Leaning on the IT Department

Leaning on the IT Department

Looking good in business is never a matter of fashion

The general briefing again diverts from the topic and you drift for a moment, thinking about how your time could be better spent solving the problems of business technology. When your BlackBerry vibrates with a new e-mail arrival, you allow yourself a surreptitious glance just in case there's a crisis in the making. It's not a crisis, but the news isn't necessarily good because the message is from the CFO and, not surprisingly, straight to the point. It's about removing costs (also not surprising).

LEAN is the new order of the day, with a mandate from above to shed kilos by eliminating waste and non-value-added activities. The CFO expects an action plan for your cost centre -- the IT department -- in 10 days. You have already assisted streamlining the business revenue generating areas, and now the time has come to focus directly on your expense side (the support groups).

So how do you choose where to focus when you have a multi-faceted technology organisation achieving minor miracles on a daily basis with diminishing resources? As LEAN implies 'removing' waste, people often misleadingly take a negative 'what we can't do/have' approach to the analysis. Focusing your efforts on a positive slant will ensure your staff are inspired to assist and ultimately will provide significantly better results.

Here is where your IT budget analysis will provide some clues (remember tangible dollar savings are always viewed favourably) and help you quickly determine the key areas attracting your IT spend. Look beyond headcount-related expenses to focus on some other areas. For example: are you actually realising the value from your hefty annual software and hardware maintenance bills? Is there value in revising some of your downstream service provider SLAs for the less critical items?

Don't just rely on your management hierarchy to expose potential process improvement opportunities. Take the time to visit your IT staff in situ, and be prepared to listen to what they think needs changing in order to complete their mundane (read: user-regarded critical) technology tasks more productively. Working together with the other internal service providers -- such as, HR, Finance, Procurement and Security -- who assist your IT processes is also likely to provide insights that will help you achieve your mission. Last, but not least, don't forget to invite frank input from your customers and your user community.

Once you have finalised your focus areas, you are ready to prioritise the improvement effort. Put those actions that require minimal time and effort at the top of the list, not because they are the most important, but because your team can start making progress (and getting some quick wins), while you set about determining how best to approach those areas that require more investment.

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