What is a “utility”?
According to dictionary.com, a utility is “something useful; a useful thing; or the capacity of a commodity or a service to satisfy some human want”.
Often I hear IT organizations refer to what they do as being like a utility, much like a telephone system, public transportation, or electric system. Just like when one flips on a light switch and expects a room or area to become illuminated, consumers of IT services expect to be able to surf the internet, read email, send and receive instant messages to other colleagues both inside and outside of the organization… oh, and use company-provided systems and applications to do some work–anytime they power on their PC or laptop. IT organizations strive to achieve a level of reliability, consistency, and repeatability commonly associated with being a utility.
Don’t get me wrong. I fully agree that IT being reliable, consistent, and repeatable are absolutely right things to do.
It’s because all of the things that we in IT do into making the use of IT reliable, consistent, and repeatable that the user can surf the internet, read email, send and receive instant messages, and use business-provided systems and applications to do work. But wait a minute — isn’t that what is *supposed* to happen? I mean, that is what we in IT are supposed to be doing, right?
Heads up. If all your IT organization wants to be is a utility, then I would argue that all your IT organization wants to be is outsourced. Your IT organization is under promoting and undervaluing what it is doing.
Utility is (should be) just part of the value proposition that should be delivered by IT. Is utility valuable? Absolutely. But make no mistake—utility simply means that you’re doing what you’re supposed to be doing. If all an organization is looking for from IT is utility, it can find that utility in a number of service providers that aren’t on the payroll.
If IT organizations want to be seen as being valuable to their businesses, it can’t just be about what is being done. It must also be about the why and how it is being done.
If you’ve completed any foundation-level ITSM training, you’ve heard two definitions for value. The first definition is value is made up of utility and warranty. Utility is also referred to as being “fit for purpose” or “it does what it’s supposed to do”; warranty, or “fit for use”, is “how it is being done”. The second definition is value is always from the perspective of the customer. When we talk about ourselves as a ‘utility’, we’re leaving out (at least) half of the value proposition – the warranty! Our goal is (should be) to influence the customer’s perception of value by differentiating what we do in terms of how we do it.
This means that IT organizations must define the value of what it is they are providing. IT must partner, if not take the lead, with the business in driving innovation and competitive advantage in the use of technology and data. Services must be defined in partnership with our business stakeholders in terms of outcomes and business value, not products and applications. Metrics and measures must reflect how IT is contributing to the business meeting or exceeding business goals and objectives, not just how many incidents were logged or changes were completed in the past week. The value enabled and delivered by IT must be crystal clear, well-articulated, and the focus of all parts of the IT organization.
Because if we in IT don’t promote the value of what we’re doing – in terms of both utility and warranty – no one else will.
Because if we in IT don’t deliver value in what we do – someone else (not the internal IT organization) will.
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