What Has IT Done For Me Lately?
April 1 2006 by Mark Bartolomeo
Re-engineering IT requires a lot of patience,” says business consultant Jerry Hoff, former chief executive of Sun Life. “It’s an enormous task, and it simply takes too long. In addition, most companies believe they have more important issues to deal with.” The result: “IT is often left out of business re-engineering efforts.” And that, adds John Alexander, president of Portland, ME-based Business Technology Consulting, is “like re-engineering insurance claims without understanding the claims processes.”
Why is the prospect of re-engineering IT so daunting? Why do IT organizations often find themselves reacting to strategic initiatives, rather than playing an integral part in them? For one thing, while some re-engineering issues are universal, some twists in the process are unique to IT. When a company is realigning its business to help it respond more quickly to customer demands, for example, it already knows how long the current process takes, so a practical goal can be established, measured, and adjusted. IT organizations, on the other hand, have few targets and even fewer measurements, and those that do exist are frequently driven by hardware or software constraints rather than business goals.
Eli Dabich, a former CIO who is now principal of the Maryland- and California-based consulting company Synergies Associates, believes discipline is key. “We must put discipline into the maintenance of IT,” he says. “IT organizations need to button down their systems and clean up their maintenance processes.” Dabich notes, for example, that the maintenance of existing legacy systems still is consuming a minimum of 30 percent to 60 percent of most IT budgets. Most CEOs do not understand why these costs are so high, he adds, and most CIOs are afraid to tell them. Instead, CIOs often recommend building a new system.
The question of what IT is doing for a business must be defined by the business itself. The answer is an integrated infrastructure that supports IT workflow, minimizes the implementation of new technologies and processes, and provides a framework for all projects.
It is particularly critical to measure the overall end-to-end solution to ensure that one process is not improved at the cost of another. The automation becomes strategic because a good process workflow tool automatically collects the metrics and data required to do the analysis for the improvement processes.
The automation must include and control both the environment for the systems and their technical development. The automation for both the processes and the system environment enables organizations to eliminate redundant and inefficient processes and system components. It provides a benchmark for future change and supports current project impact analysis. It also provides the framework to introduce new tools and technologies-when they are appropriate. As Business Technology Consulting’s Alexander points out, it’s important not to allow technology to drive the business, but to make sure that the chosen technology solves the problem and supports the business.
IT organizations have a myriad development and maintenance tools from which to choose. Therefore, workflow tools must have an open architecture that allows tools and processes to be easily linked and integrated. Programmers should be able to sit at their PCs and point to functions, without having to know which tool or technology will be invoked. The intelligence must be in the workflow processor if IT is to achieve true productivity.
The tools that can help automate IT processes are available today, and the results are encouraging. Organizations that have defined, analyzed, and automated their processes have demonstrated an average 30 percent cost savings. More important, flexibility to respond more quickly to their internal customers has increased dramatically, and this, in turn gets products and services to external customers more quickly. By implementing process flow tools, communication between business groups and IT also has improved, creating stronger alliances between what could otherwise be competing factions and producing lasting benefits and results.
Mark Bartolomeo is president and chief executive of Softlab, an Atlanta-based developer and marketer of maintenance and redevelopment products and services.