Optimizing IT Service Delivery

While transforming a typical IT organization into an efficient service delivery organization is difficult, companies that don’t make the transition face loss of competitiveness, while the IT organization faces loss of credibility and influence and most importantly impact.

The challenges are many, ranging from the technical to the organizational and cultural. Service delivery depends on turning a business process into a systematic process that IT can automate and manage with technology.

But turning business processes into systematic processes requires cooperation among multiple internal organizations and the ability to balance multiple, often competing objectives. The CIO must break down barriers, balance competing goals, garner broad support, and find a technology solution that adapts to the new processes and minimizes disruptive changes.

The CIO must then continually promote the value of new processes and technology solutions even as they require people to change their behavior, sometimes dramatically. For without behavioral change and without broad support, the CIO’s mission will fail.

Here are four keys to a successful transformation into a service delivery organization:

From vision through implementation, secure executive commitment. The CIO must obtain the complete commitment of the executive team, not just for defining goals but also for execution — and all the difficult cultural changes associated with execution.

This is where many CIOs run into trouble.

The executive team willingly participates in defining cross-functional goals and conceptualizing new processes, but support often wanes in the face of implementation. The CIO must orchestrate the development of the execution plan and become its tireless champion.

When FedEx launched its six-year, 6×6 Transformation initiative, for example, executive vice president and CIO Robert Carter understood the huge undertaking and the commitment it would require from the executive team.

Carter and FedEx created a transformation office, named a vice president of 6×6 Transformation, and made every senior staff executive responsible for portions of the execution.

This broad executive support has been a cornerstone of the ongoing success of the initiative.

Drive IT alignment with business objectives. When it comes to a service delivery initiative, the executive team defines the goals, and the CIO drives execution.

This ensures that technology and the IT organization are aligned with those goals. The CIO’s central and often high-profile role in ensuring alignment is critical.

Take an analogy from the world of medicine. In medicine today there’s a specialist for just about every body part, condition, and treatment. While all these experts and all this technology are wonderful, they can do little to contribute to the health of an individual without one doctor who takes responsibility for the patient, sees the big picture, and coordinates the use of specialists, tests, and treatments to ensure they are aligned with the overall health of the patient.

The CIO must play this managerial role for the service delivery initiative, and all the executives must support the CIO by breaking down any barriers that exist within the organization.

Invest with total visibility. Many organizations are saddled with a complex technology infrastructure built with a variety of diverse and disconnected solutions. Technology was implemented to solve specific problems in specific departments, and these were patched, upgraded, and replaced as the need arose.

As a result, these organizations are operating with “islands of automation.” They are unable to view the infrastructure holistically, which makes it nearly impossible to implement a service delivery strategy.

A service delivery transformation requires an investment, sometimes a heavy investment, in technologies that support a “whole service” and long-term strategy.

In order to gain a whole service view, the CIO needs to look at service delivery from the top down: top-level goals; the services required to achieve those goals; and the cross-organizational objectives to deliver those services, which then reveal the functional issues — aligning people to projects, metrics, cultural barriers, etc. that must be addressed.

Without a top-down view, for example, a CIO who isn’t in tune with the top business objectives can build an infrastructure to support a three-tier distribution network only to have the vice president of sales shut down the distribution network in favor of a direct sales model.

When Nielsen Media Research implemented a balanced scorecard, Kim Ross, the company’s CIO, started with a top down view — what the executive team needed, which led to individual department needs, which translated to IT next steps.

In addition, successful CIOs also look inward and rapidly role-model this top-down approach with the IT department itself.

The IT department is a microcosm of the broader organizational challenges. Most IT departments are organized by function — a network administrator, a server administrator, a database administrator — instead of by the services the department as a whole needs to deliver.

Often, these narrowly-focused administrators have competing agendas and interests (funding for upgrades, for example) and lack any mechanism for overcoming these artificial boundaries. Yet the CIO can promote change by mapping teams to the services they deliver.

Unfortunately, understanding how to transform the IT department to deliver on the top-level goals isn’t always easy to see.

Like Kim Ross at Nielsen Media Research, however, the CIO should invest in technology to develop an overview of how the entire cross-tier IT infrastructure delivers business applications and services, and how IT can be mapped to improve service delivery.

Constantly communicate the value of the transformation. Before and during a service-delivery transformation, the CIO must constantly communicate and promote the payoff from becoming a service-focused IT organization: from evidence to support the impact on top-line goals to the ability to adapt to the changing needs of the business without re-architecting systems, retooling processes, or changing staff numbers or assignments.

Communicating value across organizational boundaries helps ensure continued support from the executive management team.

Just as important is the continued promotion of results and grassroots campaigning throughout the IT department. This is absolutely necessary in order to ease the transition for employees who feel the effects of the cultural and organizational changes that result from the move to a service delivery organization.

This communication is critical to sustain support across the organization, no matter how distant (six years in the case of FedEx) the finish appears.

Transforming IT into a service delivery organization is a journey with multiple phases but with strong CIO leadership, full executive support, the right level of investment in the right technologies, a top-down view, and an effective communication strategy, the transformation can move forward at a steady pace and deliver tremendous long-term business value.

Vinu Sundaresan is CTO of Collation, an application infrastructure mapping software company.