WHEN your perspective includes all of the aspects underlying IT service delivery, including processes, organization relationships, available skills, internal and external resources, as well as automation, your re-engineering projects have a much better chance of producing improved or excellent service levels.
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Hammers and nails
Has this ever happened to you? You and your associates identify a troubled IT service delivery process that needs to be improved and automated. So you select and commission a vendor to analyze the process, make recommended changes/adjustments and then provide suitable automation to enable it. Unfortunately, after the dust settled, the newly automated process actually created an imbalance with some or all of the processes (and organizations) to which it was related. Or, in the best case, the improvement was only incremental.
Too often, IT falls prey to that old pitfall -- "if all you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail." Even the best-intentioned vendor is most likely to apply the particular expertise he has in his bag of tricks.
Take a 360-degree perspective
Please understand that I am not knocking vendor expertise. But expertise is a double-edged sword when it narrows the focus brought to bear on your project. I recommend taking a broader, more holistic view when approaching process improvement/re-engineering and automation. You need to break things down to see how they fit together. If you don't, your problem won't necessarily go away, but it could get bigger faster. And that's not the kind of result you're after.
What's your widget?
For a workable model to follow, look no further than the "for profit" side of your company. Consider that faithful hypothetical standby, the widget manufacturer. He starts planning with the finished goods in mind. Then he works through what it takes to put a widget in the hands of a customer -- distribution channels, promised delivery date, equipment, people, skills, suppliers, raw materials, etc. -- all the way back to design. The guiding principle is to optimize the time, cost, quality and profit involved in each step and component of the chain.
Believe it or not, the same discipline can be applied to business process re-engineering. The more we break something down, the better able we are to rebuild it faster and stronger. I've identified four key areas that bear on the outcome of IT projects. We ignore any one of these "secret ingredients" at our peril.
Goals and objectives: Do an intellectual discovery process to see how what you're trying to do aligns with your overall service mission. There's no sense in making square pegs faster if your enterprise has round holes. You'll still have a choke point when users try to wedge in those pegs.
Processes and procedures: If you want to strike gold, roll up your sleeves and dig into the work steps, routines, handoffs and accountabilities involved in each task. Often we can find and eliminate constraints and points of failure built into existing processes. Replacing these with improved processes or even "best processes" (if they exist), positions you to deliver the goods.
Organizational structures: Ask questions that challenge the status quo. Are the appropriate organizations supporting the right processes? Are the right people and skill sets in place? Are the roles and responsibilities clear? Do the data transfers map to the needs of the data users? By letting processes drive organizational structure, you avoid silos or boxes with high walls.
Infrastructure and automation: This is the most dangerous area for IT professionals because we have a built-in bias toward hardware and software as a source of problem solving. Remember, automation, in and of itself, cannot take the kinks out of your processes and organization structures. The job of automation is to enable and help enforce process and structure. By paying attention to goals, processes, and structures, it's much easier to identify and apply the right technology -- hardware, software, system and data integration, etc. -- to get the job done. Give automation a clear channel in which to run, and you'll see positive results.
Sweat the small stuff; get a big return: Clients sometimes question the level of granularity they really need to consider. That's the "before." The "after" is what turns them into believers. The practical reality is that IT service delivery is a complicated business. There are many places for failure to occur. A considered, holistic approach that scrutinizes goals, processes and structures is the only hope for successful process automation.
Greg Lenox, an expert in the processes, methods and practices of IT operations for customer support, help desk, asset management, inventory management, telecommunications management and change management, is president and CEO of Entuition Inc., a maker of operations management solutions in the infrastructure logistics marketplace. At Entuition and in previous positions, he led several major re-engineering projects. His clients included SunTrust Banks, Citibank, Target, GlaxoSmithKline, Baxter Healthcare, Nations Bank, Wachovia Bank, First Union Bank, BB&T, CCNB, CNA Insurance and others.