I’m big on books and podcasts about philosophy. A favorite topic to listen to big brains debate is perception versus reality and where truth lies. It can be an interesting and mind-bending journey down a steep rabbit hole (and if you are interested, these guys are great guides).
When it comes to business, perception is reality…heck, it’s bigger than reality. The way a customer perceives a good or service determines whether a purchase is made and whether additional business will follow.
It’s a simple concept and is at the core of so many IT strategy discussions today, ‘How can we improve the perception of value being provided by the IT department?’
The larger and more established a company, the more likely IT is seen as only having a support role rather than as a center for innovation and partner to deliver on business goals. Even when concepts like Bimodal IT, Agile, and DevOps are changing the way services are delivered, the perception of IT by other departments within a company may not be changing. Their perception is their reality.
This dilemma is common and many conversations with clients begin with stated goals to ‘transform delivery to have a customer focus’, ‘simplify and automate processes’, or ‘deliver an amazing customer experience’. These clients know that in order for IT departments to be strategically involved in the larger business goals, they have to build a foundation for being fast, innovative, and collaborative as well as market those qualities to challenge preconceived perceptions.
While working with large enterprises that have successfully transformed perceptions of IT and built positive partnerships across the company, 5 key concepts emerge:
1. Provide an Online Market – IT provides numerous services to a company though many employees are unaware of what they are and how to even get them. Searching around an internal portal to download spreadsheets and forward along through email is a cumbersome process and is still alive at many companies . Others still rely on ad-hoc requests via phone and hallway conversations or have an ‘everything is a ticket’ mentality.
Today’s modern Service Catalogs provide User Experiences on par with consumer sites, allowing customers to search and request services, get recommendations, tracking delivery, and collaborate on services in progress. Mobile access and self-service options are the norm, providing customers with the freedom to access services when and where they are needed.
2. Automate Standardized Services – IT Services that follow repeatable processes should be automated. If creativity and problem solving aren’t needed, then involvement from an individual only slows down delivery and allows for errors.
Focus on automating activities and integrating downstream applications for end-to-end service delivery. APIs are wonderful, use them. Having a centralized platform for orchestrating services and integrations makes the challenge much easier. When implemented, customers receive services ridiculously faster and with less opportunity for error.
A few common IT services to tackle first:
-Infrastructure (on-premise and cloud)
3. Measure Demand, Delivery, and Satisfaction – By knowing these 3 key metrics of a service, decisions can be made on where to focus attention on for improvement and what changes will have the greatest impact. A dashboard showing these 3 metrics help tell the story of IT’s importance and performance. All 3 tell a different story:
- Demand – the number of times a service is requested or how often a service is being consumed. The greater the demand, the greater the impact to perception.
- Delivery – Whether contractual SLAs/OLAs or just general expectations, customers need to know when a service should be delivered and IT needs to keep tabs on getting things done on time.
- Satisfaction – What’s the value of a service being delivered on time if nobody likes it? Surveys are a great, simple way to get feedback and should be incorporated into the delivery process.
4. Track Costs – Services take money to deliver and companies want to know where the allocated IT budget is being spent. Transparency is key. If the cost of a service is hidden deep in a spreadsheet, then it probably isn’t being communicated well. Bring this information out into the open, display pricing within the Service Catalog so customers know the financial impact and rules can be set to allocate costs appropriately.
Rolling Cost data into Demand, Delivery, and Satisfaction reports provides further visibility into IT Services. This also helps when making strategic decisions on what services to improve, retire, or handoff to an external provider.
5. Consult to the Company – The IT department is the part of the business where employees are commonly hired based on their background and desire to work with new technology, use that natural affinity to do things differently. As employees, they are familiar with company processes, culture, and objectives and can leverage that knowledge when evaluating new technology and methods.
Executing on the four concepts above, our clients have found that this fifth one occurs naturally. Impressed with the speed and transparency of IT services, other departments wish to know how their processes can be improved too. The gap between Business and IT is bridged when other departments begin reaching out to IT for help. Exciting, collaborative results can occur such as projects begin to include members across the company instead of being departmentally siloed, employees physically co-locate near each other, innovation teams form, and companywide hackathons take place.
The truth is that the IT departments delivers a tremendous amount of value to the company and contains employees with the expertise and company insight that can lead to major differentiators for the business. It is up to IT to manage its perception and bring it closer to this reality.