Managed systems – bringing order to chaos

IMAG0088A large part of the value of any good IT Service is it’s organisation; the extent to which it is predictable, consistent and effective.  Over the past eight years working both in the public and private sector, I’ve seen the consequences of chaotic IT; the spiraling costs, the frequent service interruptions, frustrated, angry and disengaged users, and ultimately something which is not an asset to the organisation but a burden, a cost.

In this blog post I’ll look at how to spot the signs your IT is chaotic, what can lead to this state of affairs, and the simple steps you can take to fix the problem.

Signs you’ve got chaotic IT

The following are reasonably reliable indicators that at least some parts of your IT service delivery team (whether they’re internal or external) are chaotic;

  • Frequent unannounced downtime
  • No clear description of IT services on offer
  • Noticeable system performance issues
  • Frequent failures in communication with service users
  • Rising service costs without rising service standards

If you’re seeing these indicators then it is up to your Senior Management Team (or equivalent) to take ownership of this problem, measure it, understand it, and fix it.

How does it happen?

If you know how IT services can get into this state you can prevent the problem ever occurring.  My experience has been that there are common factors in every scenario where I’ve seen chaotic IT.

Bad recruitment decisions or supplier selection

My advice when recruiting is to avoid recruitment agencies, or at least pick them with great care.  If you need a technical person to help you select an IT Manager or IT Technical team member, engage someone who is competent to make that technical judgement (which in most cases is not a recruitment agency with a vested interest in the outcome).  Find a consultant or supplier you trust and ask them for help.  The same goes for supplier selection.  If you’re outsourcing, find someone who can make a good assessment of a suppliers ability to deliver, but has no vested interest in the outcome, other than it being a success for you.

Lack of clear top down strategy and objectives

If you can’t define your requirements, i.e. what you need your IT to do for your business, then your IT department or supplier is going to find it impossible to meet an undefined need.  Ideally your business should have a strategy, which in turn should generate objectives which IT can meet or help meet.  Without top down direction your IT department or supplier will be making decisions outside their expertise and remit, and that’s not their fault, that’s a flaw in your management.

Lack of standards and any mechanism to measure against them

It’s no good saying “Our IT is rubbish” if you can’t quantify that in a meaningful way.  How quickly do you expect your IT problems to be fixed?  How much downtime can your organisation take before it’s core functions are impacted?  How fast does your PC need to be?  What mail quota do you need?  These are all standards you need to set for your organisation. Having done that you’re still in trouble if there are no mechanisms to measure whether these standards are being met.  These mechanisms have to be integrated into your IT service provision, automated, and accessible.  It’s no use your PA having to keep a spreadsheet of how many times she called IT to get your laptop fixed, that should be built into your Service Desk system.

How do you fix chaotic IT?

Put simply; “see above list”.

  • If you’ve not got the right people doing your IT, you have to face up to that problem and take whatever steps are necessary, including re-training, performance management, and where appropriate disciplinary action.  If your supplier is failing, check your contract, work out how quickly you can get out, and use that leverage too either force your supplier to perform, or drop them.  There are good suppliers and good IT staff out there, and it’s up to you to find them (more on recruitment in a future blog post as I’ve got 6 rounds of interviews coming up!)
  • Make sure that there is something guiding what your IT department or supplier delivers, whether it’s your company strategy, vision statement, sales targets or project plans.  Make sure there are clear objectives which need to be met, and look for plans which can deliver against those objectives.  As your needs change, ensure the strategy and objectives keep pace, so your IT can too.
  • IT is a utility, you should expect it to provide you with measurable levels of service, so you can verify that you’re getting value for money, and if you’re not, escalate the problem.  Typical standards to measure are percentage up-time during working hours, response or fix time for incidents or requests, success in securing data from viruses or hackers etc.  Pick what matters to your organisation, what impacts your ability to deliver.

In my experience the key to addressing unmanaged and chaotic IT delivery is for the organisation to do what it can (set clear objectives, define the standards to be met) and then find technical experts they can trust to do what only they can do; which is set a plan to meet the objectives, put the right people and systems in place, and prove by service performance indicators that its working.  The theory is that simple.

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