Do you manage your own IT? Are you consistently satisfied with its current performance and cost, or do you struggle to meet your expectations? The chances are that you feel there is some level of improvement possible but for many people this is becoming difficult to achieve as we are inundated with a growing amount of information and faced with ever more hype around IT. The landscape has become more complex, to say the least.
Most IT fundamentals remain the same but there is a growing number of emerging capabilities, such as cloud computing, big data, open source software, web 2.0 and converged infrastructures. All of these offer benefits but they can be confusing when you try to understand how they apply to your organisation. Suppliers naturally want to sell you software, hardware and services but who is thinking about what you really need and when is it right for your business? What does ‘good’ look like for your organisation?
Marketing hype and competitive friction
Over the years, IT suppliers have invented new and interesting ways of promoting their products and services while marketing departments create cycles of hype and competitive friction; they hit you with a barrage of brochures and presentations that graphically illustrate how backward you are when it comes to understanding and taking on new technologies. Great marketing, but what are the benefits for you?
We all know the buzzwords, but the bad news is that it’s also your job to understand them all and to advise your senior management on what they mean and which direction the company should take.
Analyse what you need
Let’s take a more familiar example. Before I buy a new car, I analyse what I need and in my case, this is generally based around comfort, such as air conditioning, Bluetooth, heated seats, power steering and parking sensors. I create a matrix of what’s available and try not to get diverted by the various options I never knew I needed. Hey presto, I quickly realise that I can’t afford a new car with everything I want and so avoid the subject for another six months.
At this stage you are perhaps wondering what this has to do with housing technology. Let’s get back to basics and see if we can find the link. What do we know?
- Your board wants everything on their tablets.
- The IT suppliers want you to buy into their cycle of hype.
- Your tenants want contactless payments and to access your services via smartphones.
- Everyone in your organisation wants a better laptop or phone, a faster network and a widget for ordering coffee from the machine before they leave their desk.
How can you please everyone? First, you need to know who your customers are. Let me help you on this one. Your customers are everyone who relies on your IT department. So that’s generally every member of staff from the board downwards, all of your suppliers and partners, and all of your tenants. They all want different things from you and to be a success you need to understand what these ‘wants’ are.
It is important to have a sound IT strategy that meets the current and future needs of your customers. Understanding which initiatives to start and in what order, based on your specific needs and current situation, becomes the key factor for effective planning and execution.
Make the benefits relevant
So the question is: what does my organisation need to be successful and how can I help it get there? It’s unlikely that anybody in the business worries or cares which service pack you are on or whether you should tier your storage. What they should care about are the benefits of the technology. The finance department will care if you offer to save them money by tiering your storage, and all users should be interested in understanding how a new process or technology makes their job easier or faster. In short, show how you can streamline their operations, make things easier, save them money, make things faster or open up new markets for them.
In order to do that, you first need to understand the current and future requirements of your business users. Sit down with a business manager for an hour, ask them about their job and then think about your role in that. They may only have a laptop and mainly use it for email; fine, you have a role in delivering that service. What is their user experience – is it good, bad or indifferent? This person may want to be more mobile, need a bigger display or want an archive facility.
Have the conversation with everyone on the board individually and see what would make their departments work better. It’s almost certain that what they actually want is cost savings, predictability, agile business processes, mobility and security.
Just like the car analogy, work out what your business wants, work out how much it will cost and build a business case. Once you have justified the cost of moving the business (not IT) forward then you can look at who can supply what you need.
Your finance director will want the cheapest solution, but you know that will be accompanied by ‘cheerful’ service. You naturally want the best, but maybe you don’t need such amazing levels of service so perhaps you can find a happy medium.
Talking to the market
The next stage is to ask the market, run a request for proposal (RFP) and make the IT suppliers work for your money. You should make sure that they deliver what you want, not what they want, and be clear and concise about your requirements. Furthermore, create the right partnerships so that you get meaningful service levels and suppliers carry their share of risk.
Whether your priority is cost reduction, service improvement, or innovation for the business, you should:
- Review the state of your capabilities and understand the gaps and issues.
- Understand your business’s strategy, day-to-day needs and specific requirements.
- Develop a vision of the ‘future state’ and a roadmap of initiatives to address the most important issues.
- Create a business case.
- Break through the vendor friction – find out if there are benefits behind the buzzwords and establish whether they help move your business forward.
Following these steps helps you to be open and transparent. You are helping the business to develop and you are making a concerted effort to lose the IT mantra of “we’re different, we’re in IT”.
You are part of the business as a service provider to the business, and every part of the business is dependent on IT. Or in other words, every part of the business is dependent on you.
Benny Brown is the operations director and John Wynn is the services director at Tactica Partners.