‘Do You Want Fries with That?’

Probe for Details

Once a requestor has been able to give you a satisfactory answer about why a project should be done and can identify its value, then get more details. Identify the quantifiable benefits related to the request. If your business user wants two extra hours of availability on a Saturday morning because a machine normally shuts down at that time when the IT center closes ask what it’s worth to have the machine up and running. Since it will require an investment in time and technology to make this happen, measure the quantifiable benefits against the costs of implementing them.

Only then should you decide whether IT can make it happen, how much it will cost, and whether it makes sense to deliver this service. These are important steps for successfully aligning IT with the goals of business.

After you understand the business objective, and benefits, focus on executing on that vision. Identify what service levels your users are expecting and the upcoming capacity growth requirements. Identify the other new projects in the works that will impact your ability to meet those service levels on this new project as well as the schedule. And, of course, understand budget constraints related to the request.

Embrace ITIL

Resources are available to help you manage these projects from a business perspective. That’s where the IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL) can be extremely useful. It framework provides guidelines to help you know where you are in a process, where you want to go, how to get there, and how to determine whether you’ve been successful.

The latest ITIL book, The Business Perspective: The IS View on Delivering Services to the Business , is especially helpful for IT organizations wanting to better align with the business. It recommends creating a senior IT management role called business relationship manager (BRM) who is responsible for opening lines of communication and maintaining relationships with line-of-business managers who use IS services.

ITIL also helps identify the measurements required to help you get started. For example, if your business requirements are to improve your help desk, ITIL processes will help you identify how long it takes to answer a call and escalate a problem. It will help you determine how many incidents get solved at level one, how many have to be forwarded to level two (which is more costly), and how long it takes to resolve a problem.

These issues need to be understood before implementing the enabling technology. Keep in mind that the technology that supports your processes should be ITIL compatible so that you know you’re using proven best practices, instead of processes developed from scratch.

It’s important for IT to ask the right questions before beginning new projects and to follow best practices in ITIL to make them successful. By following ITIL guidelines and asking pertinent questions up front, you’ll be in a much better position to align IT initiatives with the goals of the business. You can deliver the kind of service the business expects and have confidence that you’re meeting your company’s objectives — without biting off more than you can chew.

Peter Armstrong is corporate strategist of Business and Information Technology for BMC Software. He is responsible for discussing the increasing importance of how business and IT need to work together. Armstrong is a renowned speaker, and is well known throughout the world as a presenter, educator and author.