It’s time to stop beating ourselves up about IT’s value

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By Mark Evans

 

Mark Evans is an IT Manager at Rider Levett Bucknall in Birmingham, UK, and a member of the HP IT Performance community. Have something to say about driving innovation in IT? Subscribe to our newsletter, join our LinkedIn group and let us know what you think. Periodically, we’re featuring community members’ POV on this blog.

 

I sometimes shudder at the "hair shirt" we IT professionals tend to wear when it comes to discussions of IT’s value and performance. And I get frustrated when I see us beating ourselves up when our contributions aren't quantified, qualified and valued by any form of metric which will stop senior managers in their tracks.

 

We underpin any business we work in and touch almost every element of every business. Some of the brightest, most articulate and fully-functioning contributors to any business I have met have had a major IT background, yet they metaphorically flay themselves with the old fallacy that IT is just a black hole into which a business pours money. The problem is, we measure ourselves against the wrong yardsticks.

 

A new mindset for evaluating IT

IT performance – to my mind – is measured by alignment to the business objectives, but also by quantifying the entrepreneurial input of a good CIO, the "time-to-market" of the IT function's contribution (why fight last year's war?) and the net contribution which IT can make to a business's bottom line.

 

We need a new mindset by which to evaluate IT. While KPIs are a starting point, I don’t think they tell the whole story. And judging IT purely on a financial basis is too limiting. I believe that we lose so much valuable information in translation from "Systems" to "Finance."

 

To chart the big issues of IT management and its contribution to the business, I believe we need to review IT with some of the tools from supply chain management (SCM).

 

Resource-based thinking

We, as IT, actually form our own market/subset within the business, with complex supply networks incorporating suppliers (HP, Dell, IBM, Microsoft, Oracle, whoever), the various process functions (internal IT provisioning, purchasing, supplier management) and then on to customer provision and satisfaction (from Here's your new laptop, to The new BI system is in operation).

 

I believe that taking a resource-based view to fully understand the components of an organisation's IT provision would clarify matters. What are our capabilities? Are they valuable? Are they rare? Inimitable? What - as an IT function - do we fundamentally add to the business?

 

With the detail derived from a SCM perspective, IT management can employ a degree of objectivity to improve service and report on the improvements. By moving out of a purely IT-based financial reporting constraint we can begin to show the inherent value in our contribution, in the round.

 

I'm not for one moment suggesting that we provide a SCM process map and ignore the fact that we may be burning money like it's going out of fashion - there still needs to be a prevailing discipline of financial control. But I think that we can better present our function, better understand it ourselves AND give laypeople an opportunity to actually understand what we do, how we approach change and how we implement new ideas, services and systems by borrowing tools from the SCM toolbox. All of this, because we would align ourselves with a discipline which allows us to tell our own story in (largely) our own words; or at least in a vernacular which isn't too dissimilar from the one we use in providing our service.

 

The real value in IT

IT can be an internal supplier to the business in a way in which other functions would definitely struggle. The value in IT is seeing through the gimmicks, seeing through the "snake oil," implementing something which is timely, being open and knowing enough to sponsor something which is possibly a little left-field and which makes a net positive contribution to the organisation.

 

Judge me and my team's contribution on THOSE bases and we may have a more holistic approach to measuring IT performance.

 

What do you think? Let me know your thoughts in the comments here. Or stop by the discussion on LinkedIn. 

Comments
John Oosterhuis(anon) | ‎05-02-2012 09:59 AM

Fresh thought!

 

Love this correspondent's leftfield view of performance management. I really think it could work as long as we in the IT fraternity don't try to reinvent the wheel and speak to our SCM colleagues for the inside track on how they work.

 

I know my CEO and CFO would like clarity on what our IT team does for us (SME electrical systems org). They are often unsung heroes, but how does that show itself on the balance sheet?

 

I'll take this away and think about it. Not often I say that on these types of blogs.

JudyRedman ‎05-03-2012 11:22 AM - edited ‎05-03-2012 11:50 AM

Mark, interesting post. Thanks for contributing your viewpoint.   I completely agree that there needs to be a "new mindset" when thinking about the role of IT and the CIO, especially as IT moves  from playing a major role in running the business to playing a major role in business transformation.

~JR

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