Discover PerformanceHP Software's community for IT leaders // May 2013
Earning a place in the business conversation
Reaching the strategic level means first proving your mastery of the operational.
Ops leaders seem to live in a tactical world: keep the light on, keep the applications running, and keep customers happy. Ops needs to play a more strategic role in the business, but it can’t move into that role until it has mastered the basics of operations—a big challenge for many IT organizations in today’s increasingly complex IT environment.
We spoke with Tony Price, worldwide lead for strategy and transformational consulting at HP, about how ops organizations move along the maturity spectrum from the tactics of running IT to the strategy of running a business. We started with a favorite subject of his—the human element, which is often not considered when we devise plans to improve IT.
Q: We always talk about how it’s important to do x, y, and z when optimizing performance management. But what really happens when you inject the human element into this advice?
Tony Price: The human element distorts things depending on the maturity of the organization and its people/leaders. More mature senior leaders think of IT as running a business. They think about the value chain within IT that supports the business, and how we can improve operational performance to improve the value chain. Less mature organizations think they’re in the business of “operating” IT. There’s a very subtle difference, but the consequences of that difference will lead to completely different conversations.
When you are in the business of “operating” IT, you are naturally pulled down into the technology at its lowest level. This drives point-solution thinking. It does not drive value-based thinking. So immediately the business will view you as technical, low level—and may not even understand your technology language. When you talk value, this is a whole different ballgame, and the business is much more likely to listen.
Let me give you a couple of examples of talking about performance to the business—which would make you the most interested and compelled to find out more?
- If we can improve the performance of our overall supply chain by 1 percent while also saving us in excess of $1 million per annum, we create the opportunity to speed up time to market, gain greater product share, and increase overall company revenue by X percent.
- If we can improve the performance of some key servers and the databases running on them, our overall IT performance will increase by 1 percent, though this will also require us to review network performance as well.
Q: Where do most organizations fall on that maturity spectrum?
TP: I recently did a poll with some of my customers and some of my colleagues to see how many clients we thought were genuinely in the business of operating IT, and how many know that IT is a business. Actually it’s a small but growing group that takes the more mature view.
Q: What tends to move organizations along the spectrum?
TP: I have found that people moving around is what helps. As people move from one organization to another, they get wider perspectives and bring new ideas. But when they’ve been locked in an organization for 10 or 15 years, they will often have a very narrow perspective, and they won’t mature much. Conversely, they will almost certainly know most things about their own organization, and from that perspective will consider themselves as mature. When we speak with CIOs that have moved around, they have helped organizations to mature. Similarly, mergers and acquisitions help to mature an organization, because people with other experiences come on the scene.
Also, I think there’s an emerging group of CIOs who are much more business-focused than ever before, and I see those types of CIOs as the real leaders of the future. They understand marketing and business and IT people, so they understand the big picture a lot better than a classic technical CIO. They’re more well-rounded individuals. They have to be if they want to be competitive.
I also think consultants have a role to play here. Well, I would say that, being a consultant. In the past, the majority of IT consultants have been far too keen to express the virtues of product X or best practice Y. I think and truly hope this will change. If they help their customers to understand how to express and measure value, they too will be truly adding value!
Q: A lot of the competitive pressure on CIOs is coming from the cloud, right?
TP: Yes. The cloud-based service providers are a great example because many don’t even bother targeting IT senior management. They target the business. They go straight to the business and say they can solve business problems. So it’s really important to make IT as slick as it can be, because if you want to retain the running of IT in-house, whether on traditional technology, private cloud, or a hybrid delivery, then you obviously need to be as good as—if not better than—the cloud service providers. And many are really good at what they’re doing.
Q: “Getting better application performance” sounds a lot like “operating IT”—the less mature part of the spectrum. So how do you get ops leaders to look at “getting better app performance” from a broader business perspective?
TP: You have to get the basics right first. You have to actually remove things like outages, downtime, application failures, and so on. Once you start seeing those improvements, then you can have a conversation with the business to talk about the next big step and how you’re going to work together to take it. But you have to earn the right to have that conversation. Nobody will let you be a part of the business conversation if you don’t even have the basics right. And it’s still alarming how many organizations don’t have the basics right. When you have the basics right, all of those low-level troubles are out of the way—and you naturally start to see operations from that broader business perspective. When the basics are not right, at best the only conversation you can expect is, “Why does IT keep failing?” and “Why can’t you fix what you do?”
Tony Price is worldwide lead for strategy and transformation consulting for HP Professional Services. For more on building from the basics, read the free white paper, “When Application Performance Is Better, Business Works Better” (reg. req’d).
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