Business & IT Alignment – BRM & the Dominos Effect

  Aligning IT with the Business seminar

On 19th October 2017 Sysop hosted an “Aligning IT with the Business” seminar.  The event was attended by 14 people representing 8 organisations across a mixture of the public and private sector.

Business and IT Alignment has been the number one priority for CIOs for 4 years running.  It is clear going off the initial input from the delegates on the seminar that progress is being made but there is some way to go here.  The group were asked how they would describe the alignment of IT Services with Business Strategy in their organisation.

Here is a summary of the responses:

  • Inconsistent overall, some departments work well with ICT but this results in “siloed” alignment & unevenness across the board.
  • This is an ongoing initiative across the last 2-3 years.
  • Appointed Account Managers and Business Development teams to support this.
  • Some areas are more mature than others – key business units are aligned with IT. Formal stakeholder engagement policy launched this year.
  • We are moving towards a converged strategy.
  • Challenging – the business has a number of meetings to cover the subject but we do not share sufficient information (in both directions) for this to be properly aligned.
  • As a managed service provider, the BRM is more relevant.
  • We are introducing business capability modelling.
  • It can be problematic due to being a local authority with changing priorities.
  • Needs improving from both sides. IT needs to make better use of the opportunities to discuss and share strategies with the wider business.

This feedback comes as no surprise given the delegates interest in the main topic of the day.

Further probing into how effective the IT Organisation is at meeting the needs of the business identified some interesting points:

How would you describe your IT Organisations effectiveness at meeting the needs of your business? (Tick all that apply)                                                                                                                                   
There is IT representation on the “top table” of the Business. 57%
We have initiatives in place to improve the relationship between the Business and IT. 50%
Our IT Strategy is aligned with that of the Business. 43%
It is a challenge to get Business buy-in to IT improvement initiatives to better meet their needs. 43%
As an IT Organisation we do what we believe the Business expects 36%
Digital Transformation is formerly cited as helping shape the future of the Business. 36%
Our organisation see IT as a strategic business partner – an enabler for business. 21%
We have effective communication between IT and the Business with the ability to identify customer needs and/or demonstrate value of IT services. 21%
We have clearly defined BRM roles to maintain an interface between the Business and IT. 21%
We can quantify the value provided by the IT Organisation to the Business. 0%

Only half of the candidates believed that their organisation was taking steps to improve the relationship between Business and IT and less than that considered that the IT Strategy was aligned to that of the Business.  If there isn’t alignment between the strategies and no real initiative to improve the relationship then where is the appetite for innovation and digital transformation?

Further responses also indicate a disconnect with regards to the potential IT has in driving the businesses forward – lack of buy-in for improvement initiatives, IT not seen as a strategic business partner and an inability to identify customer needs.

The Business Relationship Manager role is growing in importance to address many of these issues but yet only 21% of the respondent’s organisations have clearly defined BRM roles.

Perhaps much of this mis-alignment is understandable when you realise that none of the delegates felt that the value provided by IT can be quantified or demonstrated.  If IT isn’t able to clearly articulate the value it provides and the potential value it can bring then the business will never see them as a strategic partner.

Challenges

The group were then asked what challenges are facing IT in Aligning to the needs of the business.  A summary of their responses was as follows:

  • Funding
  • Regulation
  • Innovation
  • Keeping pace with change:
    • Business
    • Technology
    • Customer Behaviour
  • Process Alignment
  • Standardisation
  • Being Agile in a Controlled way
  • Prioritisation
  • Competing Forces
  • Business As Usual versus New projects
  • IT should “Just do it”
  • New ideas
  • Lack of understanding of business problems
  • Throttling the demand pipeline.
  • Risk Management
  • BRM versus Stakeholder Management

Grab@Pizza

The group were then introduced to the Business Simulation – “Grab@Pizza” provided and delivered by Paul Wilkinson from GamingWorks.  Paul introduced the session by stating “70% of the IT departments are unable to demonstrate value to their business.” – this is in perfect alignment with the delegates responses of the day with regards to quantifying value to the business.

The group were randomly allocated roles in supporting a successful pizza franchise “Grab@Pizza”.  Sales figures for the previous 6 months had been below expectations and the group were tasked with implementing a recovery plan.  This plan was dependant on understanding business demands, translating them to IT strategy and organisation of IT Support, IT Operations and Change Management.

An initial round of planning and then implementation of the strategy began with the group uncoached on how best to align the IT services to the Business demands.  Without this guidance then a lot went wrong (feedback captured from the delegates):

  • Manic – pulled from all angles
  • Lack of role clarity and authority
  • Business
    • Worried
    • No Interface
    • No Governance
  • IT – no understanding of business impact and priority
  • IT & Business – Alignment needed
  • IT role clarity needed. What is difference between BRM and Service Manager

Paul led a facilitated session to improve business and IT alignment and resolve these issues as they prepared for the next round.

Improvement focus was given to Value Leakage & the role of Business Relationship Management.

Specifically, this broke down to a number of areas:

  • VOCR
    • By refreshing the ITIL definition of a service, the key characteristics of Value, Outcome, Costs & Risks could be considered at the centre of all activity.
  • Push back
    • It is generally accepted that the business does place unreasonable demand on IT at times but by speaking in the terms of VOCR will empower IT to have sensible conversations with the business when prioritising workload.
    • This dialogue will help the business also understand the need for effective strategic prioritization and decision making when there is strong demand and resource constraints (IT Governance).
  • BRM
    • The BRM can help translate business needs into VOCR and together with Service Manager translate this into ITSM capabilities, at the same time the BRM can translate IT and ITSM concerns and needs for the business.
    • Effective BRMs can help provide input to help Resource Planning and identify skills needs.
  • ITSM
    • IT processes were operating in SILO’s and were not aligned or integrated which is what many delegates recognized. The team explored the interfaces needed between ITSM processes.
    • We explore the needs of Incident management. What information do you NEED for effective resource planning, to identify skills needs and to prioritize work?
      • Trends on calls (growth per type)
      • Projected calls (based upon new business features and usage)
      • Business planning (what new business features are in the pipeline, have users been effectively trained)
      • Priority & impact of outages (per business unit & critical time periods)
      • Changes carried out and level of testing
      • Changes NOT carried out. E.g capacity issues, problems (these will maintain or increase these types of incidents).
      • Infrastructure upgrades

It was clear that processes can only be effective and deliver real Value when ‘upstream’ and ‘downstream’ information needs are aligned. Many of the business related information needs can be provided by BRM.

By applying this thinking into the planning phase for the next round then the group were much more successful with meeting the needs of the business and delivering a better overall performance. Financial growth targets were achieved, share price increased, there were no damaging articles in the papers affecting image and losing customers and new franchises. The team was thinking in terms of ‘business impact’ rather than servers, systems, upgrades and incidents.

The takeaways captured by the individuals at the end of the round demonstrate how the learning performance and indeed addressed many of the challenges identified at the start of the day.

Take-Aways

  • It is important to know the strategy and the portfolio of business changes (SPM)
  • There needs to be effective priority & decision-making mechanisms at all levels
    • Strategic (Portfolio of business features, risk and compliance)
    • Tactical (Prioritisation of builds, releases, changes)
    • Operational (prioritization of incidents and problems)
  • We need to ask upstream and downstream to other processes and teams ‘what do you NEED from me to get your job done….This is what I NEED from you’.
  • Authority (It must be clear where decision making authority lies)
  • Business impact (All in IT must understand the impact of their work in terms of value creation and Value leakage. This helps answer the ‘Why’? question.
  • There doesn’t need to be a CAB meeting, there needs to be the right people engaged and involved to determine impact and to agree and authorize changes,
  • When the business has a high demand for new IT (across all business functions) we need to scale up the BRM capability.
  • Open honest communication between business & IT
    • Share Plans
    • Ask Why?
    • Give honest feedback
  • Role clarity with clear lines of communication (in Both Business & IT).
  • Asking questions, seek clarity, confirm understanding. Avoid assumptions!
  • Translate Capacity growth/issues into Business Terms
  • ‘value’, ‘Outcomes’, ‘Costs’, ‘Risks’. All must understand and use these terms to help balance decision making and allocating resources.
  • Use Business Language not IT terminology when discussing with the business
  • Reserve time (even in regular meetings) to reflect and agree improvements.
  • Break down silos – ensure end to end service

 

Thinking from the “Outside-In”

Ian MacDonald was able to bring his great experience to the seminar and explore Service Strategy from different perspectives Inside-Out and Outside-In.  In summary, it is common for IT Organisations to be inwardly looking out to the business with a focus on the internal view of services. Measurements and metrics are technology focussed – e.g. percentage availability of servers.  By developing an Outside-In perspective with a focus on customer needs helps to ensure services better meet the needs of the business with key metrics being more relevant to the business.

The Foundation for Convergence

Next, Simon Kent from Sollertis explored IT & Business Alignment “convergence”, Digital Transformation, and the BRM Institute qualifications.  Business Relationship Management plays a key part in delivering digital transformation and as a profession is increasing in demand.  Professional certification through the BRM Professional qualification provides an individual with a baseline of knowledge of the responsibilities required to be an effective interface between the Business and IT.

 

Seminar Feedback

The seminar was a great success, best demonstrated by some of the comments from the delegates:

 “Grab@Pizza was a good interactive session that showed rather than told.”

 “A day well spent!”

“A useful and thought-provoking seminar providing a useful vision of the needs and requirements to overcome common business operation.”

“So many courses omit the practical application of theories and/or best practice.  This course was the opposite and Grab@Pizza was a fantastic experience.”

“Thought provoking!”

Summary

The day’s outputs really demonstrated the importance of value in building a trust relationship between IT and the Business.  This is unlikely to be achieved overnight but will be eventually achieved with incremental steps in the right direction could lead to a “Domino” effect (no apologies for the Pizza pun)!

Value

Developing a greater understanding of value from the business perspective is key to working towards meeting their needs.  If this value cannot be demonstrated by IT then it is no wonder that IT is not seen as a Strategic Business Partner.  Digital Transformation alludes to technology being the driving force behind business growth but this potential can only be realised once true value is understood.

Unexpected business requirements come along that impact IT and change the order of priorities.  The bad news is that this problem is unlikely to change, changing requirements come from the business and IT does need to adapt.  However, by having a true grasp of value then a trust relationship can develop that would enable the business and IT to have a sensible discussion about resource planning.  Talking in a language the business understands would encourage them to decide what can be dropped and/or what timescales can be relaxed elsewhere to cope with changing business needs.

Pizza

The Grab@Pizza simulation used on the day clearly demonstrates the key components needed to bridge the Business and IT gap.  With this alignment being such a priority for today’s CIO then the simulation is a great way for IT to open up dialogue with the business and demonstrate the appetite to understand value.  IT Services can then be structured in an optimised way to best meet these needs leading to better support from the business and an improved overall relationship.

Business Relationship Management

The role of BRM is key to helping with Business & IT Alignment and is unfortunately one of the most over-looked processes in the ITIL framework.  The BRM Institute have formed to address this situation.  Their Mission is as follows:

“To inspire, promote, and develop excellence in Business Relationship Management across the globe, leading to outstanding business value for organizations and professional fulfilment of every individual member of the BRM community.”

The Business Relationship Management Professional (BRMP®) qualification provides a comprehensive foundation for Business Relationship Managers at each level of experience.  As a Registered Education Partner of the BRM Institute Sysop offer this training from our public locations or as an onsite course.

Sysop are grateful for all the participants for their contribution throughout the day. A special thanks to Paul Wilkinson from GamingWorks for delivering the Grab@Pizza simulation and Ian MacDonald (SYSOP) and Simon Kent (Sollertis) for their contributions on a very valuable day.

 

ITIL® is a registered trademark of AXELOS Limited, used under permission of AXELOS Limited. All rights reserved.

BRMP® is a Registered Trade Mark of Business Relationship Management Institute, Inc.

 

Are your IT Services becoming stale?

I am sure that your organisation strives to offer your customers (internal and external) a consistently reliable standard of IT service – and why not?

The accepted usage of the word (Wikipedia) is as follows:

Consistent behaviour or treatment.

“the consistency of measurement techniques”

Synonyms: evenness, steadiness, stability, constancy, regularity, uniformity, equilibrium, unity, orderliness, dependability, reliability, lack of change, lack of deviation.

We certainly want to give our customers the feeling that they are dealing with a business that is dependable, orderly, reliable but not to the extent of being boring and perhaps too predictable.

But let’s look at that Wikipedia definition again – it includes the phrases “lack of change, lack of deviation”. Is that what we really intend? Static, not improving, not moving with the times?

The emerging methodologies of DevOps and Agile demonstrate an increasing requirement for us to deliver business benefit quickly. However, we do want to be consistent in the way that we deal with our customers.  They need to feel that there will be no negative surprises in the product, quality of service that we offer so that they will have above all that very desirable outcome for any customer or client – peace of mind.

This means that all those great qualities of which we are justly proud like service, product and above all quality should be taken as givens. This is why the well-established disciplines of ITIL® service management are so valuable. But we need to ensure that these disciplines are not set in concrete. The dynamics of today’s business drivers require swift, responsive adjustments to the way we work.

Modern, effective IT organisations do need to invest in the DevOps & Agile way of working. In doing so they will quickly appreciate that neither replaces the ITIL® disciplines – more they depend on them for underlying quality and direction.

The guidance given in the recent AXELOS practitioner publication goes a long way to squaring this particular circle. For our part, at Sysop, we have taken care to make sure that our Practitioner training course helps our students to better understand the need for a flexible approach whilst maintaining, indeed improving, service quality.

Positive change is a necessity of the modern IT organisation. Make sure your consistent approach encompasses a consistent desire to improve, change and innovate.

stuart.sawle@sysop.co.uk

http://www.sysop.co.uk

I am indebted, once more, to my good friend Ivan Goldberg for the inspiration for this blog (www.ivanjgoldberg.com).

Many IT service continuity plans are fundamentally flawed

Many IT service continuity plans are fundamentally flawed. Most business managers expect that all IT services will be restored within 48 hours or so of a disaster. Alarmingly, Sysop research indicates that it may actually take six months before all services are returned to normal!

The mismatch between expectation and practical delivery is brought about by a number of incorrect assumptions, including:

  • that non-critical services can be recovered in similar timescales to the “mission critical” services for which detailed ITSC plans have been developed.
  • that all services can be recovered to readily available “commodity hardware”.
  • that suitably-qualified IT personnel will be available to support the recovery in the numbers required for the time required.

But crucially, the most significant factor is the high levels of support effort required to sustain the newly-recovered services. This support commitment will drastically reduce the resource available to recover the remaining services.

Most IT departments have around 20% of their services defined as “mission critical” in a total population in excess of 50.Some 80% of services will take more than two weeks to recover; 50% will take more than a month; 25% will take more than three months.

IT Services Need to be Available in a Crisis
Experience of major contingencies (i.e. those that affect more than just IT infrastructure) reveals that emergency co-ordination teams need effective IT immediately. As the precise nature and impact of the contingency cannot be predicted, IT specialist resource is needed to provide emergency co-ordination teams with their requirements in an efficient and flexible manner. This activity will always take priority over the recovery of routine IT. As organisations become increasingly IT dependent it becomes even more necessary for routine IT (and the data / information upon which management depend) to be available to manage the crisis.

Building a Disaster Tolerant Infrastructure
By planning strategically it is possible to develop an I.T. infrastructure capable of maintaining IT service continuity throughout even a major contingency. modern server clustering and data storage mirroring can ensure the automatic fail-over of every single system within minutes – requiring no resource, intervention or dependency on scarce IT skills. With correct planning a highly-available infrastructure can be implemented with no overall increase in the Total Cost of Ownership.

Formulating a Strategy, Setting Objectives

Lately, I’ve been involved with a committee that’s been developing a three year strategy. They’re not ITIL people. Many are not managers at all. Their stated objective was to develop a strategy that was “aspirational”. They argued that without aspirational objectives the strategy would not be challenging enough in today’s tough climate.

This set me thinking.

I agreed entirely with their sentiments but I was concerned they would fail because the objectives / goals they were setting were not SMART. By that I mean they needed to be:

• Specific
• Measurable
• Achievable (Attainable)
• Relevant
• Time Bound

Setting a challenging goal can sound quite specific (e.g. reduce expenditure by 75%, increase profits by 50%) but without any hint / outline of how this is to be achieved it fails the “Achievable” criterion. When the goal stretches beyond what is possible it fails the “attainable” criterion.

What we need to do is to take each of the goals we set ourselves and break them down into lower-level SMART objectives that, much more specifically, state what is to be done, by whom and by when and how this is to be achieved – the road map if you like.

A specific goal will usually answer the five “W” questions:

  • What: What do I want to accomplish?
  • Why: Specific reasons, purpose or benefits of accomplishing the goal.
  • Who: Who is involved?
  • Where: Identify a location?
  • Which: Identify requirements and constraints.

The Achievability term stresses the importance of setting goals that are realistic and attainable. While an attainable goal may stretch a team in order to achieve it, the goal should not be extreme. That is, the goals are neither out of reach nor below standard performance, as these may be considered meaningless.

When you identify the goals that are the most important to you, you begin to figure out ways you can make them come true. You develop the attitudes, abilities, skills, and financial capacity to reach them. Attainable goals encourage goal-setters to identify previously overlooked opportunities that will bring them closer to the achievement of their objectives.

Stuart Sawle               www.sysop.co.uk