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Transforming the IT Department, a question of maturity

Posted on 01 June 2013 by Pierre Picard

Vincent d’Ippolito, Consultant at Bull Advisory Services

Vincent d’Ippolito – a Data Center Expert, specializing in resource and capacity management and service continuity – has been working to support customers for over 30 years. Today, he is a Consultant at Bull Advisory Services, the specialist unit dedicated to infrastructure consulting and Data Center transformation. Here, Vincent is developing an innovative approach to organizational maturity that is being applied internationally.

The high failure rate among transformation projects only goes to stress how hard it is for IT Departments to adapt to their changing environment. By going back to basics and focusing on service delivery, Bull Advisory Services offers a winning formula that concentrates on a rapid yet well-balanced approach to ensure that all elements within the IT Department reach maturity.

As a general rule, when faced with a transformation project most IT Departments would view it in terms of some kind of constraint, whether budgetary, technological, organizational, or related to its skill-base… For a long time, technical advances have often given them the opportunity to push back deadlines or to move some issues away. But now, this age is over, and users are much less inclined to accept this situation, and besides, pressure on budgets is too great. The appeal of the Cloud, for example, is not just the result of a simple taste for novelty, but also of a real hope that this new way of running IT systems will be a fundamental, seminal solution capable of giving them back greater room for maneouvre.

The Cloud – just like best practice repositories such as ITIL and agile development methodologies – is a tool that responds to a specific aspect of a more widespread issue: the need for IT Departments to adapt to a whole raft of technological, economic, human and political limitations that have evolved significantly over recent years. Like all of us in society, IT Departments are affected by the energy crisis. Faced with the unavoidable constraint – imposed from outside – of dwindling oil reserves, they have to reshape themselves and invent a whole new model. Indeed, the whole idea behind IT Department transformation projects is to adapt to a new environment.

Two out of three projects fail

However, we’re seeing that only a third of transformation projects are actually completed, and even these only deliver around 60% of the expected benefits. These figures clearly show that even though IT Departments are well aware of why they need to transform themselves, working out how to do so seems rather painful.

No matter what technologies they use or how they are organized, within most organizations the IT Department will remain the essential center of expertise when it comes to delivering the IT tools that the business requires. They will always be in the position of a services provider to these ‘customers’. This idea of service is fundamental, because it is the rock on which the IT Department’s role is built. And so it is around this focal point that a winning approach to transformation can be defined. Bull’s infrastructure consulting unit, Bull Advisory Services, takes this idea of service as the starting point for helping IT Departments transform themselves and adapt to their new environment in a way that enables them to consistently deliver the services their customers expect over the long term.

Eight routes to maturity and performance

The performance of a service of any sort can be broken down into eight key areas: offerings, demand, resources, finance, personnel, processes, tools and technologies. The maturity and the success of a service organization depend on achieving the right balance between these eight elements. The approach taken by Bull Advisory Services involves measuring the IT Department’s performance in each of these areas, then balancing the transformation efforts, so that subsequently they can all move forward in parallel. Most importantly, this innovative approach tackles the two main issues that tend to hinder transformation projects: on the one hand, uncoordinated initiatives that waste resources and introduce even greater imbalances; and on the other, poor communication, both internally and with other departments and teams within the organization.

The number one challenge: changing the IT Department’s identity

The biggest challenge when it comes to transforming the IT Department is to change its identity. It has to make all its stakeholders and employees aware of this, and explain the motives, aims and direct consequences of this change. And in order to do this, its communication has to be strengthened right from the very start of the project. The new service delivery model – the goal of the transformation – effectively depends on creating and developing a specific culture, both internally and externally. The IT Department must fully take on board its new status as a tool to serve the business, but also claim and defend its essential and pivotal role at the heart of the current organization. Its priority must be to adopt this position as a value-added services provider and a partner supporting business innovation.

In operational terms, this culture change will be reflected in the emergence of new jobs. Indeed, working on the eight key elements of service delivery will enable these new job descriptions, responsibilities and skill profiles to be defined, in such a way that employees will be able to identify with the IT Department’s new positioning and, on a personal level, evolve in their job away from the old ways of working towards the new model. It is impossible to get people behind a transformation if it is only associated with loss – of power, responsibilities, information… – and not with benefits.

Self-assessment and communication

From the outset, the approach taken by Bull Advisory Services instigates this communication, which is essential to any transformation project. It starts with a maturity audit, in the form of a self-assessment of performance across all of the eight key areas of service delivery. This appraisal is not only carried out within the Department itself, but also by its customers and independent assessors; providing a snapshot of the IT Department from various points of view. Allowing this external assessment and trying to understand is the first, vital step in moving towards a service delivery model where, of course, you cannot be focused just on systems but on your customers’ needs and expectations.

The audit also enables current strengths and weaknesses to be identified and, as a result, areas for improvement to be prioritized. It also provides a baseline for performance indicators, which will enable future progress to be quantified. Situations where all eight factors are already well balanced, and where the transformation project will just involve moving forward at the same pace across all areas, are relatively rare. More often we find that one or two areas are very far advanced (thanks to over-investment) or way behind (because they have been neglected), and the key priority is to redress these inequalities.

Short-term, targeted projects with concrete goals

In either situation, short-term, targeted projects lasting no more than 18 months are needed. The transformation must be seen as a real project, with clear, concrete objectives, a road-map and a programmed outcome. The tunnel of ‘continuous evolution’ should be avoided, as it disempowers and demotivates people, and does not enable changes to permeate deeply enough to become properly established. Initial support is essential, because the various groups of people involved are suddenly lifted out of their comfort zone (even if they’re working in a disorganized way or are overloaded) and thrown into turmoil where everything is called into question.

As well as providing its methodological frameworks and help to the organization, its project management support and its ability to understand all aspects of the operational environment, Bull Advisory Services can also call on the Group’s technological expertise whenever this kind of expertise appears to be needed. This allows the team to put forward realistic recommendations that relate appropriately to the current situation. The more one gets down into the detail of a transformation plan, the more useful it is to be able to bring together multi-disciplinary teams with an understanding of the industry sector, the culture of the countries involved, legacy systems… Which is why, in order to offer the best possible service to its customers, Bull Advisory Services actually practices what it preaches: knowing its own ecosystem, inside out, in order to understand how it fits in and how it can deliver the maximum added value within the company.

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