– David Hurwitz, SVP Worldwide Marketing, Serena Software  (www.serena.com), says:

Most organizations improve IT by making incremental updates to critical applications, but this means the majority of its infrastructure is left to keep ticking over as it has done for years. They may argue, ‘if it is not broken then why fix it?’ The problem with this approach is that it may lead to bigger problems in the future. If companies do not consider the role that IT can play in improving business performance in the long term, they run the risk of lagging behind their competitors.

Instead, IT should take the lead on how the company can boost business performance based on rethinking internal approaches to management, where IT sits within the company and looking more at business processes. But how exactly can you go about taking this approach to improving IT operations? Here are six steps.  

1.        Focus on innovation

This aim must influence all thinking about how IT can make a real difference to business performance. Being innovative means looking at all of a company’s current operations and seeing them in a fresh light.  IT budgets tend to follow the 80:20 rule, with 80 per cent allocated to existing IT management and 20 per cent for new projects designed to add business value. Encouraging innovation requires looking at ways that the existing IT management budget can be reduced or re-used, so more effort can be put into providing business value back to the organisation.

2.        Orchestrate a little romance between dev and ops

One of the biggest barriers to being more innovative within IT is that different teams have differing objectives and deliverables. The best example of this is the requirements of development teams and operations professionals. Development teams focus on providing updates and software to the organisation to meet demand and are moving to use agile development methods to deliver software faster. Meanwhile operations must provide stable IT systems that support the business and wants to see solid performance, even if this takes longer to deliver.

These different approaches can therefore put teams at loggerheads, causing them to fall out and frustrate those responsible for the overall IT function. Changing this mindset involves working across teams and understanding the requirements of other units with the process. This is now happening as part of the DevOps movement, which aims to bring these two teams closer together to provide better levels of service to the business. As part of this, DevOps involves looking at where processes can be automated and the flow of work between tools and teams can be orchestrated.

3.        Think global – Centralize IT operations

In many businesses, IT resources and assets are spread across multiple offices and different tools. This may be because companies have gone through mergers and acquisitions and different sets of IT systems have become part of a wider organisation. Often, the main aim during a merger is to get the business sides up and productive as quickly as possible. As a result of this, the IT systems underpinning the main business processes may be evaluated but the back-end and support systems like a company help desk, IT service management product or application development tools are left as they are. Post merger, work begins to spread between teams and across two sets of IT; this can then become a huge headache.

As well as paying for two sets of licenses, the company may not be able to ditch either of its systems in a particular area as they might contain valuable data, so instead the systems carry on being used in silos. Companies with this problem should integrate the different systems at a process level instead. This avoids the risk of losing valuable information through ripping out and replacing systems too early. It also enables the business to consider its long-term strategy; when it makes sense to migrate information out of systems, this can be done in the background as and when it makes sense for the business.

4.        Eliminate the bad guys

Phasing out legacy products is an important part of helping IT help the business perform better. These products can be a big drain on the IT department bill because they have software license and support contracts linked to them which can represent a large percentage of overall budgets. The software ‘bad guys’ are mostly those products at the end of support or with end of life status because they attract higher costs to run.

Dealing with issues can suck up a lot of IT staff time or require expensive extended support from the vendor involved. This adds to the ongoing costs of IT without providing much direct business benefit. To solve this problem, the function must consider whether these tools have a place in the organisation. The decision can then be made to replace the tool or upgrade to the latest version, if there is a sound business reason to support this.

5.        Set measurable goals

The opportunity is there to make a real difference to both IT and the wider business. However, it is important that these differences can be both realistic and measurable. If a goal is not well defined or achievable, then the results will miss expectations.

Setting out measurements and reporting on them must be an essential part of any process-focused IT strategy and overall company mission. This not only encourages the function to keep track of its achievements but can reinforce positive delivery of services too. This then becomes a virtuous circle of continuous delivery and improvement.

6.        ‘Find beauty’ – market IT to the organization

Cloud computing and Software-as-a-Service makes it easier for users to get access to applications. At the same time, user experience with those applications makes them question how IT can be better. The long-term trend of the consumerisation of IT is important for internal teams because they have to consider how to provide a similar level of user experience in the future. They must do more than just meet business requirements. They must give individual users a really positive experience with the applications that the business develops and delivers.

At the same time, the function has to provide more evidence of the benefits that it provides back to the organisation and be proactive in sharing good news with other business units. Too often, the function is taken for granted and is only seen when a problem is encountered. This leads to IT having a negative connotation.

IT must highlight where it is producing good results for the company. This can be an opportunity to let business heads know how their own results depend on IT resources in order to be fulfilled and where they can continue to grow their results through use of the right technology and process.

Seeing across the borders of IT into business units opens up the opportunity for innovative ideas to be generated. IT has long been seen as an important supporting function within business but its role can go far beyond this. This demands a mindset change within the function that reflects the evolution of technology.

David Hurwitz, Serena Software began his career as a software engineer for legendary Silicon Valley company ASK Computer Systems, the pioneering enterprise applications company. He has spent the 25 years since around enterprise IT, helping businesses benefit from it and IT leaders be more effective at it. Hurwitz holds a BS in Industrial Engineering from the Rochester Institute of Technology. His senior project applied animated simulation to industrial robotics for more effective manufacturing results.