Stopping the E-mail spiral

Email spiral

Hard to believe but true!. It should be quicker to read than to write. So you might assume a typical email takes a few minutes to write, but only a few seconds to read. However, five other factors are outweighing this.
The act of processing an email consists of much more than just reading. There is

Email spiral

  1. scanning an in-box,
  2. deciding which ones to open,
  3. opening them,
  4. reading them
  5. deciding how to respond
  6. responding

— which may well involve writing an email of similar length back g) getting back into the flow of your other work. So the arrival of even a two-sentence email that is simply opened, read and deleted can take a full minute of your available cognitive time.

So, what can we do to stop the email spiral. The Email Charter was created in response to widespread acknowledgement that email is getting out of hand for many people. It started life as a blog post by TED Curator Chris Anderson and TED Scribe Jane Wulf. The idea struck a chord. More than 45,000 people read the post and and it generated hundreds of tweets, comments and suggestions. That is how the final Charter was shaped. Some of the key contributors are listed here.

I hope you find the charter useful and bring it in your day to day routine.

  1. Respect Recipients’ Time

    This is the fundamental rule. As the message sender, the onus is on YOU to minimize the time your email will take to process. Even if it means taking more time at your end before sending.

  2. Short or Slow is not Rude

    Let’s mutually agree to cut each other some slack. Given the email load we’re all facing, it’s OK if replies take a while coming and if they don’t give detailed responses to all your questions. No one wants to come over as brusque, so please don’t take it personally. We just want our lives back!

  3. Celebrate clarity

    Start with a subject line that clearly labels the topic, and maybe includes a status category [Info], [Action], [Time Sens] [Low Priority]. Use crisp, muddle-free sentences. If the email has to be longer than five sentences, make sure the first provides the basic reason for writing. Avoid strange fonts and colors.

  4. Quash Open-Ended Questions

    It is asking a lot to send someone an email with four long paragraphs of turgid text followed by “Thoughts?”. Even well-intended-but-open questions like “How can I help?” may not be that helpful. Email generosity requires simplifying, easy-to-answer questions. “Can I help best by a) calling b) visiting or c) staying right out of it?!”

  5. Slash Surplus cc’s

    cc’s are like mating bunnies. For every recipient you add, you are dramatically multiplying total response time. Not to be done lightly! When there are multiple recipients, please don’t default to ‘Reply All’. Maybe you only need to cc a couple of people on the original thread. Or none.

  6. Tighten the Thread

    Some emails depend for their meaning on context. Which means it’s usually right to include the thread being responded to. But it’s rare that a thread should extend to more than 3 emails. Before sending, cut what’s not relevant. Or consider making a phone call instead.

  7. Attack Attachments

    Don’t use graphics files as logos or signatures that appear as attachments. Time is wasted trying to see if there’s something to open. Even worse is sending text as an attachment when it could have been included in the body of the email.

  8. Give these Gifts: EOM NNTR

    If your email message can be expressed in half a dozen words, just put it in the subject line, followed by EOM (= End of Message). This saves the recipient having to actually open the message. Ending a note with “No need to respond” or NNTR, is a wonderful act of generosity. Many acronyms confuse as much as help, but these two are golden and deserve wide adoption.

  9. Cut Contentless Responses

    You don’t need to reply to every email, especially not those that are themselves clear responses. An email saying “Thanks for your note. I’m in.” does not need you to reply “Great.” That just cost someone another 30 seconds.

  10. Disconnect!

    If we all agreed to spend less time doing email, we’d all get less email! Consider calendaring half-days at work where you can’t go online. Or a commitment to email-free weekends. Or an ‘auto-response’ that references this charter. And don’t forget to smell the roses!

Running IT as a business: Myth or reality

IT as a business

In January this year Bob Lewis posted an article in Infoworld titled “ Run IT as a business — why that’s a train wreck waiting to happen“. In this article, Bob suggests that a lot of current thinking about running IT like a business is misguided and leading CIOs in the wrong direction. This article explores what is ‘Running IT like a business’ and what should a CIO do?

The myth of the internal customer – IT is expected to treat internal departments as customers and deliver them the software or projects that they have asked for. The problem is that customers don’t always know what they want and they are reluctant to commit anything to paper. Even if they do commit something to paper their thinking (and often budgets) demand a “silo” solution which only partially meets the needs of the enterprise. As a result, IT architecture suffers. IT becomes just an order-taker and not a partner.

IT Costs are always too high – Comparing costs of IT services to the external market is always fraught with danger. Why does a corporate laptop cost $2000 when I can buy a laptop from the local store for half of that price? It doesn’t matter that the other would not run corporate applications or the reliability is too low or it does not include software licenses. Similar stories are heard about the network costs, applications and hosting.

Challenge of the charge-back – IT as a business is expected to charge internal customers for its services. Charge-back is a popular mechanism for this. However, charge-back can create unintended behaviours, where departments try to reduce costs by avoiding IT services. I know a department, which stopped using help-desk for password resets due to the cost of the calls. This resulted in major security issues. Rather than figuring out how to reduce the overall costs, departments tend to focus on individual cost reductions.

IT seen as a vendor – Business begins to see IT as a vendor (usually an expensive one). This results in an arms-length relationship between IT and the rest of the business. As a result, trust begins to erode and outsourcing IT begins to look like an attractive proposition.

Bob believes, “The alternatives begin with a radically different model of the relationship between IT and the rest of the business — that IT must be integrated into the heart of the enterprise, and everyone in IT must collaborate as a peer with those in the business who need what they do.”

Is IT ready for the radical model?

Bob’s comments are spot-on! I agree that turning IT into an internal business unit, which conducts business transactions with other departments, is a less than optimal model. So what should a CIO do? For IT to be accepted as a credible internal partner there are a few things IT needs to get right.

  • Is IT managing service right? – When IT fails to deliver basic services and project, it would be impossible to develop any meaningful relationship with business.
  • Is IT managing the budget right? – If IT budgets are not predictable and IT does not understand or manage its costs, IT would not have much credibility in the enterprise.
  • Is IT investment generating value for the business? – IT must be able to demonstrate that its projects and investments support the business strategy and deliver benefits for the business such as, revenue growth, cost reduction, better decisions or reduction in risk.
  • Is IT managing the resources (or capability) right? – IT capabilities consist of people, technology assets, intellectual capital (processes and know-how) as well as relationships (trust and shared ownership). Successful IT groups leverage these capabilities to deliver and sustain competitive advantage for the business.
  • Is IT managing the “business of IT” right? – Managing the business of IT means managing the costs of IT services and projects, managing demand for services, having effective governance processes along with delivering and communicating value.

IT as a businessThe “radical model” moves the focus from managing IT like a business to managing IT for business value. When IT is solely focused on chargeback and internal customer requirements, it is not always working in the best interests of the enterprise as a whole. But it is neither easy nor straightforward to make the transition from the traditional to the new operating model. Martin Curley of Intel uses the business value maturity framework to describe the journey.

Managing IT for Value

There are interrelated challenges of managing IT for business value (or contribution to business success), management of IT budget, IT capability and managing the business of IT.  IT groups gradually move from one maturity level to the next and need different strategies at each level.

Managing the IT budget

The initial challenges are to get a handle on IT costs and budget and apply financial discipline of expense control as well as forecasting to ensur

Managing IT for Value

There are interrelated challenges of managing IT for business value (or contribution to business success), management of IT budget, IT capability and managing the business of IT.  IT groups gradually move from one maturity level to the next and need different strategies at each level.

Managing the IT budget

The initial challenges are to get a handle on IT costs and budget and apply financial discipline of expense control as well as forecasting to ensure that the budget is predictable. Many IT shops cannot forecast half-year or year-end expenses confidently. Executing the strategies for systematic cost reductions (e.g. demand management, SOE, adjusting service levels, BPR etc) is the next level of maturity. Optimising costs by adjusting refresh cycles or managing risk reward trade-offs is the final level of sophistication.

Managing the IT capability

IT capability is what IT can do for the business. Improving IT capability is about keeping up with the business demands and reducing the gap between demand and IT delivery. The IT capability stages of maturity are:
  • Technology provider – IT as an order-taker who can be counted upon to provide basic technologies and applications that the business requires.
  • Technical experts – IT as providers of technology services. IT is invited to provide technical inputs and expertise. Typically at this stage IT has limited business understanding.
  • Business partners – IT are included in developing business plans and solutions. IT has a good understanding of business and can engage with the business well. IT is proactive and is able to propose innovative solutions. However, the difficulty in going from good service providers to this level should not be under estimated. According to Bob Lewis, innovative CIOs are operating at this level. As Mazda CIO Jim Dimarzio writes in his CIO article, “Being in the room, however, did not automatically equate to involvement.” Jim had to develop the IT capability to effectively engage with the business and contribute to business processes and priorities.
  • Corporate core – IT is considered a core capability and a source of competitive advantage. IT has a track record of innovations that are a major source of competitive advantage.

Managing IT as a business and managing for value

I believe both these strategies are closely related. When IT is run effectively as a business it creates significant value.  The stages of maturity are:

  • Cost centre/cost focus – IT understands and manages the cost of the services well. Cost and quality of service are seen as important. Expenditure is controlled and technology life-cycle costs are considered in investment decisions.
  • Customer /benefits focus – The focus of IT engagement changes from cost to value or business benefits. Formal tools such as business case/Return on Investment (ROI) are used. Services are designed with customers’ needs in mind.
  • Portfolio approach – More sophisticated approaches are used to select investments using portfolio management and value management techniques. IT has effective measures of customer service. Mechanisms such as chargeback are used for fair distribution of IT costs and as a way of changing consumption patterns.
  • Value Centre – The organisation systematically optimises its value using portfolio management, risk trade-off and alignment with strategy. IT demonstrates a different mindset. IT has a strong stakeholder focus and is aligned to organisations’ value drivers where technology is seen as a tool rather than an end.

Conclusion

In closing, I quote Bob’s advice, “Don’t act like a separate business. Do the opposite — be the most internal of internal departments. Become so integrated into the enterprise that nobody would dream of working with anyone else.”

Building effective vendor partnerships

When companies announce technology deals both the company and the vendor are keen to describe the deal as a partnership and not a transaction.  This is because a partnership sounds more strategic. There is hope that this relationship between the company and the vendor can create some long-lasting value or mutual gain, but the reality soon bites. The relationship soon changes from a partnership to transacting, which often leads to bickering and disappointment. Papers regularly report stories of long-term sourcing or services partnerships that are not renewed or are cut down in size. This makes us wonder if the vendor partnership is simply just a myth. Continue reading “Building effective vendor partnerships”

Secrets of strategic planning success

As I wrote in a previous article, strategy in many organisations just adorns bookshelves. However, a strategic plan is more than just a document. It is the shared understanding and common vision of the stakeholders along with the passion of IT leaders, which brings strategy to life. We can say the strategy is truly adopted, when people understand the strategic direction and make every day decisions (what, how and when) in context of the overall direction.

We all know that to get more value from Information Technology investments, IT projects, portfolios and priorities must be aligned to those of the business. IT strategic planning is often used as a tool to achieve this alignment and turn business needs into results. However, this is often not that easy! Although many organisations develop a strategic plan, they experience difficulties implementing the plan successfully. Similar to golf or chess, the rules are well known but performing consistently is still a challenge.

Here are a dozen secrets that will ensure your strategic plan is implemented successfully.

1. Understand and measure how IT will enable the business

These days, ‘business alignment’ has become a trite phrase. In the context of an IT strategic plan, understanding how IT can help improve the enterprise performance is critical. Can IT enable the business to bring products and services to market faster or more cheaply? Can IT change to meet the realities of new competition, restructures and other major business changes?  It is not just the capabilities that must be aligned. IT expenditure and capital budget also need to be aligned with what the business can support.

IT strategic goals and performance measures should have a direct linkage with the enterprise performance goals. If improving customer service or satisfaction is an enterprise-wide performance measure, IT should demonstrate how it is supporting this goal. Although this sounds obvious, many the IT performance goals of many organisations have no obvious or automatic link to the organisation’s goals. The effort in linking IT’s goals to that of the organisation is worthwhile because it helps to define the value of IT spending, a critical step in defining the capital programming process and tracking the results of capital investments for IT.

2. Get executive sponsorship

If the strategic plan is not used by the executives or in decision making within IT, it will become redundant. Key stakeholders and executives need to be involved right from the beginning of the IT strategic planning process. A good start is to obtain the blessing of the chief executives in the form of a charter for strategic planning. Get the input of the executives about how the business is changing, what challenges they face and what they need from IT. Seek guidance on key priorities and investment areas.

Ultimately, the IT CIO / executive is a key to this sponsorship. Without the active involvement and sponsorship of the IT Executive, the plan will most likely fail.

3. Cast your net wide for input and ideas

Input to the strategic planning must come from a wide range of players. People in the field, call centres, product and service managers can help identify opportunities for improvement. Understanding what the industry/ competition is doing in their businesses can be valuable. I have found strategic planning managers in business units can be a valuable source of information. Smart IT leaders will stay alert for this type of in their day-to-day interactions so it does not become a major burden at the time of the strategic planning.

4. Obtain commitment to change

The primary purpose of a strategic plan is to define and execute change.  Achieving change is never easy. It requires commitment from the leadership and also buy-in from people on the ground. Effective change management process requires the CIO and the IT leadership to demonstrate their commitment and take a lead role in the change management process.

5. Involve Stakeholders

Getting commitment to change starts at the time the strategy is formed. Giving key stakeholders an opportunity to provide input and feedback will increase their involvement and buy-in.

The first step in strategic planning often is the current state analysis (or where we are now?). Sharing the current state analysis with IT staff and other users and getting their thoughts on where IT could improve will unleash many new ideas and input. Asking people about their problems and ideas will increase their interest by making the strategy process more relevant to them. Keeping staff informed with regular updates and follow-ups, sometimes from their own managers and team leaders, will further maintain their interest. Remember that the plan is not only a factual document; it seeks to sell and motivate action.

6. Reality-check the plans

When the strategy is nearly ready getting key IT staff and managers to provide input on implementation timeframes and challenges would help ensure that the strategy is not a pie-in-the-sky but actually achievable. When the real size of the task and timeframes become apparent, steps can be taken to adjust the goals in order to ensure they remain challenging yet achievable.

7. Demonstrate flexibility during planning

Strategic perspectives evolve and develop as the strategic planning progresses and more discussions take place. Maintaining flexibility will allow IT to understand organisations imperatives and adopt strategy accordingly. This also avoids the risk of strategic plan becoming too ‘IT centric’. Keeping an open mind during the strategic planning process will help you identify omissions and unrealistic goals. Flexibility will result in a better plan as well as greater buy-in.

8. Prepare a holistic plan

The IT strategic plan should not just be about projects and portfolios. The plan needs to critically examine all aspects of IT management and IT capability within the organisation. Achieving the organisation’s goals often involves focussing on aspects such as the enterprise architecture, investment planning and governance, program management office, people planning and performance management practices. The inclusion of initiatives in this area would make the plan holistic and cover all critical aspects of IT.

9. Communicate, Communicate, Communicate

Completing your plan is just the first step in executing a process of strategic change. Once the plan is complete, launch it with a splash. Have sessions with all the IT staff including the executives and other key IT partners. Encourage IT managers to brief their staff on how the plan impacts them and what they can do to contribute. Regularly communicate progress and especially early successes. These will give everyone a sense of momentum and help to maintain focus. Regularly use staff meetings to talk about the plan and to explain how major IT projects and initiatives link to it.

10. Focus on progress measures

Good strategic plans include objectives and measures of progress as well as targets or milestones. These plans specify the actions or initiatives needed to achieve progress. The first step usually involves measuring the progress of the initiatives followed by the outcome measures (which usually lag the actions). Maintaining disciplined executive attention on completion of initiatives and targets is critical to achieving successful implementation.

11. Track and publish progress

One reason many plans fail is lack of execution. Once the planning is complete and the plan is approved, it sits on the shelf until the next time. Implementing rigorous progress monitoring and regularly publishing the results to the management team and the larger IT team is critical to the success. Better still is to link the manager KPI’s to the strategic plan outcomes.

12. Revisit and revise

All plans need to be refreshed periodically. Businesses are not static. Regulation, competition, technology or environmental changes necessitate plan adjustments. Most organisations have a strategic planning cycle. Revisiting the plan, checking progress and goals and adjusting as necessary in a formal and structured manner will keep the plan aligned to the business needs.

Summary

In order for strategy implementation to be successful it needs to be treated as a change program with the right sponsorship, stakeholder engagement and communications. Kogekar Consulting can help you develop and successfully implement your strategy.

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!

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.