Beyond tickets: Demonstrating the value of IT’s business partnership

IT usually runs lean for a reason

Many IT departments spend a huge percentage of their times reacting to problems and simply keeping the lights on. The reason? Because you (and your IT team) aren’t effectively communicating the value you are bringing and/or could bring to the business.

And because you’re not doing that, the business is running your team as lean as they possibly can. Because, as a business, why should I hire another IT person when I can’t see the value you bring me?

What’s in it for you?

In a nutshell, showing the business the value the IT team are bringing could unlock many benefits, including:

  1. Kudos from management now see you as valuable members of the organisation, and not a cost “sink”
  2. A better relationship with the business; who now consider IT when starting projects.
  3. Enable management to justify additional resources (e.g. people, or money for training)
  4. Salary increase/promotion

How can you demonstrate value?

  1. Become more intimate with the business (often referred to as a Business Partner)
  2. Demonstrate and show the value that the business partnership, and IT, is bringing to the organisation.

I covered step 1 in the linked blog post above. This post will focus on step 2.

Out with the tickets, in with the value

Some IT teams measure performance based on number of IT tickets handled. While it’s a useful barometer and can help show trends, it doesn’t show value, so we need to focus on what does.

Assuming that you’re now meeting regularly with key employees and departments, you should have a good grasp on business needs, wants, and overall priorities.

Finding the value

Value is everywhere, you just have to measure it. You can capture and measure it in terms of:

Money:

  • Up-front costs – Capital expenditure (CapEx)
    • IT equipment
  • Running costs – Operational expenditure (OpEx)
    • Power, cooling, floor space (rent), salaries

Efficiency (Hours saved):

  • Improving the efficiency with which an employee or team acheive a task or workflow (could be IT itself or another department)

Satisfaction:

  • Improvements in IT service satisfaction are important to the business. You should care that you’re offering a good service. Capture it, measure it. Ask for and gather feedback in your IT discussions that you have with your departments.

IT support volumes:

  • Reduction in IT tickets related to the project (for example, implementing solution has reduced tickets about previous solution by n number or y percent.)

Enabling the business/meeting business needs:

  • There’s value in enabling the business.
    • It sounds silly, but keeping an email server running effectively is a business enabler. It may not be practical to show how much money it makes or saves, but it forms a key part of what businesses *must* have in order to operate, and so it is valuable.
    • Does the Business need a Disaster Recovery plan? Have you got one of those? Does it work? If yes, then you’re adding value.

Measuring and reporting value

Hopefully the items above provide some good hints to where you can define the value.

To measure value, you need to define it and then measure the delta between the baseline (how things were), with how they are.

Below, I’ll try to cover some examples which show value.

Example 1: Improving employee workflows (Efficiency)

The entire finance team have to go through a process daily. While it is semi-automated, there’s still room for human error and it’s very tedious. The process often breaks halfway through, and this results in IT needing to be called roughly once a week to assist. After this was raised with IT in a regular meeting, IT analysed the workflow and created a fully automated solution which reduced the time it takes to action the process by 10 minutes each day, and reduced the failure rate to only one support call every six months.

Where’s the value?

  1. Hours saved. Time is money. If your work saves 10 employees in a team 10 minutes each per day, over 200 working days a year, that’s 332 hours you’ve saved the team. This can be measured in money, if you figure out rough costs of an employee’s time (usually gross salary divided by working hours in a year)
  2. The Team is more productive, and can focus on adding further value instead of working on menial tasks (you just enabled the business).
  3. Less support calls. Support calls were reduced from around 50 calls a year, to only 2. That’s a 96% reduction in IT calls!

Example 2: Reduction in required disk storage space

Your data center is close to capacity, and the company is expecting a tight quarter in sales, but the business still needs storage for files and documents. Thanks to your good relationship with multiple departments, you’ve managed to negotiate and reduce the amount of storage required for the next quarter by 50% by deleting unneeded data and archiving old data to offline storage. In doing so, you’ve also managed to reduce the physical footprint of the additional storage such that it will now fit into the existing data center without requiring expansion (because you need to order less of it).

Where’s the value?

  1. Saved on capital costs. Enterprise-grade file storage systems are expensive, and you’ve halved the amount of storage you need to buy.
  2. Saved on operational costs. It costs money to install, power and cool disk storage systems
  3. Enabled the business to post a healthy quarter result. Because you delayed data center expansion by reducing the amount of storage needed (both capacity of physical size) and thus the Data Center didn’t need to be expanded to fit the new storage.

How do you measure your team’s value?

I’ve only covered a few of the many ways that we as IT people can measure value. I’d love to hear how you and your IT teams measure the value you bring to the business! 🙂

The hidden secret of video conferencing is the human connection

VideoConferencing isn’t about ensuring people are engaged; it’s about the hidden, intangible things that as social, visual mammals, we can only pick up through seeing each other. And that’s critical when building trust and rapport with remote teams that might never meet: http://blogs.cisco.com/collaboration/ciscokima-desktopvideo/

How do you know if IT is meeting your company’s needs?

As part of a series of posts on moving IT from Reactive to Proactive, I share my thoughts on how to ensure that IT is meeting your company’s needs through regular meetings with group managers.

How do you know if IT is meeting your company’s needs?

The short answer is, unless you are talking to your non-IT colleagues and managers regularly, you probably have no idea.

Why do I say this?

  • For many departments, IT is so invisible that it doesn’t even cross their mind when a new project is kicked off.
  • Often non-IT staff feel that their problems either can’t be, or won’t be solved by the IT department.
  • Sometimes there’s also a feeling that the problem is “only a niggle” and that they don’t want to tie up IT with it.

You need to get your colleagues out of this mindset, and get IT involved into the fabric of the company.

It is your job to make sure that IT is meeting your company’s needs. IT is an asset to your company, make sure your colleagues know it. Go out there, mingle and build rapport. I cannot stress this enough. The benefits are often intangible, but in my experience are absolutely essential to making sure IT don’t get blindsided by urgent IT issues in non-IT projects.

If you’re not making sure that IT meets your company’s needs, your non-IT colleagues may start to explore IT’s version of hell: “Shadow IT services“.

Meet regularly

So how do you stop this? How do you make sure you’re meeting your company’s needs?

My advice, no matter how big or small your company is, is to meet regularly with the department leads/managers and discuss:

  • Ongoing IT issues and progress (client to IT)
  • New projects/initiatives/issues (client to IT)
  • Updates from IT (IT to client)

The idea here is to create a flow of information in both directions. Build a relationship. Build a rapport.

Reaping the benefits

A lot of the benefits of meeting regularly as intangible, but very worthwhile in my opinion.

Meeting regularly:

  • Ensures IT  gain greater visibility of the company’s overall goals, as well as individual group goals.
    • The more you know, the more you can help, and the more IT becomes an asset and seen as an enabler.
  • Helps to keep IT visible, in the forefront of the group managers’ minds
    • Rather than IT being invisible
  • Provides a conduit for information and issues.
    • Helps IT to catch and fix issues before they become a problem for your company.

In case you’re curious how you go about this, here’s how I tend to do it:

Finding whom to speak with

Generally, you need to be meeting with a decision maker and the head of the department or group. If your company is large, you may want to strategically pick a group leader rather than a department leader as the group leader is closer “to the ground” so to speak and may have a better idea of what IT issues their staff are seeing daily. Often a company will have a project or programme manager. Meet with them too. Project-wise, no one knows more about what’s going on than a project manager.

Don’t kill yourself with meetings, though. If you have identified a lot of group managers, either pick the groups that you feel you’ll have the most impact on, or divide up the meetings with other IT colleagues.

Initial meeting

Book your initial meeting 2 weeks in advance. As part of the booking, ask the manager you’re meeting with to speak with their colleagues/reports to gather feedback on IT. 2 weeks gives them enough time to gather that feedback. Book it for 1-hour, but let the manager know that future meetings will only be 30 minutes. (These are busy people, and they’ll appreciate the brevity of the meetings)

The initial meeting is mostly a lot of information gathering, so tends to take an hour. If you’ve never spoken before, you have a lot of catching up to do. You should:

  • Ask what their department is responsible for
    • Knowing what a group does, and their priorities, is important if you’re going to be supporting them
  • Let them know why you’re having these meetings. Sell the benefits to them.
    • Let the manager know that IT is here to help.
    • You want to fix things.
    • You want to help the company succeed.

After your first meeting, you’ll probably have a lot of action points or things to chase up. Don’t let this drag you down; it’s just a consequence of having not met very often. It won’t be like this every meeting 🙂

Regular Meetings

Regular meetings should be monthly, and roughly 30 minutes in length. Book the first one a month after your initial meeting. In the meeting you should provide feedback on any issues that were raised in your previous meeting, and see if anything new is upcoming. It’s also a good idea to check both sides are happy with the style, format and length of the meeting.

I tend to dub these meetings “<Department> Catch-up”, as that’s all you’re doing. If any projects or key issues spring up out of these meetings, you should be working on those issues outside of the catch up.

My regular meeting formats look like:

  • IT progress update on previous issues
  • Client update on current/new projects
  • Any new issues?

Some notes on my experiences with this approach

I have used this approach at my previous company and my current company for the last 3 years. Over that time, I’ve learned a few things:

You’re being tested

Neither side is probably aware of this but, after the first meeting, you are being tested. If you walk out of that initial meeting with a list of stuff that’s wrong with IT from a group’s perspective, and you can’t come back with any plans, feedback, or answers to some of those issues, you’re going to have a hard time going forward. If you fail to act, the group managers will feed that back, and their colleagues and reports will see IT exactly the same as they did before: a blocker. You have a month to get answers or solutions; make that time count 🙂

Set expectations

IT is under-resourced in many companies. Don’t promise the world to the people you’re meeting with, but do let them know you’ll do everything you can given your resources. Generally, they’ll understand.

Use the catch-up to sell IT

If you work in IT, you know you do great stuff every day. Use the regular meetings to demonstrate to the group managers that IT are making a difference. Make your IT updates relevant to the group you’re meeting with. If you’re meeting with Finance, they probably don’t care that you’ve upgraded the Git servers for the Software team, but they probably do care that you’ve improved the performance of their accounts reporting tools.

Feedback

Let me know what you think about this article. Does it make sense? Do you agree or disagree with my approach? Feedback is gratefully received, especially if it’s constructive! 🙂

 

Making IT more visible

One of the things you hear from IT professionals a lot is along the lines of: “waaah, we never get any credit for what we do, and no-one ever notices us until things go wrong”

In fact, it’s a common joke amongst IT pros that you’re never noticed until something breaks.

You know why that is? You don’t communicate enough.

To me, IT – good IT – is just as much about communicating the value you’re adding as it is about actually doing cool stuff and making things run well.

We know the awesome stuff we do on a daily basis, and how great that major new upgrade to the email server is, but unless you’re able to communicate with your user base, and break it down into language that non-IT people can understand, no one is ever going to value IT. Because they don’t see what you do; and they don’t understand how the magical thing you’ve implemented makes their lives easier.

Communicate the value and the benefits, and you’ll get a much more appreciative user base 🙂

 

PS. Apologies if you saw an earlier version of this laden with expletives and poor spelling/grammar. I wrote a messy draft on WordPress for Windows Phone and rather than save it to drafts when I hit Save, it seemed to have published it. Anyway, I’ve tidied it up now 🙂

Pretending to listen (so that you can interrupt)

A few days ago, via LinkedIn Today, I read this article:

Want to Be Happier? Stop Doing These 10 Things Right Now

It contained something that resonated with me a lot. Something I can be guilty of via Passive Listening:

Interrupting

Interrupting isn’t just rude. When you interrupt someone, what you’re really saying is, “I’m not listening to you so I can understand what you’re saying; I’m listening to you so I can decide what I want to say.”

Want people to like you? Listen to what they say. Focus on what they say. Ask questions to make sure you understand what they say. They’ll love you for it—and you’ll love how that makes you feel.

Interrupting is rude. But so is pretending to listen so that you can make your next point when your colleague pauses for breath.

In Business, and especially in IT, we deal with many different people on a daily basis.  Sometimes you’ll be exchanging opinions with a colleague on a subject. In this kind of situation, being a good listener is critical. If you listen purely so that you can find a point to interrupt and add your own opinion, you’re kind of defeating the point of communicating: to understand requirements, discover different ways of looking at things, and ultimately learn.

The next time you’re sharing opinions or discussing a hot topic, keep a mental tab on whether you’re truly listening, or simply pretending to listen so that you can make your next point without seeming rude.

I quite like this guide on Passive/Active listening, and listening well: The Power of Listening

I’m going to give this a shot, and try to be a better listener 🙂