Discover Performance

HP Software's community for IT leaders // September 2012
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A VP-Ops on how to say yes to innovation

A former VP-Ops at Salesforce.com discusses the importance of aligning with the business in a fast-changing IT environment.

Laurie Jacobson Jones is a former VP-Ops at Salesforce and SupportSoft who also held a VP title at PeopleSoft—experiences that she has brought to her new consultancy, which focuses on customer success automation and transformation. Discover Performance talked to her about how a VP-Ops can succeed in an increasingly complex world. Her answers focused less on the pressures of individual technologies and more on how an Operations leader can connect with the business as a whole to drive—and demonstrate—true IT value.

Q: What are the key factors a VP-Ops needs to consider today?

Laurie Jacobson Jones: The first thing I look at in any role is the question of intelligence. Do you know your KPIs, and are they easily accessible? Do you have a solid operating cadence around those metrics? That, to me, is the very first thing. You might have all these great systems, but how do you know where your levers are until you’ve got those analytics?
 
A VP-Ops needs to be looking at business measures of efficiency, having a scorecard so you have a common language and understanding with your business constituents. Maybe your company’s priority is having the happiest customer base on the planet, so the Ops VP needs to move the levers that improve proactive care and speed to resolution such as case deflection, closures or first-call resolution rate. In any organization, you’re ultimately working for a business leader, so aligning with his or her goals lets you create your business case for change. Having those really sound KPIs is the thing that’s going to help you objectively work through all the other parts of the role.

Q: So it’s the importance of knowing how your enterprise measures your success …

Jones: Yes. And that comes back to what’s the charter of your function, how do you measure success? For instance, in any software business, loyalty is your key driver. What can you do as Ops VP to make a more loyal customer base—to help drive renewals and new subscriptions? Where are the pain points today, the root causes of attrition, and how can we use technology to change that? For awhile, it might be adding headcount to serve the customers in a higher-touch way, but then we may find that premier reps could handle more customers faster if we had better back-end tools and case-handling procedures, or better online articles through a knowledge base.
 
You have to be more strategic. Your ops portfolio should be completely tied to how to make the enterprise better. You have to know your business objective and align with it—that’s how you become a truly effective Ops VP and a great business partner. At the end of the day, everyone has customers and creates value for them, whether they’re internal or external. Shape your priorities according to that goal.

Q: That’s the philosophical end of the approach. More practically, how do you execute on that vision of business alignment?

Jones: Start by being nimble but connected with the rest of the business. You do that through an operating cadence that’s supported by a sound application data architecture strategy, anchored in turn on three main areas of information: financials, customers and employees. Centralize administration of these systems of record, or “sources of truth,” to preserve data integrity while making it accessible to support business alignment.

Q: Being "nimble," or "agile," and "aligning with business needs" are phrases we hear more often in Dev circles, where Ops (and Security) are often seen as change-resistant naysayers. How do we change that perception?

Jones: A great relationship between Ops and Dev certainly helps align priorities and can even influence the product roadmap to bring value to the priority concerns of Operations. Sometimes a clash with timing or priorities results in the innovations from Dev not having the attention to ensure adoption and success for the business.
 
There are so many great ideas, but there’s also the saying, “Don’t buy the puppy unless you want to take care of the dog.” People can get big wins with new technology or a solution to add value or fix a near-term problem, but if it’s implemented in a way that creates a lot of manual care and feeding, it could fall off the priority list as soon as it came on.
 
Will that new feature be a part of a highly adopted system? Is it aligned with a “source of truth”? Has single sign-on been enabled? Is the feature supported and automatically updated, or would it be a one-off for the business to maintain? What falls off the priority list to be able to support this project?

Q: So the Ops VP often ends up at the intersection of innovative ideas and the need to address ongoing priorities?

Jones: Yeah. You have to be open to new ideas, to be the showcase for your technology, but you have to deploy it in a way that’s a win for both the short and long term. There are many ways to innovate, or bring new ways of working to the company, and to solve the apparent conflicts. If a great idea is not on the priority list for the year, what projects could shift? If the idea brings measurable scale or efficiency or benefit to multiple business areas, and if the plan includes effort to integrate to an existing data hub, etc., it might be well worth a priority shift.
 
While the developers are innovating, they might come up with something that could really save time on the operations end, so that’s always been something I keep an eye out for. And Operations needs to understand the value of quick innovation. If you wait two years for the stars to align so you can roll out your big, grand project, technology is liable to pass you by. Salesforce.com is fully an agile shop, and we designed every release plan to be flexible as the landscape changed. Some projects looked a lot different at the beginning than what we needed them to be in the end. It really pays to be nimble and flexible and iterative. Certainly that’s what the culture at Salesforce and most tech companies is all about.

Q: How does that work with the other side of every IT department’s challenge—dealing with static or declining budgets?

Jones: That can be tough. You have to turn some lights off to create space for innovation. There are really three work streams: Keeping everything going, planning for innovation and figuring out how you’re going to pay for it. It’s a real struggle. And when business leaders decide to just procure cloud services themselves, IT’s role can be diminished or the solution might result in a lot of care and feeding by the business. It’s always a balance.

Contact Laurie Jacobson Jones via Customer Zen—and see a companion article on relating better to your CIO and IT peers on the Discover Performance blog. For more on the power of KPI scorecards, see HP’s IT Performance Suite. And find out how to bring Ops and Apps together at hp.com/go/devops.


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