If you work in an IT organization, you may be tired of being told that you should focus on creating value for customers. You already know that you should be delivering end-to-end services focused on customer needs, not just managing technology, but what does this actually mean in practice? Isn’t managing the servers, the network, the storage, and the applications enough? Somebody has to and isn’t that how IT creates value?
I’ve worked with a number of IT organizations who asked for help understanding how they could move from a technology-focus to a business-focus, and there isn’t a simple solution that works for everyone, but here are some ideas that have helped some of my customers.
I once worked with a financial organization that offered more than 800 different IT services. Seriously. Each service was based on an application that the business used, and the service level agreement (SLA) for each application specified lots of measureable targets. There was regular monthly reporting, showing how well the IT department had delivered to all of these SLAs. As you can imagine, the sheer number of SLAs, and the amount of data they generated, meant that the reports were overwhelming. Everyone could see that they needed to make the SLAs, and the reporting, more business focused, but they were grasping at straws on trying to figure out how.
The best thing about this particular IT department was that they had some really good business relationship managers (BRMs) who clearly understood what their customers did and what was important to them. So this made the first step easy. We created a list of business units, and then picked one to focus on, for our initial efforts. The mortgage department was the lucky winner. We identified all the major business processes for the mortgage department – for example, there were processes to manage “Third Party Mortgages,” “Online Mortgages,” and “Branch Mortgages” – and then we mapped these processes to the applications, to see which applications were critical for which process.
It quickly became obvious that each business process needed a different mix of applications. Some applications contributed to all of the processes, but some were only used for a very specific purpose. For example, the application that calculated how much commission to pay to a third party was only used by Third Party Mortgages, but the application that determined monthly payments was used by all the different mortgage types.
At this point we knew we had a solution to the problem of becoming less focused on technology processes and more focused on business ones. We needed to create services based on the customer’s business processes, rather than the IT applications. So the next thing to do was to define a small number of services based on these business processes. These new services had names like “Branch mortgage support service” and “Online mortgage support service”. You really couldn’t be more business focused than that. The customer fully understood what they needed from each of these services, and writing SLAs for them was fairly easy – because we just needed to write down what the customer wanted.
We agreed to keep the new SLAs short, just focusing on the really important things that the customer cared about.
I knew we had got this right when one of the BRMs said to me:
“My customer has always said that the most important target for them was the time to onboard a new mortgage agent, and I’ve never been able to include this in an SLA before, because none of the applications delivers that”.
We didn’t throw away the old application-focused SLAs, as these identified some really important technical goals for the applications. Instead, we turned these into operational level agreements (OLAs), which are internal agreements within the IT department. We aligned these OLAs with the SLAs to help make sure we could deliver what the customers wanted. We kept measuring the metrics from these OLAs, but these were only used internally within IT, whereas the new customer reporting was completely focused on the new SLAs.
If you’ve followed my story thus far, then you’ll understand how important the existence of really effective BRMs was to the work we did together. If you’re a BRM yourself, or you work on a service desk, or you’re an IT director, then you probably know well who your customers are and have a good grasp of their concerns. Most likely, you talk to them daily or thereabouts, and you’re acutely aware of the impact your actions have on their success.
Many people in IT are not so lucky. People who work in server support teams, or configuring monitoring tools, or managing network performance, are often given technical requirements and work on these without ever having sight of a real customer. One organization I worked with had “service owners” who were so focused on the technical aspects of delivering services that many of them were completely unaware of who the customers were. More importantly, they really didn’t know what the customers’ concerns were – they simply delivered technical solutions to technical challenges. This really isn’t going to work. If you want to deliver customer-focused services that really do create value, then it’s important that everyone in the organization knows who their customers are, and works to meet the needs of those customers.
So if you currently run technology focused services, with staff who rarely consider the needs of end customers, what changes can you make that would transform you into a customer-focused organization? How can you make sure that everyone knows who their customers are, and what impact they have on the success of those customers?
It might be much easier than you think!
The most effective way I know is by running experiential training. Get your staff into a room and talk about what services they support, who their customers are, and how the things they do create value for those customers. You may need to include some senior managers or BRMs to make sure somebody really does understand the end-to-end value chain. Give them some small group exercises to help them learn from each other. If you can, get them to participate in an ITSM simulation where they can take part in the whole end-to-end service experience for themselves (many training organizations can run these for you), and most importantly, get some customers into the room to talk to them about what they need from IT. One of the greatest pleasures I had as a trainer last year was when one student said to me “You know I was skeptical at first, but I really DO have customers, don’t I?”
Moving from a technology to a business focus is certainly challenging. As I said earlier, there’s no one-size fits-all solution. You need to think about what’s going to work for your specific circumstances, your organization, and your customers. But I strongly recommend that you use the new ITIL practitioner guiding principles to help you; you’ll find the support they offer invaluable.
I’ll leave you with this question. Are you delivering business-focused services to your customers, or are you just providing technology?