How the IT department can shift from providing technology to generating positive business outcomes.
The answer is pretty clear: You’d make some changes, or you’d go out of business.
So why are enterprises content to operate an IT department that doesn’t actually drive business results?
“Today, all IT activities need to be focused on business outcomes,” says David Hall, CompuCom® executive vice president of Professional Services. “IT departments know this, but it’s easy to get distracted by the technology challenges at hand. Everything we do in IT should start with a business goal — and then be supported with the technology solutions and processes to achieve that goal.”
CIOs and IT directors increasingly keep the outcome imperative top-of-mind. But they recognize how easy it is to fall short. Seventy percent of IT decision makers say linking IT investments to business outcomes is critical or very important, according to a recent IDG® study. But less than half believe their organizations are effective at demonstrating the business impact of IT investments.1
In the IDG study, the No. 2 issue driving IT investment was delivering a great customer experience — a recent focus of many organizations. But the No. 1 driver? Nuts-and-bolts data security.2 In other words, organizations increasingly expect results not only from strategic new IT initiatives, but from all IT activities.
IT Eyes on the Business Prize
Understanding specific objectives is important, because different business goals suggest different IT solutions, Hall says. “Let’s say your company wants to make the call center more efficient,” he explains. “Is the end goal to cut costs or to improve customer service? If the business prioritizes one over the other, that could suggest a different solution.”
With these realities in mind, Hall recommends five steps to achieving true outcome-based IT:
- Talk to the business — To understand the desired outcomes, communicate with the business — which is your client — on a regular basis. “That can be hard in large enterprises, because companies can become so segmented,” Hall observes. “But unless you truly understand the challenges your business faces, how can you hope to deliver the right IT solutions?”
Hall recommends placing an IT representative in agreed-on lines of business or departments. That keeps IT up-to-date on business activities and keeps IT support focused on end-user needs.
Hall also suggests not just listening to what the business needs from IT, but also telling the business what IT can deliver. “In organizations where IT markets itself, the business views IT much more favorably,” he says.
- Understand business drivers — Basic business drivers like lead generation and time to market will always be relevant. But priority levels shift over time, and new drivers emerge with new market dynamics. IT needs to understand these trends to respond accurately.
For example, the increasing sophistication of cyberattacks and tightening data-privacy regulations have focused new scrutiny on data security. IT needs to understand not only the threat landscape but also compliance requirements, from the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act for financial institutions to the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) for retail companies.
- Replace traditional IT mindsets — Becoming outcome-focused means thinking about business before technology, Hall suggests. But sometimes the technology solution itself calls for a change in mindset. “Shifting from traditional data centers to cloud-based and Software as a Service requires operational changes,” he says.A similar trend is the consumerization of IT, in which end users expect a consumer electronics experience from enterprise technology. That’s driving IT departments beyond traditional ITIL® and DevOps approaches toward more automated and adaptive support paradigms.
- Acquire the right skills — Aligning IT with business outcomes also requires new skillsets. “The requisite IT skills have changed faster over the past three years than in the preceding 20,” Hall believes. “Cloud computing, SaaS, mobile platforms and the overall digital transformation of business are driving a different set of technical skills,” Hall says.
One way to reliably align with evolving skills needs is to offload IT functions to a managed services provider, which will have the focus and resources to acquire and retain the right technical staff. “But that’s not the complete answer,” Hall argues. “Whatever IT function you retain internally still needs to have the skills to understand the business.”
- Measure your results — Many IT departments measure only IT performance, Hall says, not the final business results. The challenge is linking IT performance with what the business wants to achieve.
Let’s say the business wants to deliver superior customer experience. What does that mean for IT? You might need technology-oriented indicators such as data on website performance or the ability to track customer behavior across channels. But the business will also want sales-oriented measures like new customer acquisitions.
Going forward, Hall concludes, IT can no longer assume that such sales-oriented numbers are purely the domain of business. IT will also have to consider itself accountable for business outcomes.
1,2 “The Importance of Linking Business Outcomes to IT Investment Strategy,” IDG, Q4 2015
CompuCom® is a registered trademark of CompuCom Systems, Inc.
IDG® is a registered trademark of International Data Group, Inc.
ITIL® is a registered trademark of Axelos Ltd.
All data cited in this article is used by permission.