The low-touch approach to enterprise IT

There’s an image I just can’t get out of my head. It was a slide ona PowerPoint presentation from a government official at last week’sOpen Group conference on enterprise architecture and it showed whygetting good service from the public sector, or any large organization,is so hard.

The image attempted to map out, a series of circles, all the majorlife events where citizens might need to interact with the governmentto obtain some sort of service. At the extreme ends this included birthand death, but there was also sickness, getting a job, getting married,and even things like homelessness. All of these areas were tied to aset of government programs, which were in turn offered by variousdepartments or agencies. Each of these organizations have their ownCIO, the government official said. In total, the slide represented morethan 7,000 “touch points” between the government and the governed.

As scary as this image was – you could almost see the tangle ofdisparate systems, applications and users that would be tangled withinthese touch points – it was a good example of diagramming done right.It didn’t deal directly with the IT, it focused on the services andespecially the activities to which the services correlated. Even in theprivate sector, there tends to be much more discussion about gettingthe databases talking to each other, or the processing engine tointeroperate with the data warehouse, or whatever. Lost in thecomplexity of such discussions are the activities on the front end, orthe desired outcomes.

I could imagine almost any business going through the same exerciseas the Government of Canada. How do customers deal with you, and when?It might be a purchase. It might be research. It might be support. Froman internal customer perspective the company which employs the ITdepartment could be losing revenue, or they might have suddenly seennew competitors enter the market. They may have experienced a plunge intheir stock price, or they could have been dealing with a productrecall. Each of these would link somehow to an IT service, and mappingit out would lead to a better understanding by both business and ITwhere the touch points are.

In the distribution industry, you don’t want what they call “hightouch” customers, because they eat up a lot more of your resources.They contribute to fixed operating costs, when you want and need morevariable costs, no matter the kind of business you’re in. Sometimes, inthe industry’s zeal to prove how valuable IT is to the business,vendors and even IT executives imply they’re always going to be doingmore – setting up another database, extending the help desk – when theyshould be aiming to reduce the number of touch points in theorganization.

The PowerPoint diagram I saw filled the margins of the slide withtouch points and services. One way to frame the IT manager’s prioritiesis engineer the kind of service capability that, when mapped, leaves alot more white space.

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