Why IT needs to be an enabler for business to succeed

Delivering an IT service to a business is difficult. It needs to support and enable the success of the business. In my experience, every IT department wants to provide the best service it possibly can. Let’s face it, we all do – if the business is a success everyone wins.

There are a huge number of moving parts to the IT infrastructure of a company, with a great many complex interactions. These typically happen between teams that manage specific sections of this infrastructure. Unfortunately, there is often a disconnect between what the business needs and what the IT delivers. This is a result of the many different issues facing organisations.

Disconnect and miscommunication

Firstly there are communication challenges. There can be a lack of understanding of the business priorities by the IT departments. This is usually the result of a lack of alignment between business strategy and KPIs versus those of the IT department. Conversely there is often a lack of understanding by the business when it comes the problems facing the IT teams and a view that IT ‘should just work’.

The simple fact is that IT problems are often viewed as being difficult to translate into layman’s language but that does not need to be the case. The issues can be translated, perhaps only at a high level, but translated all the same. The detail itself may be complex but does everyone really need to know or understand the nitty gritty?

To use an old much used analogy – do you really need or even want to know the details behind why your car has broken down, or would you just like it to be fixed and know when you’ll be able to get on the road again? Trust is a big component here. Would you take your expensive car to a garage that hasn’t previously delivered on promises or would you try a different one?

It’s the same when it comes to IT. When an incident occurs that impacts the business the IT department often comes under extreme pressure to fix the problem from the business but also from themselves. The first step to fix the problem is to identify the cause. It could be obvious but frequently it can take days or even weeks to find, depending on the complexity and the visibility and the expertise the IT staff have.  The delays in resolution are commonplace for ‘grey’ issues. A grey issue is a malfunction in some unidentified part if the IT estate that is not causing an outage but is causing poor performance and user frustration.

Once the problem is identified the technical experts and management are required to come up with a remediation plan. While the problem must be fixed it needs to be done in such a way that doesn’t impact any other critical systems, and that ensure that no new holes in the system are created. The service needs to be restored as closely as possible to its previous state, the fix being planned and documented. It must also have the engagement of staff at a senior level.

There are always technical challenges in companies that dog the IT department. There is the familiar technical debt, where an ageing or out of date infrastructure is cajoled daily into performing above its capabilities. Staffing levels and lack of key skills can be a problem for all departments and IT is no exception. A lack of monitoring is another issue, and when there is monitoring, is it managed and acted upon?

Then there are the financial challenges around having a fully functioning state-of-the-art IT department that seamlessly aids the front end of the business. Keeping your infrastructure up to date is expensive and needs constant review, thanks to the rate of change in the industry. Also, skilled, qualified staff are in high demand and expensive. Loyalty and competence carries a price tag.

Business often thinks of IT as a ‘sunk’ cost, a bit like facilities management for example. This comes from the idea that the IT department ‘keep the lights on’ in just the same way. But IT is also a vital part of a company’s bottom line. IT is present in every part of a business in ways the organisation itself often does not fully understand. In most organisations today IT is a core business function: in other words, without it the business would fail.

Misalignment between IT and business strategy means the IT department can’t allocate spend and effort to what the business needs. It is a frustrating experience for the IT department when they are brought to task for poor performance but offered no guidance on how they can best help the business succeed.

Pointers for success

For IT to help business succeed there are some key steps that can and should be taken. Firstly mapping business functions to IT components and identifying critical paths for application data and networking. This will clarify what goes where and identify the location of any weaknesses. This will also help should there be a need for remedial action as it allows for swift and economical targeting. It will help with capacity planning and for management information, reporting data based on actual facts rather than hearsay or ‘wetted fingers’.

Using comprehensive tools that monitor infrastructure, applications and capture packets will give the IT teams visibility and control of their systems. It will also give them the ability to pull disparate data from separate monitoring components. With this in place the IT department will be able to predict where problems may arise, spot unusual activity and be able to pinpoint and fix problems the moment they occur rather than using resources on time consuming forensic IT analysis after the fact. With less downtime and quicker response times the business, end users and the IT department all win.

IT and business must communicate, communicate, communicate. This cannot be stressed in enough. A clear and consistent two-way line of communication from board level down is essential. When business strategies, tactics and targets are defined everyone, including IT, should be comfortable that they are achievable, planned out and have a clear timeline.

IT not only keeps the lights on but impacts the bottom line. If IT understands what the business needs and vice versa, there is a far greater chance of the two succeeding together.