Side Effects of Metrics

Side Effects of Metrics

While you're analysing numbers, take a moment to analyse yourselfCIOs have been using metrics to gauge the quality, responsiveness and productivity of their organisations for more than a decade. But as they turn to metrics to make their organisations more cost-effective, they increasingly are realising that metrics can help them do more than just crunch numbers. Used properly, metrics not only can satisfy your colleagues' need to know, but they also can teach you about your IT organisation. Setting up specific metrics can also give you new insight about your office environment-and yourself.

CIOs Rob Hassell and Dan Daniel had similar experiences in initiating metric systems. Both hired consulting firms to audit their IT organisations and determine which processes needed measuring. Both made customer service an important part of their metrics packages, implementing dozens of measures into the everyday operations of their IT help desks. And each learned an unexpected lesson from his new system of measures.

After instituting metrics, Hassell, general manager of MIS at Portland, Oregon-based truck manufacturer Freight-liner Corp, completely rethought the way he organised his IT staff. Daniel, district manager of systems development for the AT&T Human Resources Information System Organisation in Greensboro, North Carolina, changed his leadership philosophy because of what metrics taught him. The measures were a "divining rod" for smarter management, says Daniel.

Reorganising the Troops

Hassell oversees one of the most extensive client-server networks in the automotive industry. Freightliner has grown consistently throughout the decade, and early in 1996, after another record year, Hassell wanted his IT organisation to move forward with the rest of the company.

"I didn't wake up one day and say, 'Let's do metrics,'" he says. "The natural pressure of success is what forced me to evaluate how things were going.

Instead of saying, 'We're on top of the world' and sitting still, I felt we needed to figure out what we had to do to stay ahead of the game."Hassell chose the Boston consulting group of KPMG Peat Marwick LLP to evaluate his organisation. KPMG graded Hassell's department in a number of different processes. The organisation earned high marks in productivity, system operations and price performance but scored low in efficiency evaluation, process monitoring and performance data production. KPMG's diagnosis: Hassell needed to institute formal IT metrics.

KPMG recommended numerous ways for Hassell to improve performance. Earlier this year, he published an operating plan that implemented 53 specific measures, including metrics with which he could monitor system availability, the amount of time help desk callers spend on hold and how fast employees get new computers.

In the brief interval since Hassell instituted metrics, the only changes in IT have been in Hassell's own management philosophy. As a result of measuring his department's processes regularly, Hassell says he has rethought his previous expectations of his employees, his department and himself.

"It's impossible for me to know everything about everything that goes on within the organisation. These metrics have enabled me to adapt," he says. "I used to expect my people to work wonders. I would hire a programmer and hope that in a pinch, that person could reconfigure a server or help out with a tech support call. Nowadays, though, IT is too complicated for the jack-of-all-trades approach."Around the time he put the new metrics in place, Hassell took another tip from KPMG: He reorganised his IT staff members by function so that they could carry out cross-functional projects more effectively. He put professionals who excelled in C++ on one team, for example, and technicians who preferred Web design on another. To Hassell's surprise, many of his people are still having trouble adapting to the use of metrics and to cross-functional project management, which requires them to work in areas with which they might be unfamiliar.

"Nobody has walked out on me, but it's been really tough to get employees to reacquaint themselves with some of the applications they haven't done in a month or two," Hassell says. "IT people are agents of change, but they are people who also survive on the disciplines that have withstood the test of time. Changing that isn't something that, after one or two memos, will just happen. I'll be picking away at it for a while."Hassell says most of his employees are nervous about establishing a new routine but excited about the prospect of working under a different organisational structure. For his part, Hassell has been rejuvenated by what he considers the unsung benefit of establishing metrics in his organisation: Had he never gone through the process of evaluating IT metrics, he never would have realised how antiquated his own expectations were.

"It took the process of developing metrics to open my eyes to a lot," he says.

"Our metrics are relatively new, and yet I feel they have taught me more about my own organisation than I ever imagined-about efficiency and spending, employee satisfaction, organisational strategies and making the workplace somewhere you enjoy being. To me, that is more important than any hard data."Changes in PhilosophyWhile Hassell decided on his own to establish a set of metrics within his IT organisation, AT&T's Daniel had a different experience. Five years ago, Daniel says, business executives started pressuring him to provide information on IT spending, help desk efficiency and overall productivity.

"The telecommunications industry is so competitive that I was always under pressure to justify IT costs to our customers," he says, "but with this new [campaign], there was a concerted effort to make everything more efficient. The [business executives] didn't care how I got it done; they just told me to do it."Daniel turned to Boston-based Keane Inc, which recommended specific metrics Daniel could use to improve IT performance. Daniel immediately installed new customer service software to track reports of problems, the time it took to fix those problems and the percent of client calls completed successfully. Managers now log department spending and monitor the uptime, downtime and free time their employees have each day.

Daniel says implementing such extensive metrics was overwhelming: He was flooded with information he couldn't digest until he reacquainted himself with his organisation and its needs.

"After we started these new metrics, my job was like blindly pulling levers on a control board," he says. "We had results, but we weren't familiar with the processes behind them. All of a sudden, it was like, 'Wow. This is how have we been doing this all this time?' Reality wasn't what you'd call uplifting."In Freightliner's case, Hassell's people had a tough time getting used to the changes in the IS department; at AT&T, Daniel was the one who had trouble re-adjusting. The new customer service software compiled information, for example, and he'd forget to look at it. Daniel says the changes in his routine forced him to approach IT in a way he hadn't in years.

"My point of view had become that I could be doing the wrong things right and the right things wrong and that it wouldn't make a difference," Daniel quips.

"It took awhile for me to change my mind-set to that of someone who needed to learn things from scratch, just like everyone else."Daniel made sure his IT workers understood their new responsibilities. He sent weekly reminders to his IS managers about the importance of accumulating information on department efficiency. He also sponsored departmental meetings and lectures at which he shared with IT employees his experiences implementing customer service metrics.

The metrics Daniel implemented five years ago are now a vital part of everyday IT operations. Daniel says he has been "reborn" as an IT administrator and that metrics have made him a better boss.

"[Metrics] opened my eyes to a whole new world of IT leadership," he says. "The process of actually gathering numbers for the business side forced me to look around. Some things were all right, but others were way out of whack. Right away, I saw where I had to challenge my staff to be better, where I had to challenge myself to be better and where we could grow together as a group. It was a life-changing experience for me and for them."In the end, metric systems are only as good as the CIOs behind them, and making them work right takes time and patience. While simply going through the motions of implementing metrics won't guarantee you an epiphany like Daniel's or Hassell's, being open to unanticipated lessons rather than just enduring the process can help you change more than your IT department's performance.

"I can't even remember what running this department was like before these metrics became part of our everyday [operation]," Daniel reports. "We proved to [the business side] we belong. We proved to ourselves we belong. And I proved to myself that you're never too old to change," he adds.

"I can enjoy success so much better now that I know where to look," says Hassell. "That knowledge doesn't only make my IT organisation a better contributor to the company as a whole, but it makes me a better and more responsive CIO. If you ask me, that's the best of both worlds."

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