The past few years have been far from easy: slashed budgets have resulted in skeleton IT departments and overdue system upgrades. The ‘do more with less’ philosophy has been tough resulting in a further plunge in IT’s corporate credibility. The standing of senior IT personnel has fallen to a low ebb – senior executives rate receiving guidance from IT leadership as their least important IT issue. Instead firms are turning to IT vendors and consultants for technology advice. However, senior executives cite achieving business value from IT as a primary goal.
With IT budgets set to rise, IT directors have an opportunity to bridge the credibility gap. Leveraging excellent information on project status and resource availability, IT directors can manage the diverse IT requirements of their organisations and evolve towards the new ‘earn as you go’ model that will transform the perception of IT throughout the business.
A major barrier is IT’s inability to inform the business of the status of specific projects in any meaningful way. Without detailed information on existing projects and resource levels it is impossible to predict the impact of a new development – prompted by regulation or new business opportunity – on the existing workload. The resulting negative response to development requests exacerbates the poor perception of the IT department’s ability to deliver value. So how can IT directors manage not only conflicting demands on a restricted budget and cope with the volatility associated with short term? How do they show that IT is efficient, effective and responsive and can not only deliver business value but drive it? The primary need is the ability to provide detailed, accurate, up-to-date information on existing project status and the implications of undertaking new developments, which can only be achieved if the IT director knows exactly how each project is progressing, the skills required and the skills available.
With this in place, the board can be offered a range of scenarios, based upon What If analysis. By comparing options to the business benefits associated with each project, IT can provide the information required to support the decision-making process.
It is essential to deliver this information without embarking upon a high risk, high cost and time consuming project. Whilst a project management tool that embraces risk management and documentation as well as time recording may provide the detailed information required to improve visibility and communication – at what cost? The last thing a beleaguered IT department needs to undertake is another high risk project!
Yet the basic components of time recording and resource management can be implemented within days. Project plans are pulled from MS Projects to provide a complete overview of resource requirements; while the information from time sheets includes both time spent and the time the individual believes the job still requires to provide clear indication of resource needs across the range of development projects.
Once in place, the system can be used not just to manage new development projects but all IT work, including day-to-day support.
By highlighting both existing staff skills and those they want to develop, an organisation can inform the resourcing process to facilitate cross skilling. While improvements to staff use, productivity and the ability to manage volatility are important benefits that deliver both bottom line improvements and rapid return on investment, it is the need to transform the relationship between IT and the business that is important. A key component of this solution leverages the expertise of the IT personnel. By including both time spent and time required on the job, the system can flag up, in red, orange or green, project status and whether key interim goals are going to be met. This early warning enables overrunning projects to be clawed back and reasons for the delay – such as inappropriate technology usage – to be addressed.
The IT director can proactively inform of both delays and opportunities. Early project delivery frees up resources to address new projects. Providing early awareness of resource availability, with potential project options, offers clear opportunities for delivering business value.
IT directors spend too much time explaining delays and refusing requests for new developments to the board. Is it any surprise that IT is still regarded as a cost centre rather than an asset? The ability to show the incremental value delivered by a project and offer clear choices for ongoing developments based on timely, accurate resource information can transform the IT director’s role from defence to empowerment, and enable the business value IT delivers to be seen. n
Barry Muir is managing director of Innate Management Systems. Tel: 01473 251550.