Tag: IT Management
How is your IT Operation Performing?
Is your Municipal Information Technology department delivering amazing and cost effective customer service? Are they operating using best practices and industry standards for IT Governance? If the answer is no, or if you are not sure, keep reading and I will provide you with some simple tools and a high level overview of improving your IT business processes and operations.
Expertise in, and a deep understanding of technology disciplines isn’t required to get the most out of your IT Manager; understanding basic principles of IT Governance is. As a County or Municipal Executive, you can provide the necessary leadership to improve your operations by ensuring that your IT management is adhering to industry standards and best practices. If you are fortunate enough to have a CIO, these standards and practices are probably already in place. However, there are over 22,000 County and Municipal entities in the United States and most can’t justify the cost of a full-time CIO.
There are tried and true standards, methodologies, policies and procedures that smaller counties and cities can and should establish in order to improve IT operations. If you don’t have a CIO, you can familiarize yourself with the basics and see if they are in place in your organization.
In highly regulated industries such as insurance, pharmaceuticals, health care, and banking, there are clear regulatory guidelines that define many of the basic functions, best practices and requirements for an organizational IT operation. Audits and evaluations are conducted routinely to ensure that IT operations are following applicable regulations and guidelines. There are no such required standards for municipal and county governments in most states. However, IT departments should always be operating as if an audit is imminent.
Part of the management problem is statistical, and I have written about it here, but solutions are readily available and a few of the basic management components that should be in place are described below.
Some Root Causes of Problems with Information Technology Departments
IT staff members under an audit generally blame poor customer service, poor performance, security problems and technical problems on an insufficient budget and understaffing. Sometimes they also blame the customers (end users). They often argue that if only the organization would increase the budget and hire more people, they would do a better job. In my experience, this is rarely true and two root causes of organizational IT problems are described in the table below. I have seen many IT departments that would function better with a smaller staff and a more focused business mission.
|Lack of Focus on the mission.||The IT operation is attempting to be everything to everyone. They don’t understand priorities and the business mission of your organization.|
|Tech Decisions||The Department is making technical decisions rather than business decisions.|
Customer Service Problems and Solutions
IT is a customer service driven business. If your IT customer service isn’t exceptional, you have a significant business problem, not just an IT problem. In the following table I have provided information about two tools that can help you improve customer service immensely regardless of what IT staffing model you use.
|Service Level Agreement||A Service Level Agreement is a required document for any IT Department, even if it is a department with only one staff member or the services are entirely contracted.|
|PSA System||A system for tracking IT problems and their resolutions is also a required, essential component of a well-governed IT operation. Such a system provides information about the productivity of your IT staff, but it also provides a wealth of information about your end users and your business operations. The data available from a properly configured PSA system can provide valuable management information for executives, not just for IT management.|
Cost Metrics, TCO, ROI
Here are some basic business questions to ask about your IT operation. If you haven’t performed these calculations before, the answers might surprise you.
- What is the total cost of ownership (TCO) of your IT operation?
- How much does it cost per end user?
- How does that cost compare to other organizations similar to yours?
- How do you define an IT cost?
- What value and return on investment (ROI) does the operation provide?
Mission Critical Functions
If your IT staff does nothing else, they should at least be focused on Backup, Disaster Recovery, System Security, and Contingency Planning.
|System Security||HIPAA (full text of regulation here), ISO 27001, and NIST, to name a few, provide excellent frameworks for your Information Security program.
Even if you only have a 1 – person IT operation, information security should be a primary responsibility and your IT management should be well versed in these standards and how to implement them.
|Backup, Disaster Recovery, and Contingency Planning||Again, even in a 1-person IT operation, security, DR, Backup, and Contingency planning should be their main focus.|
|Information Security Policy||You must have a comprehensive information security policy!|
Are all of the components mentioned above in place in your organization?
Nothing I have discussed here will work in a vacuum. Improving operations and lowering costs will require your leadership and relentless follow-up. My father always taught me that good management is 10% telling people what to do and 90% making sure they do it. If you want to improve IT operations in your organization, go make sure they do it!
Feel free to e-mail me at email@example.com if you would like to discuss Information Technology projects, operations, or other business problems in your organization. If you are working on a major procurement project, you may find my book to be of interest.
Copyright © Jeffrey Morgan 2016
I lived and worked in the Republic of Korea in 1986 and 1987 and spoke half-way decent Korean. I also spent 3 months in Thailand and learned enough Thai to go down to the market and bargain with vendors. I have spent time in other Asian countries as well.
One of the big lessons I learned was that even if you speak the language, cultural concepts and even body language often can’t easily be interpreted or translated using verbal communications. Even talking about basics like the color of an object can be difficult.
Does yes really mean no?
At one point in Korea, I was acting as an interpreter for a meeting between American and Korean General Staff. The two sides couldn’t come to agreement on an issue and the American General blamed the lack of agreement and acquiescence of the Koreans on my abilities as an interpreter. The real problem was cultural rather than a lack of communication or understanding. What I clearly understood was that the Korean General was giving off all the cultural cues that said NO without actually stating it verbally – something he would have considered to be rude. The American General couldn’t comprehend this because American officers are trained to say NO most of the time. Saying NO isn’t necessarily considered rude in our culture. Also, the American General was changing the pre-defined plan at the last minute. Maybe things have changed now, but at the time, that kind of entrepreneurial change of plans at the last minute wasn’t something that would be rewarded in Korean culture, least of all in the military.
Xenophobia vs. Business Decisions
I frequently recommend strategic contracting and outsourcing to my clients, but contracting to people whose native language is not English from half way around the world is not what I am proposing to them. When I recommend outsourcing, I am suggesting that they contract with a local or regional professional services firm with people who have a shared cultural perspective.
Language isn’t the only problem. Culture can be a huge problem too. This isn’t xenophobia; it’s a business calculation. I have lived and worked all over the United States and the cultural differences between South, North, West, and East are vast. From a cultural point of view, California, New York and Texas are in many ways different countries, but we do share language and to some extent, culture. Conducting business when all the players don’t share language, culture, and common goals can present insurmountable obstacles.
I worked on a disastrous project in the late 1990’s that resulted in an 8-figure loss to taxpayers and several wasted and frustrating years for hundreds of people. The project was a top-down initiative from the highest levels of state government to implement a state-wide social services case management application. The software development was contracted to a firm from half-way around the world. The entire concept of the project was flawed from inception and the project, stakeholder, and communication management were poor.
The workflow was cumbersome and illogical and I always suspected that the workflow probably made sense if your brain had been wired differently based on language. It was clear that no one had bothered to consult case workers in the field about how they collected, managed, and entered data in the field. Everything was wrong with this project and there was plenty of blame to go around – especially blame for the executive management at the state level. However, communication with the foreign programmers and support personnel was a significant problem. The communication problems were both cultural and linguistic. Even the concept of what constitutes “customer service” has significant cultural ramifications and the idea of “social services” is not something universally understood around the planet.
There are cultural differences between companies as well, even if all the players are native English speakers from your region or your local community. If you are considering strategically outsourcing some aspect of your IT operations, cost shouldn’t be the only consideration. There is a value to cultural compatibility. The company culture of a potential vendor may or may not be a good fit with your organization, even if their office is right down the street. Cultural fit is an essential component of a successful business relationship and determining that fit should be part of your procurement process.
Copyright © Jeffrey Morgan 2016, 2017
Poor customer service is an epidemic in both public and private sector IT organizations. Art imitates life and there is nothing more hilarious than watching skits with Jimmy Fallon playing Nick Burns, Your Company’s Computer Guy. These skits are so funny because they ring true in most people’s life experience. Unfortunately, bad customer service in your organization isn’t anything to laugh about.
Let’s put this in the form of a syllogism – “We have a customer-service problem. Customer Service is the responsibility of management. Therefore, we have a management problem.” As an executive, it is your responsibility to address the management problem. The good news is that you can fix this problem and I will provide you with a high-level overview of one way to do it.
Once you have a Service Level Agreement, you can take the next step in order to improve the quality of customer service being delivered by your Information Technology Department – A Professional Services Automation (PSA) system. As I have previously discussed, no system you purchase will inherently do anything to improve the quality of your services. You must use the system correctly in harmony with other tools such as leadership, training, process, policy and procedure.
Regardless of what type of model you are using to support your IT operation, or the size of the operation, a PSA system is a required tool. These systems are widely available, affordable, and available in SaaS (Software as a Service, aka Cloud) solutions. If you have a small IT Department, or even a 1-man operation, the Cloud solution may make the most sense. Whatever you decide to do, buy one of the commercially available options rather than having a staff member write one in-house. I have seen organizations try this and it never works out.A correctly implemented and configured PSA system can also provide a wealth of other management data that can show you an X-Ray of of information management in your organization.
There are 3 basic rules for using a PSA system effectively – with no exceptions.
- Everything goes in a ticket. No Exceptions.
- Employees must account for ALL of their time in the PSA system. If they work a 40 hour week – 40 hours should be documented in the PSA system. No exceptions.In fact, you may wish to use the PSA system as the time sheet for the IT Staff and only pay them for what they have documented.
- Everything (Absolutely Everything!) related to a ticket gets documented in the system. No Exceptions.
Once you have data in the system, it might be worthwhile to have your team along with an expert 3rd party evaluate the system’s reports. There are common problems. For instance, one problem you might find is that some employees require more time than necessary to complete tasks. You might even find some pretty egregious consumption of resources like techs taking 10 hours or more to complete something that should be a 1 hour task. You may not know how long standard tasks require, but you can find an expert who does.Also, you may find that IT staff are performing activities that are not defined in your SLA, thereby wasting precious resources.
You will be able to identify other problems as well. Are there recurring problems with specific users? With specific departments? With a specific piece of software or hardware? How much are these problems costing your organization? Are IT staff members actually causing problems? Do end users require additional training?
Getting from abysmal customer service to a baseline of acceptable customer service may take a while. During the Go Live period for the PSA system, your IT Management should be living in the system. If you have long been suffering bad customer service, the IT management may require considerable coaching and training just to understand what good customer service looks like.
Your staff members may present all sorts of obstacles to such a system. For instance, they may say that it takes too long to document every incident. Like any other skill, it takes practice to thoroughly document your work and activities, but the results are worth the effort.
Another argument you might hear is Why don’t the other departments have to document their work? Many professionals document their time and activities: Attorneys, accountants, physicians, consultants,truck drivers, and pilots to name a few. There is no good reason why Tech professionals shouldn’t do so as well. In fact, once you have the PSA system in place and working, you may like the results so much that you will want to start a similar program for other groups, like your facilities staff as one example.
If you would like assistance with implementing a PSA system or with improving the customer service in your IT organization, send me an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you would like to watch Nick Burns, take a look here.
Copyright © Jeffrey Morgan 2016