IT has always been a difficult thing to evaluate. For any enterprise, IT is a shared, limited resource that is also awfully expensive and high risk. After 35 years in the consulting business, I have had the privilege of meeting many CIOs and have learned a lot from them. The primary lesson is that IT is never good enough, never fast enough, and never cheap enough.
One CIO made an analogy using his car. “You don’t call Ford when your car starts as planned in the morning, but they sure hear about the 1 out of 5,000 times it does not.” None of this is breaking news, but over the last 20+ years the job has changed dramatically and the things that IT executives must focus on have changed.
In the late 90s, it was integrated “ERP”-type operation solutions that improved a company’s supply chain, operations, and customer management. In the 2000s, it was the internet, and having a web presence, or having an entirely new business model like Amazon,who went from nothing to the largest company in the world in a shockingly fast time frame.
Recently, the focus has been on mobile apps and moving everything to the cloud. Now employees are working everywhere, walking around with their company’s data in their pocket until it gets lost or stolen — a scary proposition. And with the mass migration to the cloud, few IT managers are evaluating, implementing, and supporting their own servers and networks. So, CIOs have had plenty to keep them busy delivering new technology and value to end customers, and the business of keeping the lights on was important but straightforward.
In 2021, it seems that the equation is reversed. Now, mobile and desktop apps are everywhere and more decisions on technology solutions are being made by the business. At the same time, the effort to manage an environment that is literally scattered across the world is a daily struggle as many of the resources are out of the control of the IT organization. To put it in perspective, one major US-based company has 8,000 – 10,000 unique apps running on over 300,000 devices.
All those apps get updates, patches, and new releases that must be tested to make sure they are compatible with the environment and deployed to the right devices. To make matters worse, when the underlying OS is upgraded, almost everything must be tested to ensure the business can continue under the new operating system. Needless to say, managing and supporting this is a far cry from keeping the green lights blinking.
The idea is that the traditional measures of “system(s)” availability, service desk tickets, closure rates, etc. still apply in most cases. If the focus is going to be on how well IT can manage and support this new complex environment, then the metrics must change.
These new metrics might include the number of apps tested, upgraded, and deployed as a percentage of the total application inventory. Other possible metrics could be the total number of apps discovered that are no longer being used, the number of apps out of license compliance, or the number of rogue apps that represent a security risk.
Regarding the service desk, along with the traditional measures of the number of tickets and closure rates, how many problems were avoided or fixed before the user even knew there was a problem? Every organization must find metrics that fit their situation, and they will require some new processes and tools for this type of reporting.
Said differently, measuring the hygiene or housekeeping of the IT estate is critical to maintaining a safe and dependable environment for the tools that organizations use for business. The problem with not doing this level of monitoring and reporting is that outages can easily be blamed on the app or service provider. This is not necessarily incorrect, but the fact remains that IT is responsible for keeping the business running.
So, reporting on the effort to keep that environment running smoothly results in funding that is necessary for people and technology to make it happen. This provides for things like automation tools that can maintain the estate without just throwing people at the problem which is costly and not always foolproof. People make mistakes, so why not arm those people with the tools to do this critical function effectively and cost-efficiently? Not only does automating some of these functions make them better — it also makes them easier to report on.
Automating application testing, packaging, and deployment definitely makes this critical function more effective, but it also gives you the ability to move to a more Agile or continuous improvement cycle, which will give the business a feeling of comfort due to the fact that their workspace is being watched over on a daily basis and there are no “big bang” events like major software releases to hold their breath over.
It also allows the IT executive the ability to provide context to outages when they do happen. Modern app management allows the IT manager to quickly communicate the scope of the outage. An outage that impacts 50 people is quite a different conversation than an outage that impacts 100,000 people.
The other area ripe for automation is service desk management. With modern tooling, the service support organization can not only record and report on the number of tickets worked, the number resolved, and the efficiency with which they were resolved, but it can also preemptively fix problems before they happen. Reporting a statistic like that will cause the business to have great confidence in IT and to believe that IT is actively keeping them operating and avoiding outages even when the higher-ups do not see it. Imagine if your car gave you a report of the problems it detected and fixed without you even knowing. Chances are you would see this ability as great incentive to buy that same type of car again.
The notion of measuring IT performance has a couple of objectives. The obvious one is to measure key indicators to continuously improve the most important processes. Anything that is measured gets better. The not-so-obvious objective is to have a quantitative way to communicate what the IT spend is buying you.
In essence, it helps to answer this age-old question: “What are we getting for all the money we are spending on IT?” I have met with many CEOs and CFOs who tell me they have this question and have hired me to answer it.
It is unfortunate that this conversation was had with me before it was had with the IT executives. As an IT executive, don’t think that this question is not being asked by other executives in the organization. All this may sound like a certain amount of politics, but it is a fact of life. It is merely an effort to communicate what your customer is getting for their money, which is a good idea for any business.
So, when it comes to measuring IT in 2021, a fresh look at the metrics and priority of resources is certainly in order. Like any other transformation, it takes an investment of time and money to define the new model and “tool up” to do it effectively. It is what technologists have been preaching to the business for years, so we should be good at it.