation program in order to turn their IT organisation into a “world-class” “high-performing” organisation.

Amidst all this hype about transformation and reinvention IT organisations forget to check if the organisation is performing the basics of people and performance management effectively. I have seen several IT organisations in which managers and team leaders are unclear about the requirements of their jobs. Apart from the mandatory annual performance review these employees are not given any feedback about how well they are performing their roles. If you ask an employee how their role supports the IT departments goals (or business goals) they often have no idea.

IT managers give many excuses as to why their employees have little understanding of their roles. Firstly, as IT managers come from technical ranks they have no people management training. Secondly, IT managers don’t like to have difficult conversations with their staff. Thirdly, many managers themselves are not clear about the business and IT strategy goals. No matter what the excuse, the end result always leads to the same outcome, an under-performing IT organisation! So what can be done? Here are some thoughts on how CIOs and IT managers can begin to manage performance.

IT managers give many excuses as to why their employees have little understanding of their roles. Firstly, as IT managers come from technical ranks they have no people management training. Secondly, IT managers don’t like to have difficult conversations with their staff. Thirdly, many managers themselves are not clear about the business and IT strategy goals. No matter what the excuse, the end result always leads to the same outcome, an under-performing IT organisation! So what can be done? Here are some thoughts on how CIOs and IT managers can begin to manage performance.

Five fad-free steps

Here are five fad-free steps to get to high performing teams. These are:

  1. Clarify the role,
  2. Understand customer needs,
  3. Improve things you manage
  4. Develop your team and
  5. Perform the role in the right way

1. Clarify the role

Every organisation and role exists to perform a function. At a basic level, the IT group normally exists to enable business by providing effective technology solutions that support business activities. The IT group is also responsible for running the technology operations in a cost effective, reliable and secure manner.  Each function within IT must directly or indirectly support these goals. Some teams focus on understanding business goals and needs; designers design solutions that are fit for purpose, developers build these solutions and operations staff ensure these solutions run reliably. Thus, understanding the role purpose is really not that complicated.

Most organisations have job descriptions of some kind. If they don’t, then the first step is to create one. I believe every job function, especially management roles, should meet the needs of the customers, improve people/process/technologies and work and behave in the ‘right way’ (team work, respect, enthusiasm etc). Sounds obvious don’t it? However, you would be surprised how many people don’t understand these expectations because many job descriptions fail to make these expectations clear.

2. Understand the needs of the customers

Every role has a customer. It exists to serve someone. Even the managing director has to serve the shareholders/ board. Most IT roles have internal customers. However, with the emergence of e-commerce, Internet banking and similar services, IT in fact services ‘real’ business customers. In addition to the direct customer needs, IT roles also need to understand the organisation’s needs. These are typically expressed via strategies, values, standards and architecture/ design principles.

Many IT people can become so inwardly focussed (because of processes, departments and skill-sets) that they forget that their role is to serve the needs of the customers. For infrastructure staff, their customers could be applications teams and for architecture staff, designers. Identifying who the customers are and ensuring that their needs are understood is the key to good performance.

3. Improve ‘things’ that you manage

Every manager is responsible for people, processes that control how the work is done and technology (e.g. applications and infrastructure assets). These elements together determine the effectiveness of service delivery and level of customer satisfaction. Even technicians and developers have systems that they look after, manage, fix, control.

Everyone is expected to improve the assets that they manage. This is fundamental part of a professional’s job and not an optional extra! There are many ways improvements can be made such as keeping applications maintainable, improving flexibility, reducing running costs, streamlining processes and improving service levels.

What if employees don’t have the authority or resources to make these improvements? At the very least, employees are expected to show how ‘things’ are better this year than the last and what they have done to make a difference, given the resources available to them. Ultimately, it is the role of managers to convince the ‘powers-to-be’ that improving the assets they manage is an integral part of the job of each employee and support the employees in this endeavour.

4. Develop your team

Improving their team and the people they manage are arguably the most important outcomes managers should be expected to demonstrate. Helping people grow, helping them improve their skills, giving them opportunities learn, gain more experience and deal with new challenges is not only important for the organisation but also for the manager. It helps the manager do their own job better and make a difference.

Developing people involves balancing individual aspirations and capability with the goals of the organisation as well as seeking development opportunities and empowering staff (i.e. giving them the tools and resources to succeed) where appropriate. The key to successful empowerment is to give staff information about the mission, objectives, strategy and dynamics of the organisation so that they can make the right decisions. Successful empowerment also involves providing support for staff if they fail, so that they can learn from their mistakes.

The key to managing for performance is to identify talent in employees and provide the right opportunities and rewards for these employees to take on more responsibilities. One organisation I knew measured managers on whether they were “exporters” or “importers” of talent.

5. Performing the role in the ‘right way’

Many IT people see their role in as being purely technical because the technical part of the job is what they are most comfortable with. However, customers and others expect more from IT staff than just technical expertise. Customers want better service and better solutions. They want IT staff to be responsive, reliable, collaborative and demonstrate team work. Many job descriptions and managers just assume that their staff know ‘the right way’ and don’t set correct expectations or address customer service in performance feedback discussions. This does not have to be a complicated process. I have seen some managers discuss these issues regularly in team meetings in which key customers and peers are invited to share their expectations. As a result, IT staff is encouraged to develop team values and behaviours.

Managing for performance

Most people want to do a good job. It is the manager’s role to clarify what a ‘good job’ or good performance means and how it would be measured. Clarifying the role expectations is the first step in managing for performance. Putting this into practice involves effort i.e. not just in formal performance reviews, but also in regular interactions with their teams.

Managing for performance need not be difficult. One does not need fads or big transformation programs or big slogans to get it right. People see through these big words when actions on the ground fail to match the slogans and strategies.

Keep it simple and fad-free! Get the basics right and ‘high performing teams’ will emerge.

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Managing talent with 9-box grid

Career pathsWhen we think of talent management, we immediately think of managing bright and high potential employees. But although ‘star talent’ are important in any business, just managing stars is not enough. A high performing team means managers have to understand the performance and contribution from all the team and manage the talent pool. Often talent management is the missing ingredient from many IT strategies. While great emphasis is given to obtaining hot technical skills managing existing talent appears to be forgotten.

I came across two management tools, one is called the ‘Career Crossroads Model’ and other is a ‘9 box-grid’. I found these tools useful with the challenge of managing leadership talent. The Career Crossroads Model also helps guide the long-term career development of individuals in the context of the organisation’s needs. I hope you will also find these useful.

Many approaches to strengthening leadership capabilities focus on individual ‘stars’ rather than the whole leadership bench. Leaders drive results and if there are gaps in their ability, performance suffers. If the gaps are known, development plans can be created.

Career Crossroads Model

As an individual progresses though careers, s/he progress through a number of natural crossroads. Usually the individual will advance from ‘managing oneself’ to ‘managing others’, then ‘managing functions’, to ‘managing business’ and so on. Each of these crossroads needs different skills and job experience. For example, technical skills are required to manage oneself whilst P&L management and business strategy skills are needed to manage a business. Individuals step into a new role, grow in that role and get ready for the next career crossroad. In good organisation practices there is no instant move from one level to another at a much higher level (e.g. from managing oneself to becoming a functional manager). Each crossroad is also called a ‘turn’ opportunity.

Performance and potential

Good potential leads to good performance. However, potential is not an absolute measure. In an earlier article, I had discussed the idea of potential being a combination of demonstrated capabilities, ambition/motivation (to take on the challenges at the new crossroads level) and alignment with the organisation’ needs in terms of career progression. The Crossroads Model helps assess potential based on prior performance. When an individual does not have all three aspects of potential, performance suffers.

Performance

In judging performance there needs to a clear and complete job definition. It must define what is required to be successful in the role as well as what customers, shareholders, team and colleagues require. If the job is described as a circle and each dimension of performance done well is shown as a line, the following representations of performance emerge.

Exceptional performance meets performance criteria in many job dimensions, whilst full performance meets performance criteria in all job dimensions (note: this is a simplified example, in reality complications such as exceeding some dimensions and not meeting others can arise). Exceptional performers need to be given larger jobs otherwise they will leave and find challenges elsewhere. Developing performers on the other hand, need more time in the role and need help to improve their performance.

Levels of Potential

There are three levels of potential: Turn, Growth and Mastery.
1.Turn Potential – The ability and desire to move to a job at a higher level on the Career Crossroads Model.
2.Growth Potential – The ability and desire to move to a bigger/more complex job on the same level.
3.Mastery potential – The ability and desire to balance current and changing job requirements and deepen experience and specialisation on the same current level.

The 9-box grid

The 9-box potential performance grid provides an easy way to plot leadership talent in the organisation on a single page. It’s a great way to create an open dialogue amongst a leadership team. Open discussions and multiple perspectives allow better calibration of ratings and expectations and a shared ownership of the organisation’s talent pool. It’s a great way to identify development needs and succession planning opportunities.

Using the 9-box grid

The grid is used in two ways; to plan individual career development and to plan and manage the talent pool in the organisation. There is development action associated with each of the 9 boxes. In brief these are:

  1. Ready for a move to the next level within the next 12 months.
  2. Move to a larger role on the same level within 12-24 months.
  3. Coach and develop to be exceptional performer.
  4. Leverage mastery for the benefit of the organisation. Reward and recognise. Use their help to develop high performers.
  5. Manage /coach to improve performance.
  6. These can be employees who have moved to a new level. Coach/ develop to continue to have a turn potential.
  7. Develop to become exceptional performers.
  8. Assess the reasons for lack of performance. Coach/develop to become fully performing.
  9. As above or move out in the next 12 months.

Effective organisations have a mix of people in all the boxes. Many organisations just focus on the top talent (boxes 1-3) and forget the needs of the people in other boxes. Employees in the boxes 4, 5 and 7 are valuable employees who can have deep expertise in their areas. The challenge is to keep the skills of these employees up to date as business and technology changes. Over time the market forces and change would push the performance levels up, so staff would need to keep up to maintain full performance. Managers ought to help employees improve performance as well as try and lift growth potential of the team.

Ideal talent mix

Different business situations demand different mixes of talent.
Start-up – An organisation in the start-up or high growth phases would need to have a much higher proportion of high potential individuals than one in the mature stages. Start-ups require a high number of ready to grow employees and leaders as well as seasoned professionals (box 4).
Growing business – A growing business needs a high proportion of exceptional performers and a pipeline of talent to move to the next crossroad levels as the business grows and new opportunities emerge.
Consolidation – A business in a consolidation mode
would not have many opportunities for people to take on larger jobs. Hence, they would need lower numbers in boxes 1, 2, 3. There may be more people in boxes 8 and 9 as they try to do more with less and raise the bar.
Normal Business – In a normal business, the ideal mix may look like the below. There would be smaller proportion of high performers and low performers with the middle performers / mid potential staff in higher numbers.

Conclusion

The 9-box model provides an easy and effective way to manage talent. It helps identify the category of the employee and tailor appropriate development plans to groom them. When there is a shortage of talent it is even more important to use the model to optimise performance and help employees grow within the organisation. What I like about the model is that it does not solely focus on high fliers but also recognises the important role played by the ‘solid’ performers who keep the organisation ticking along.

Beyond service management

Introduction

ServiceMost of the IT service organisations have adopted ITIL or similar service management disciplines. Service management requires new processes for users. Service is provided only after a service request is raised, new initiatives need a business justification, service level agreements need to be in place, and the list goes on. Any experienced IT manager would tell you that certain disciples are necessary to be able to deliver reliable and cost effective IT service.

Many IT groups get so bound by these processes and rules that they forget about the end customer satisfaction. Some customers find these processes cumbersome but just stop complaining. Others find the process of justification too difficult and their legitimate needs are not met. Here are some approaches that I have used to move from service management towards service excellence and high customer satisfaction.

Understand the business

IT organisations exist to support and enable the business. If IT staff, and I am not just talking about the business analysts, don’t understand the business, the ability of IT to provide excellent service is hampered. In the case of a communication failing to branch or store, I have seen IT staff being entirely focussed on service standards for their silo without having any idea of the real impact it is having on the business and customers. Improving IT boffins’ the business understanding is not difficult, but it does require a sustained effort. Especially when the IT group is large and not co-located with the users.

Visit the key operating areas

Regular visits by small IT teams to see the business operations is a must.  The idea is to meet the actual users of the systems and technology. See how well the systems and technologies support the staff do their job. Are they reliable? What happens when systems fail or are slow? Are the systems too difficult to use? Is there a training issue? The idea is to learn what is happening and to avoid the temptation to provide instant solutions.

Learn the business language

Every business has its own terminology and language. Teach IT staff the basics e.g. accounting, supply chain terminology or investment banking. Common language creates a greater understanding, breaks down silos and develops empathy.

Business analysis skills

IT staff can have a tendency to provide instant solutions even before they fully understand the problem. Learning how to ask questions, understanding the situation fully as well as gathering and analysing facts would ensure you are solving the right problems and providing good solutions.

Operational Account Management

The concept of account relationship managers is not new. Typically account managers focus on strategy and other big-ticket issues because they usually don’t have the time or desire to be bogged down with smaller issues.

Focus on operational issues

Use experienced service leaders to proactively focus on operational issues that affect the performance of the operating units. Assign them a small budget to authorise minor equipment upgrades or other improvements that address niggling issues. Larger issues would be escalated to relationship managers.

Example:  In one organisation, remote branches had very old PCs and others had a very slow network. Either user never reported these problems or they may have reported these problems in the past but no action was taken. The PCs were replaced from the refresh budget and the lines were upgraded at a minimal cost. This demonstrated that IT cares about user needs and is proactive.

Operational account managers will regularly meet with team leaders and managers from business areas to understand their problems. They will (along with team visits) identify training gaps, issues with aging equipment, systems usability issues and other process issues. At times, they will act as user champions inside IT to improve level of service and customer satisfaction.

Service Desk

Most organisations now have a central IT service desk. Using a service desk as a single point of contact for routine service requests is an established practice. Here are a few tips to improve the service desk:

Measure customer satisfaction.

Most service desks measure performance in a number of ways. Key measures include, calls answered within a defined time, calls abandoned, calls per agent and first call resolution (e.g. how many problems were fixed in the first call). Measuring customer satisfaction for a random selection of closed (and open) requests gives timely and specific feedback on the performance of the service desk, which can be achieved by follow up calls or emails soon after. This satisfaction measure should be used in addition to monthly or quarterly satisfaction measures, as the latter tend to measure the overall service.

Use of self-service

Many common problems, like password resets, result in a lot of users making phone calls to the IT service desk (especially on Monday mornings). Using self-service tools for these types of problems would free IT staff from doing boring tasks. There are many good examples of self-service used by Microsoft, Google and E-bay using FAQs, diagnostic tips, software downloads and password resets. With a small investment these techniques can be utilised in the enterprise as well.

Use of Web 2.0

Another way to encourage self-help is put solutions to common problems (FAQ) on a Wiki, blog or message board. Allowing users to post and contribute to the site would enrich the knowledge base. However, care should be taken to monitor the forum so that ‘bad practices’ do not propagate. Web forums are also helpful to identify areas where applications or services can be improved.

Customer Centric Metrics

Most IT organisations measure availability of the servers, websites and the network, which many times only have a loose correlation with the actual user experience. For example, network and servers may be working but a key business process may be running slow from an application issue or from being overloaded. Therefore, in addition to measuring the availability of the servers, CIOs should take steps to introduce customer centric measures.

Align measures to key business processes

The first step is to identify key business processes (e.g. loan approval, store checkout process) that are important for external customer service. The second step is to identify what system/s enable the service to be performed in an acceptable manner. The third step is to measure the performance (availability and response times) of these systems and then report these measures. These metrics clearly demonstrate how well IT systems support actual business performance.

Customer centric measures create a direct and measurable link between business operations, customer service and IT service. These measures help the IT staff to focus on more granular service indicators (e.g. in the retail environment measuring store checkout down time is more important than server/ network availability). Existing system performance measurement tools can be used for these measures.

Communication during outages

One of the major bugbears in many businesses is the lack of information from IT about major changes and outages. This becomes an important issue during major systems problems and installations. The IT team may be working very hard to fix the issue, but the business users have no visibility of what is going on and feel that IT is not taking their issues seriously.

Incidence manager

Assigning someone with the specific responsibility of communicating with key managers and team leaders during outages is critical. This person cannot get involved in the nitty-gritty of solving the problem but must focus on providing timely communications and updates via the available channels (e.g. recorded messages, phone calls, website updates and meeting key staff). Support Incidence manager with incidence coordinator/s.

Be visible

In one instance, we were having intermittent problems with a business process, which was affecting the business. We placed a technical person in the area for a couple of days. In addition to getting timely and reliable data on the problem, IT was able to demonstrate empathy and urgency, which went a long way towards improving service satisfaction. Similarly having people on ground during major changes cab boost confidence and lead to speedy problem reporting.

Summary

This is by no means an exhaustive list of ideas. Key thoughts here are to go beyond impersonal processes of service management and develop better business understanding, empathy and trust, leading to improved customer satisfaction.

For a detailed discussion and/or information on strategies for service excellence, please contact the author.

Towards better IT governance

Introduction

As both business and public sector organisations are becoming increasingly dependent on IT, there is growing recognition that governance of IT is an essential part of the corporate governance. Governance is about who makes the decisions? How they are made and who is accountable for what? While the need for IT governance is accepted, implementing effective IT governance continues to be a challenge.

Many C-level executives still consider IT to be too complex, technical and difficult to govern. IT governance still is perceived as a CIO issue. Alignment between IT and business strategy as well as between IT and business governance remains weak.

This article demystifies the IT governance and provides practical ideas for improvement.

Four “ares” of governance

Governance is about ensuring that the organizations resources are used the right way to create value while managing IT risks. The Val-IT framework from IT Governance institute helps address these challenges. The four “Ares’ are the core of Val-IT framework. This is a sound framework which helps organisations ensure IT efforts are aligned and IT continues to deliver value.

Four "R"s of IT Governance

  1. Are we doing the right things? To quote Peter Drucker: “There is nothing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all”. This is the question about should we be doing something at all. It ensures strategic alignment between business and IT. Is what we are trying to do fit with the organisations vision and strategy? Is it consistent with the business principles?
  2. Are we doing them the right way? This is the question about architecture and standards. Is what we are doing conform to the architecture and processes?
  3. Are we getting it done well? This is the question about the execution. Do we have the disciplined delivery and change management processes? Do we have the right skilled re sources and are we managing them well? How does our performance measure up to others? Are we effectively managing risks?
  4. Are we getting the benefits? This is a question about realising value from investments in IT /projects.  Are we clear about the benefits? Do we have metrics? Is the accountability for the benefits clearly defined?

These four questions cover the core of Governance, which are Strategic alignment, IT value delivery, IT Risk management, Performance management, and IT Resource Management. When managers at all levels address these questions, IT governance will become part of the culture.

IT Governance Models

There is no one size fits all model for IT governance.  Three common models are based on three decision-making styles within organizations. These are: Centralised, Federated or Decentralised.

 

IT Governance models

Figure 2 – IT Decision making models

  • In the centralised model efficiency and cost control is emphasised over business unit responsiveness. There is greater focus on standards, synergies and economies of scale.
  • In a BU centric (decentralised) model there is greater business ownership and responsiveness but integration and synergies suffer, resulting in likely higher costs.
  • The federated model tries to combine the best features of these two. In the federated model common applications and infrastructure resources are pooled while business units control BU specific applications.

Here are some commonly used IT Governance forums. The above models influence the scope and membership of the IT governance forums.
Business Leadership Council / Executive committee – This is the top-level committee that makes enterprise-wide decisions including approving IT strategic plan and controlling major investments (including projects). Sometimes Ex-co may delegate the IT decisions to IT Council or IT Steering committee. This usually consists of key business executives, CFO and CIO.  They would consider IT policy and investment decisions more deeply than the Ex-co.
IT Leadership council – This group consists of most senior IT leaders across the enterprise.  They focus on decisions such as IT policy, IT Architectures and IT infrastructure.  This is a critical forum in Federated and decentralised models.
IT Architecture Council consisting of key IT and some business leaders who would oversee development of architecture standards, recommend them for endorsement by the Leadership council. This group may also monitor compliance with the architecture standards.
Business-IT relationship managers – These managers bridge the gap between IT and business units and act as two-way communication channel to address and resolve any gaps.

Characteristics of good IT governance

  • IT investments and decisions are assessed in a manner similar to business investments and IT is managed as a strategic asset. This means there is top management participation in key IT decisions. There is board oversight of IT investments and executives are held accountable for realising benefits.
  • IT is essential part of corporate planning and strategic planning. IT understands the business dynamics and contributes to the development of business strategy, which is interlinked to IT strategy. IT and business work together to identify opportunities.
  • Top IT risks are considered within the enterprise risk management framework. Risks such as data protection, IT security and business continuity receive periodic board oversight.
  • IT performance is regularly measured and compared with peers and best practice.
  • How decisions are made and why, is well understood and outcomes are clearly and formally communicated to the stakeholders. Formal exception processes are established and promote transparency as well as allowing organisational learning.

Steps to better governance

Improving governance in organizations is a strategic change process. There is no silver bullet. Governance is not just a new process but it also needs a new mindset and behaviours at senior levels of both IT and business. The established power centres within organizations do not always welcome greater transparency and accountability. Experience suggests that strong support from CEO and CIO and gradual increase in governance maturity usually works better than constant tinkering.

Here are ten steps for improving IT Governance:

  1. Visible and active top management commitment is absolutely critical for the success of any governance initiative. Governance is a disciplined approach. There must be consequences for all the executives for non-compliance.
  2. Treat governance as a change program requiring resources and commitment. It must have visible benefits for it to be considered successful. Also, consider organization’s culture, resources available and capacity for change. Establish credible goals, measure and communicate the benefits.
    If the IT is struggling to deliver reliable service, or have a poor track record of customer service or project delivery; focus the governance efforts for addressing these burning issues rather than going for the lofty goals of strategy alignment and such.
  3. Use recognised frameworks for the governance initiative. There are a number of frameworks like COBIT, ITIL and others. If service management were an issue using ITIL framework would be ideal.  Use knowledgeable experts to help establish a realistic program.
  4. Transparency of decision making and reporting gives governance its potency. Transparency whether it be business cases, standards compliance or project health reports create trust and creates peer pressure to address issues identified or to question unusual decisions.
  5. Create a formal process for handling exceptions. Then report on percent of exceptions and key reasons for these. May be the standard it inappropriate or the enforcement is poor. Openly discuss and address.
  6. Encourage peer group consensus at each governance tier and avoid escalations to higher levels. This will build trust and sense of compromise within the framework of good governance.
  7. Where possible align with the corporate governance mechanisms. Most companies would have risk management, investment management, and crisis or business continuity management mechanisms. Align IT with this where possible. This would accelerate the implementation as well as give it instant credibility. Seek input from internal or external Audit staff in design of the governance framework.
  8. Educate senior management on benefits of IT governance as well as on new technologies and challenges so that they can participate in an informed manner in key technology related decisions. Lack of technological knowledge should not be an excuse for executives not to participate in key technology investment decisions.
  9. Build accountability for benefits realisation in the business case itself. This will encourage active interest in delivery governance.
  10. Avoid clogging the IT steering committee or EX-co with technical or architectural details. Address the technical details at a technical forum and report only on compliance or non-compliance/ risk to the top team. The top team can then focus on ‘is this the right thing to be doing (or investing in)’ rather than ‘how’.

If you want to discuss steps to improve IT governance in your organisations contact me.