Strengthening the core of IT

Getting the basics right is a prerequisite to doing all the fancy stuff, like taking advantage of information analytics, innovation and agility opportunities. By basics, I mean the often neglected three usual suspects: technology, processes and people. CIOs must get the core right, or find somebody else who can provide these services, to deliver on current commitments and enable future enterprise growth.

The triumvirate of technology, processes and people that a CIO worries about is nothing new. Yet, Gartner continues to receive inquiries from frustrated IT leaders and their business bosses seeking to up the performance of their IT organizations. Recent research reveals that CIOs are surprisingly skeptical about the strength of their own core operations too.

The good news is that the path to building a better core of IT is at least navigable. CIOs have achieved a desired outcome by shifting their attention to each of the three elements – technology, processes and people – as the core evolves.

They also approach this is a two-part journey. As the operational strength of IT improves, CIOs then shift their focus from building operational excellence in the core of IT to building IT’s contribution to the business.

Overcoming poor performance

A good place to start untying the Gordian knot of poor performance is measurement. Initially, measurement is inwardly focused on examining the relative performance and interactions between the three key elements of the IT core: • Technology: improving the reliability of the technical infrastructure • Processes: creating repeatable operational processes • People: building the needed core technical skills

At the operational level, the CIO or a trusted lieutenant plays the role of “super” technical operations manager. Conversations centre around IT’s ability to deliver basic IT services, including meeting business expectations for services and service levels.

While technology infrastructure establishes the limits of IT, process performance underpins quality and cost-effective service delivery. Most enterprises need multiple process frameworks. Additionally, there are organizational solutions to process-based problems. CIOs and IT leaders routinely improve their project delivery by establishing a project management office (PMO). Benchmarking can further help to provide a clear assessment of where things are now and how they need to improve.

The final part of the triumvirate is people. The focus needs to be on technical skills to achieve technical consistency and relationship management skills to rebuild bridges between IT and its business customers.

Once the enterprise has confidence in IT’s ability to sustain effective operations that meet business expectations, the CIO’s attention shifts from ‘Can the technology run?’ to ‘How can we enhance the business value of technology-enabled activities?’

CIOs also shift their attention to strengthening governance and maturing the PMO at this stage.

Demand management becomes a priority to protect both the value delivered by IT, the delivery organization itself and the reputation that IT has won back.

Personnel skill requirements for IT also evolve. At this middle level, the IS organization needs increased business skills to improve business processes and deliver better business applications.

Creating enterprise leverage

At this stage of managing the IT core, the CIO is now able to engage the business on process and transformational projects. The discussion now is about business strategy, innovation, change management and how new opportunities can transform the business for competitive advantage.

The emphasis is on processes that support enterprise-wide results. This entails implementing and leveraging mature enterprise portfolio management, which includes focusing on an organization’s investment portfolio and return. The CIO also expands enterprise processes to include innovation processes.

Effectively operating current technologies represents the table stakes for establishing the credibility of IT. Evolving the core of IT beyond this, although necessary, can be a perilous journey. Business expectations set the course; IT performance determines where to start; and the journey never ends.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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