How to hit paydirt when overhauling IT processes

There are plenty of reasons to streamline IT processes using best-practice frameworks such as the IT Infrastructure Library. But that doesn’t make it any easier to do.

“You hear a lot of people talk about how standardizing processes and adopting best practices in IT is just common sense. And it is,” said Rafael Rodriguez, associate CIO of academic and infrastructure services at Duke Health Technology Solutions, part of Duke Medicine in Durham, N.C. “But it’s hard for me to follow a good, healthy lifestyle. It’s not because I don’t know what to do, [but because] it requires cultural change and that can be the hardest thing to effect.”

Rodriguez was among a number of IT managers who spoke this month at the itSMF USA Fusion 2007 conference, where close to 2,000 attendees gathered to hear how companies such as Mary Kay Cosmetics, General Motors and Wells Fargo made IT service management improvements happen in their environments. Here are some of the lessons these companies learned along the road to success.

1. Get upper management support. It’s a common refrain, but the need for support from upper management is critical in a project that could involve nearly all aspects of IT. Until a new, supportive CIO came on board, David Farris said for five years he hit a cultural roadblock with management and staff while working to get ITIL processes in place. “A single ITIL champion cannot succeed alone,” said Farris, who is manager at the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal Plant Health Inspection Service, in Riverdale, Md. To keep momentum on such a project going, champions must “spend time and effort to convince and motivate others to participate,” he added.

2. Tie best practice adoption to specific business goals. Configuration management meant nothing to business leaders until Joseph Kennedy explained that adopting better processes around this IT discipline would ensure applications at State Street in Boston were available when needed. “I had to take everything I know about the technology and translate into something relevant to the business,” said the vice president of technology architecture and R&D. “The discussion became about resource improvements, fewer outages, more transparency and better responsiveness from IT to the business.”

The same goes for Steve Moore, technology leader at Mary Kay Cosmetics in Dallas, who said explaining to business managers how consolidating systems, applications and processes would streamline IT operations wasn’t as effective as telling them how the move to better processes would enable Mary Kay to more quickly open a location in Bangalore, India, for example.

“The business is growing fast and having a master version of the truth would make it easier to bring other locations on board and keep them standardized globally,” Moore said.

3. Tailor best practice adoption. Duke Medicine’s Rodriguez said IT shops can fail at rolling out best practices when they focus on accomplishing all the goals associated with ITIL or CoBIT and lose sight of goals specific to their organization.

“We are not implementing ITIL. And I have zero interest in implementing ITIL,” Rodriguez said. “We have been working to improve operations since before ITIL came into our picture. We are implementing IT service management and ITIL is a means by which we are doing that.”

4. Understand process interdependencies. ITIL introduced the concept of a configuration management database to IT service managers and vendors alike, and now putting a CMDB in place is a priority of many enterprises. But Peggy Ranney, change manager at American Family Insurance in Madison, Wis., pointed out change management technology is a prerequisite for establishing a federated repository of all configuration items in your environment.

“Change management is needed to keep the CMDB current,” Ranney said. “It was necessary to implement change and configuration management together.”

5. Put people before technology. Duke Medicine’s Rodriguez warned show attendees to wait to acquire process-related technology until the right people and processes are in place. “We in IT often suffer from technology arousal, in which we think there are all these tools and if I just had them, it would solve all my problems,” Rodriguez said. “That is how stupid decisions get made.”

6. Mature to your desired level. The asset management processes Mary Kay has in place put it at about 80 per cent success according to ITIL standards — which is just fine with Moore. Citing financial and other factors behind Mary Kay’s choice, Moore explained IT managers shouldn’t try to reach goals that aren’t necessary for their organization. “The reality is we didn’t need the Cadillac of asset management tools to obtain our goals,” he said.

7. Automate where possible. A side benefit of streamlining processes is being able to automate redundant tasks, such as configuration management, and ultimately improve application uptime. “To operate in today’s environments, IT managers have to be experts in multiple disciplines and code on the fly, and that is not realistic. Code quality has gone way down over the year because of it,” said State Street’s Kennedy. “Automating the processes around configuration management helps ensure applications are configured consistently and are available to the end client.”

8. Quantify cost of noncompliance. Mary Kay’s Moore said IT staff in his company would typically address problems brought up to them in the hallway, at the water cooler or at lunch without putting the service request into the trouble-ticketing system. “It seemed very un-Mary Kay-ish to some people to say no to requests made in an unofficial way,” he explained.

To keep staff committed to using the processes, Moore said he would provide downtime metrics to IT managers who made a change or fixed an issue outside of the system. “I was able to directly tie recorded downtime or cost with data about the unrecorded change and show how if it had been done according to standard process the overall system would not have been negatively impacted,” Moore said.

9. Measure and adjust. Though it can be hard to associate process improvements with a return on investment, American Family Insurance’s Ranney said a project cannot move forward unless proper measurements are taken. “Measuring the success of new processes is critical to the overall success of the initiative,” she said.

Duke Medicine’s Rodriguez agreed post-deployment measurements are important and should include feedback from end users. “You have to see these from their perspective” because improving processes and cutting costs is only part of the goal, Rodriguez said. IT service management process improvements are about better service delivery to the IT client, whether it be internal end users, external customers or business partners. “You have to be able to meet their expectations,” he said.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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