image credit: Thomas M. Perkins

The mixed message to IT (and how to escape the mixing bowl)

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Do you feel you and your IT organization are living in a mixing bowl?

IT is under incredible pressure to become nimbler and more responsive to business needs. Shadow IT, “as-a-Service” solutions, and requests for new applications are continually appearing from seemingly everywhere to address perceived must-be-done-now business requirements.

On the other hand, if the IT organization fails to take the necessary steps to protect an enterprise’s data, or ensure appropriate control of its systems to comply with laws and regulations, the business may instantly become a headline in social media and internet news outlets.

The line between business and IT has been blurred beyond recognition – in fact, there is no line. Businesses are completely reliant on the use of technology to conduct business. As a result, IT must provide services that are stable, reliable, consistent, and secure – which often puts IT at odds with business requirements for agility and responsiveness.

Without a well-defined strategy for achieving the vision and goals of the business, IT seemingly jumps through hoops in an effort to meet the conflicting requirements between stability and responsiveness.

Without appropriately defined governance, there is no mechanism for finding and following a balanced approach between responsiveness and stability.

Sound familiar? If so, you are living in the mixing bowl.

Is your IT organization in the mixing bowl?

Here are some symptoms of IT organizations finding themselves in the business mixing bowl.

  • Bypassed processes – Because following processes feels rigid or bureaucratic, exceptions are made depending on the person or group within the organization making demands of IT.
  • Ignored testing – Because there seemingly is no time to test potential solutions – and testing is in the way of getting to market – testing is cursory at best and totally ignored at worse.
  • Deferred decisions – Because things can’t wait, decisions affecting plans or longer term needs are deferred.
  • Hidden problems – Because the IT organization is under pressure, problems are hidden rather than openly addressed and resolved.
  • Solution first – Because no one is willing to take the time to fully define the business need, tools and systems are purchased and implemented in attempts to get to market quickly. Unfortunately, this approach always results in “be back” work (to address overlooked or ignored issues) which further adds to the mixing bowl problem.
  • No collaboration – Because people fear losing control of driving their solution to market, there is no involvement from others within the company.
  • Constant “fire-fighting” – Because governance and strategy are lacking, IT becomes really good at band-aiding issues, but never good at real solutions.

What is the result of being in the mixing bowl? Lots of IT spend, but little real value in return.

Can ITSM help?

Yes.  And no.

Yes, ITSM *can* help *if* applied appropriately. Unfortunately, many organizations have approached ITSM implementation as the hammer for what is perceived to be a world of nails.

But just as it takes more than a hammer and nails to build a house, the ITSM professional may have to use different tools from multiple frameworks and methodologies to find that balance between nimbleness and stability. ITIL®[1] is a great process-oriented framework that can be used in the delivery of services. Apply Lean concepts to remove waste. Add in DevOps and breakdown the silos between the development and operations organizations. Leverage Agile to get work done in bite-sized chunks that deliver the most important aspects of business needs first.

Think of this approach as the difference between the novice and the craftsman. While the novice may be able to understand and use a tool, the craftsman knows how to apply the right tool in the right way to get the outcomes that are required.

Can ITSM help? No, ITSM cannot help – even the craftsman – without planning and communication. This means you’ve first got to get out of the mixing bowl.

Escape the mixing bowl

Getting out of the mixing bowl is not easy, but until you do, the world of IT as you know it will continue to be one of fire-fighting and endless jumping through hoops. How can IT get out of the mixing bowl? Good communication and planning are key.

  • Seek first to understand, not to reply – Take the time to understand the problem before trying to apply a solution. Many times business and IT get sideways with each other because both sides are too eager to jump to solution. Set the example – first understand.
  • Learn the business – IT has to go the extra-mile, reach out to business colleagues and learn the business of the business. The business is always looking ahead to identify the next great opportunity. To be successful, not only does IT have to support what is running the business today, but also be involved in emerging business needs and opportunities. In order to be part of the discussion about that next opportunity, IT must understand the business of the business – not just how technology can be used.
  • Don’t defend the status quo – There is a reason why the business is looking for other solutions. Once you understand the drivers and issues from the business perspective, look for ways to leverage existing solutions. It may not be obvious that an existing solution can fit the need – in other words, business colleagues may not know what they don’t know. At the same time, look for opportunities to innovate – don’t leave your business with the impression that it’s “status quo or no”.
  • Lose the tech-talk – Frankly, business colleagues do not care about gigabytes and megaflops. Up your communication game and use analogies and business language, not tech-talk, to help with planning and communications.

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[1] ITIL® is a registered trademark of AXELOS Limited.

Image credit – Thomas M. Perkins

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