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.”

Show me the money!

Introduction

The 2009 Standish research shows that only 32% of IT projects are successful. Which means that the new capability is successfully “installed”. But the sad reality is that in a large number of cases this new capability is not used the way it was intended. Thus only a fraction of the desired benefits (or value) are realised. So when the CEO says, “show me the money” or the value the CIO is often caught short.

There are many reasons for this failure.  There may be a lack of understanding about the true intent for the change. Competing agendas and conflicting priorities may dilute the focus. Then there is resistance from the people affected to adapt new behaviours and processes. A key reason is that organisations tend to put all the rigour and energy in the project “installation” and almost none for the benefits realisation post-installation.

Instead of the “installation” focus, the modern CIO needs to adopt a “realisation” or value mindset. With a realisation focus, CIOs ensure that project success is judged by the value created. This article suggests steps CIOs can take to instil a benefits management focus and show the “money”.

Executive Summary

Organisations are good at figuring out what must be done to address their business challenges and capture the opportunities. IT organisations are getting better at delivering technology capabilities to address these challenges. A lot of energy and capital is invested in developing these technology solutions. The plans appear sound. Why is it then that the outcomes fall significantly short of the original ambitions? In today’s markets, CIOs and other leaders cannot afford to spend large amounts of money and risk their reputation just deploying projects, when the success now depends on their ability to manage the change and actually getting the returns on investment (ROI).

Benefit realization mindset

Figure 1 – Realisation mindset

Getting a sustainable ROI requires carefully managing benefits realisation as well as managing the human aspects of the change. The benefits management process provides the framework for blended investment programs that integrate technological change, organisational change and business process design within a common context.

The purpose of the benefits management plan is to identify and organise all activities such that the promised benefits are achieved. It consists of benefits identification, benefits planning, monitoring, realisation and review. A realisation mindset guides the entire project/ program execution. Surveys show that organisations without well-defined benefits planning processes are significantly worse at getting project ROI.

All major changes require shifts in the way people (staff, suppliers, competitors and customers) think, manage and act. These changes will not just happen by themselves. They must be planned and carefully managed. The bigger the change, the larger is the impact and the disruption and resistance to the change.  If people don’t “buy-in”, the change is likely to fail.  In technology enabled changes there is a tendency to focus on the technology side of the project and under-estimate the human change dimension.

Keeping track of the “money”– Benefits Management Process

A benefits management plan is a critical tool for focussing the mind on the value.. It has five stages.

  • Benefit Identification is about clarity around the intent of the change. Benefits identification determines project scope.  The sponsors must be clear about what beneficial outcomes (or value) they want to obtain. Where the benefits will occur? When? Who will receive these? Who is responsible for the delivery of benefits? How the project outcomes link to the value?

Figure 2  – Benefits Management Process

  • Benefits planning stage covers all steps needed to leverage the project outcomes to realise the desired value. (E.g. The project may deliver new technology capability, people need to be trained, new processes and structures may need to be implemented, product/ service features need to be changed, new marketing programs may need to be devised.) In planning evaluate the organisation’s capability to execute and capacity to absorb the change. Also consider the various risks and capability to govern and support the change.
  • Benefits Monitoring covers many stages of the technology development / implementation process. It ensures that the benefits are not diminished during the project life cycle.
  • Benefits realisation should be performed from the time changes begin to be implemented right through to routine operations stage. It would indicate if more actions are necessary to realise the benefit or whether further benefits are achievable.
  • Benefits review captures on lessons learned.

Ten success factors for realising the value

  1. Active Sponsor – Effective management requires a single leader who is visibly committed to success and accountable for realising the benefits. Major changes need senior level executive leadership. Active leadership means selling ideas repeatedly and being there to overcome obstacles.  The sponsor should be accountable.
  2. Clear Intent – There must be clarity about the reasons for the change. What “pain” this initiative will address? How well do key people share the intent?  Is it aligned to the strategy? What would success look like? Is the “price to be paid (dollars, political, organisational)” justified? A lack of clear and shared intent at the beginning would invariably result in a weak or failed initiative.
  3. Business Case – There are many examples of weak business cases that have just sufficient funding for the technology solution. All the post implementation activities and resources are assumed to come from the “business as usual” budget. Without adequate funding and resources for change management in the business case, benefits realisation would be suboptimal.
  4. Full life-cycle governance  – In business changes are to be expected.  The business case will change when the circumstances change. At agreed project stages or upon discovering major variations, both the costs and benefits should be reassessed. If project costs are higher, ask if is it still viable? Should more benefits be found? Should the scope be reduced? Remember that the business benefits are the reason for the project and not technology installation.
  5. People – People are the greatest variable in a change. Systems are at times easier to change than people. Benefits realisation will depend on transforming the way people think and operate. Don’t underestimate the difficulties employees will have in learning to work with new systems that require new skills and new ways of thinking. Take the views of affected people into account early. Try and understand reasons for their resistance and develop action plans to address these. Align consequences and rewards with benefit realisation.
  6. Capacity for change – Do you really know your organisation’s capacity for change? Do you have executives who have a track record of leading the change? Are there are too many changes going on in the organisation? Be truthful with yourselves about what the capacity for change is and what is realistic and then plan accordingly.
  7. Relevant measurement – Measurements must clearly demonstrate how investments contribute to the beneficial outcomes. They must support decisions regarding progressive allocation of funding and resources via agreed “stage-gates”. Secondly, measurements help adjust the benefits path to changing environments. Techniques such as “results-chain” would help choose the right measurements.
  8. Clear accountability – Assign clear ownership to each of the measurable outcomes including project milestones and outcome measures.
  9. Independent governance – Importance of independent governance cannot be overstated. Investment governance board should ideally also monitor benefits realisation. This creates transparency around investment and the returns on investment, provides due diligence on the change initiative and holds sponsors accountable for the benefits. It also helps create peer pressure and reinforces good governance. Experience suggests leaving the entire governance to the sponsor alone is a mistake. Sponsors are known to downplay mistakes and to overstate success.
  10. Value Management Office (VMO) – A VMO serves two purposes; first it provides expert advice and tools to the sponsors for assessing value (validating business cases). Secondly, it helps monitor program progress, and provides rigorous value assessments to the investment governance board. A VMO, like a Project management office, would promote consistency in the approach as well as promoting transparency via reporting.

Benefits management is process is applicable to all initiatives and not just for technology. But changing the organisations mindset from installation to realisation is neither a quick nor an easy process. It requires an ongoing commitment from the top. This mindset enables a big picture view of capital investments and enhances ROI.

For more information on how to create a realisation mindset in your organisation please contact the author.

Becoming a performance driven organisation with balanced scorecards

Introduction

A lot of effort goes into developing sound strategies for performance improvement and getting them endorsed by the board and the executives. Initially there is a flurry of new activities and initiatives. But a few months down the track, day-to-day operations seem to take over and strategy is relegated to the bottom of the pile.  The bulk of the organisation continues to do what it did before. As a result, the performance of the organisation remains unchanged.

What is typically missing is the process for turning the broad thrust of a strategy into specific measurable performance goals, and assigning accountability right through the organisation. A balanced scorecard turns a strategic plan from a passive document into marching orders for the troops on a daily basis.

Executive Summary

Strategy describes where the organisation now is and where it aspires to be. It also describes the broad initiatives that the organisation plans to take. It may describe key focus areas, process changes or capability-building initiatives or projects that are necessary for the achievement of goals. Strategy execution needs the ability to take a very broad-brush strategy and find, prioritise and carry out the key things that need to be done to put that strategy in practice. A successful execution means that the goals are set, accountability  assigned and the results reviewed.

A balanced scorecard (BSC) is a one-page document that outlines an organisation’s key performance goals and indicators (KPIs), usually covering financials, customers, execution and people.  These KPIs are driven from the company’s strategic intent. A BSC is critical for a performance-driven organisation as it creates a common view of performance across a range of objectives. For the business, KPIs are the “guiding force” that link strategic goals with day-to-day execution. This allows managers to have a better understanding of how to improve the business. Across and down the organisation, business units and teams then define supporting targets and KPIs, which results in a hierarchy of KPIs cascading down from the corporate strategy.

Why balanced scorecards?

  • We all know that ‘what gets measured gets done’. Organisations are faced with multi-dimensioned challenges (e.g. how to improve service and cut costs?). Balanced scorecards cater for many dimensions by allowing for simultaneous focus on multiple performance areas.
  • Organisations expect the strategy execution to happen in parallel with the ongoing service delivery. Merely tracking strategy execution progress can result in too much attention on strategy and not enough on service delivery. Different managers also have different accountability for delivery and strategy execution. BSC enable addressing these competing demands in a rational way.
  • BSCs also give the ability to assign joint accountability to multiple teams in the areas where joint effort is required to achieve results. Silo behaviours result where managers are held accountable for only the direct performance of their internal processes. External service or customer satisfaction outcomes result from end-to-end process execution. BSC makes this clear and enables teams to be jointly held accountable for the overall outcome.
  • In many organisations, scorecards are used only for the senior managers or executives. In fact, scorecards that cascade down many levels of the hierarchy are more effective. Here, the executives’ KPIs are directly linked to the KPIs of their managers and team leaders. There is clearer accountability for results. Cascading KPIs offer better drill down ability, allowing quick diagnosis and action on performance issues.
  • For teams lower down the hierarchy, this linkage shows, how they are contributing to the overall performance and achievement of the strategy. This can result in staff believing that  “my job matters”.

The goal of metrics is to enable managers to get a complete picture of the performance from multiple perspectives, and hence make wiser long-term decisions. As a management system, balanced scorecards enable regular feedback around both internal processes and external outcomes. Good BSCs capture feedback from the customer (or external) perspective and help analyse it with metrics from the internal processes. This encourages continuous monitoring and improvement by the teams as well as improvement in strategic performance across multiple areas.

Figure 1 – Balanced Scorecard Process

Setting the balanced scorecards is a six-step process. The first step is getting the commitment from the executive sponsor. Strategy mapping then identifies the key performance areas/indicators to focus on. The third step, selection of performance metrics, is at the heart of balanced scorecards. Having the right metrics with well-understood definitions is critical for a successful implementation. Fourthly, it is worth investing time to refine the quality of data used in the measurements and assign responsibilities for data collection to impartial staff. The fifth step, regular review, includes checking the quality and effectiveness of the metrics. The last step is to refine the performance indicators as the performance or strategy changes.

Ten Key Lessons for Balanced Scorecard Implementation

  1. Scorecards are most effective when they are linked to pay and performance management. Without this link there is little incentive for staff to take KPIs seriously. Top-level sponsorship is needed in order for this to happen.
  2. Good scorecards are brief; say one page, with around ten measures of what really matters. A business view of performance is more valuable than an internal view.  Ideally, the scores should show expected and superior performance levels. Scores weighting should be used to derive the performance ratings.
  3. Strategy Mapping will show key areas where performance must be lifted. Typically, the areas covered are financials, customers, execution and people.
    1. Financials cover profits, budgets, return on investment as well as key measures of risk.
    2. Customers cover areas that are important from a customer perspective. These could include customer satisfaction, growth/ attrition in customer numbers, number of complaints, etc.
    3. Execution (internal business process or delivery) covers how well the internal processes of the organisation are running in delivering the strategic mission for our customers. It includes key indicators of service delivery, such as service levels, reliability, on-time-performance etc.
    4. People (learning and growth) covers organisational development and ability. IT is a knowledge-worker organisation. Metrics on ‘learning’, ‘sharing’ and ‘retaining’ knowledge can be used. Metrics can cover talent management, training, turnover, and employee engagement. Some organisations also include “social responsibility”, e.g., volunteering, presentation at industry forums etc in this section.
  4. Unclear definitions undermine effectiveness. It is worth spending time in creating common definitions of the key measures. Assign data collection responsibility and review data for consistency and quality.
  5. Avoid seeking perfection with the measures or the scorecard. Measures that are 80% right can still yield valuable performance data. It is important to set up and practice the process of collecting the data, reporting, review and actions than to seek perfection. Focus on getting an acceptable level of quality.  An iterative approach works best allowing all participants to learn and refine. It is also important to remember that trends are usually more valuable than absolute values. Similarly, over reliance on tools or data collection automation at the beginning will detract from getting value from the scorecards.
  6. Meaningful performance results from understanding the desired outcomes and the internal processes that are used to generate these outcomes. Outcomes are measured from the perspective of customers while process metrics are from perspective of process owners. Usually, process metrics are used for teams while outcome measures are used for department/ service managers. Do not confuse output (what we produce) with outcome (what we produce).
  7. Drill down ability is valuable in analysing performance and improving data quality. Without adequate drill down ability, there will be greater subjectivity in interpreting results, which may result in inappropriate corrective actions being taken.
  8. Assign shared accountability to common measures such as customer satisfaction, where many teams have to work together to deliver satisfactory service to the customers. Joint responsibility will avoid silo behaviours being rewarded.
  9. Organisations that openly share the balanced scorecard results and communicate performance (and the challenges) with their teams and peers create greater commitment from their teams. It also helps to show how everyone is contributing to performance and how collective actions can improve the results.
  10. When planning to cascade scorecards through multiple levels of management in the organisation, it is best to tackle one level at a time and use an iterative approach.

For a detailed discussion and/or information on how you can use balanced scorecards to become a performance-driven organisation, please contact the author.