“IT is too slow.” 

“IT costs too much for what they are giving me.”

“IT seems to be missing the mark at our company.”

“What is it that IT does here?”  

Do any of these resonate with you - maybe all of them? If so, you are not alone. Most IT organizations have some flavor of this in their reputation. Usually, IT organizations are inherited, tweaked, personality-driven, and suffered through. Levels of dysfunction are unknowingly baked into operations and accepted as “that’s how we do things around here.”   

IT organizations are rarely designed – and more rarely viewed from a perspective of value creation. Seldom do we see a ‘back to the drawing board’ overhaul of IT’s operating model. Understandable really, it’s much like changing the wheels on a race car mid-race. However, implementing a well-thought-through IT operating model will greatly increase the value IT provides and minimize dysfunction.

The following are high-order components of an IT operating model. Examined individually, each component will provide insight into a different part of the organization and remove a level of dysfunction. Examined collectively, a model of IT operations will emerge with its goal of “IT value creation”.

Business Alignment: Aligning business and IT should be the highest priority and most obvious component, but frequently is never conducted. Two reasons for this are:

  • The IT organization does not keep pace with changing business environment, corporate philosophy, or funding to make the desired changes.
  • Unlike most other functions, IT and the senior executives often do not communicate well, and with this, the two groups will inevitably diverge on expectations. Given enough time, this gap will become a chasm, and dysfunction ensues.

Governance: Removing the dysfunction of unclear decision authority and lack of timely decisions will go a long way to eliminating operational dysfunction. Defining the vital decisions of the organization, who will make them, and how they will make them will provide welcome clarity to most organizations.

Capabilities: IT will typically have a set of services that it delivers. In some companies, that means procuring and taking care of laptops, servers, and networks. In others, it will include developing systems and related data, change management, and robust processes to manage ever-increasing demand against a limited (and sometimes shrinking) supply. Strong IT organizations will develop capabilities specifically targeted to the needs of the IT customers and internal capabilities that will enable the organization to operate efficiently and effectively. 

Talent: Frequently people in IT organizations have been doing the same thing for a decade or more. Entrenchment may mean consistency of service or a slow deterioration of service as interest wanes. Other factors to consider in designing how you design your workforce would include use of contractors, managed service providers, and Shadow IT. Balancing your workforce against your cost profile is always a critical item to address with IT sitting on the cost side of the ledger.

Structure: Providing the appropriate structure for the organization will play a part in how efficient the group is. Dysfunction from incorrect reporting relationships that pull people in different directions, services that are shared but shouldn't be, and integrating groups that should be skunkworks are common structural forms of dysfunction. 

Metrics: It is true that if you can measure and reward meeting specific metrics, you can influence behavior (to a degree). The key here is to identify the measurements that matter. Without these in place, old ways will creep back in, and with them, the built-in dysfunction.

Redefining and implementing a new operating model for IT is no mean feat. However, elevating the vision for the function beyond ‘improved service’ or addressing consistent pain points for customers is critical. We live and work in a world where technology is fundamental to enterprises. The consumerization of technology has radically shifted expectations and tolerance for inconvenience and dysfunction has reduced dramatically.

IT functions must respond. Failure to do so will lead to an endless revolving door of leaders and constant tinkering with the organization while failing to address the fundamental lack of alignment with the needs and expectations of the business.

These six steps may not be a silver bullet, but they provide a solid framework and priorities every senior IT leader should be looking to address.