Our company board is satisfied - is that it?

We get regular feedback from the executive team that they are satisfied with the way we are running the company's IT systems and...

We get regular feedback from the executive team that they are satisfied with the way we are running the company's IT systems and with our delivery of IT projects. Have we won, or are we missing something?

Don't let the IT department be familiar with criticism

Roger Marshall, Elite

IT departments get used to receiving nothing but criticism. They try valiantly to make technology work, when the products they are sold are often not fit for purpose. Getting the blame for problems they did not cause and cannot fix leads to victimhood and a siege mentality.

So it is refreshing to find a self-acclaimed winner. I am willing to bet you have just as many problems with products and suppliers as the rest of us, yet you have been able to maintain your popularity with your customers.

Your secret, I am certain, is that you spend a lot of time understanding your customers' problems, seeing things from their point of view, tailoring your services accordingly and making sure they know what a good job you are doing. Keep up the good work.

Why be complacent when IT could be outsourced?

Gill Williams, partner in Ernst & Young's information security practice

Many IT organisations would no doubt be pleased to hear "satisfied" from their executive teams, but the question is, does "satisfied" mean "delighted" or simply the mid-point on a range of responses from "excellent" to "dissatisfied".

At a time when IT is no longer the exclusive preserve of an in-house IT department, who can afford to be complacent? A service provider could offer your executive team the same service at a reduced cost, or an improved service for the same cost, so there needs to be mechanisms between the executive and IT for agreeing, documenting and measuring what is important.

There is little point providing great technological innovation to enable an organisation to make business changes if the business priority is survival. The other consideration is recognising the variety of customers, each with different priorities of what constitutes good service.

Executive customer priorities usually include business/IT strategy alignment and operational users are usually interested in ease of use and helpdesk response times.

An "executive dashboard" is one way to provide a way to collate and report on what is important, capture changes, identify trends and provide early warnings for action. Ensure customer feedback is seen as an opportunity, not a threat, and make sure it is acted upon.

The board's opinion may not reflect the users' opinion

Neil Roden, NCC Global

Although it is obviously beneficial to satisfy executive management, it is imperative that all users' satisfaction is gauged regularly. As a service function delivering to many areas of a business, it would be remiss to assume that the executive team's perception of IT value is consistent with that of other departments.

It is also naive to believe that the level of IT knowledge, expectation or requirements by executive management is adequate for every user's needs. Although some informal hierarchical prioritisation often exists in support, it is essential that core operations and systems are supported through a formal internal service level agreement which is measured and reviewed.

If the feedback from the board is supported by all users and is equally true from SLA reports, you have won. However, that is in the past and the next review may present a different picture.

Stay alert: the environment can change quickly

Chris Potts, director, Dominic Barrow

Firstly, congratulations. There are many companies that would dearly love to have this level of confidence in their IT experts. However, you are right not be complacent.

I have worked in a number of companies where all the executives really want from IT is useful tools and information flows that help them and their managers run the company. Given the focus of their industry, they do not see IT as a source of competitive edge, but equally do not discount its potential to help run things better.

Conversely, I have also worked for clients where the IT experts are expected to identify innovative ways to run the company with IT, using their knowledge of what is technologically possible and financially feasible. Being competent at running IT systems and delivering IT projects is not enough.

The golden rule is to know your environment, do what is valued but stay alert. The business environment never stays the same and what is valued today may not be so tomorrow.

Identify the areas where you can raise your value

Rob Lambert, Cranfield School of Management

Well done. Many would be envious of being able to satisfying your executive team with the delivery of your IT projects. However, the concerns you express are worth exploring.

What are the criteria the executive team is using to judge your performance - perhaps time, cost and quality? If quality equals a working IT application, it might be possible to raise the value of your contribution. Does your group:

  • Ensure that the applications you deliver have an impact on business performance indicators?

  • Support ongoing benefits from your applications?

  • Identify applications which would improve business performance indicators

  • Contribute to strategy development discussions within the organisation?

Finally, should you and your group be acting as an internal consultancy organisation ensuring your business colleagues achieve the best value from their IT investments?

Asset management surveys will determine sustainability

Sharm Manwani, Henley Management College

Running the company's IT in a cost-efficient manner is a core responsibility. Of course, some or all of these may be outsourced for cost or skill reasons.

Although the executive team may be satisfied, circumstances can change and it is advisable to be prepared for that eventuality with appropriate benchmarks.

Historically, a high proportion of IT projects have been delivered late or over-budget. Any IT group which is able to deliver projects to the satisfaction of the executive team is to be congratulated. There is potentially an opportunity to take these strong project management skills and apply them to a wider range of business projects.

There are also other areas to explore. Are executives the only stakeholders who need to be satisfied? Are the results being achieved through IT employees working at unsustainable levels? A full asset and risk management analysis will help identify the levels of sustainability. A scenario approach can also be used to assess IT responsiveness to changes in demand and other external factors.

Benchmarking, role scope, stakeholder analysis and sustainability are some of the areas that can be explored to measure and extend the performance of the IT group.

The board needs to push IT and vice versa

Robin Laidlaw, Computer Weekly 500 Club

I suspect you are missing something, and that may be an awareness of what is going on. If you have achieved total satisfaction and are delivering all your IT projects on time and in budget, you are unique. Quit the job, set up as a consultant, and hand out advice to all the other IT directors who are suffering poor relations with executive teams.

You do not say which business sector you are in, but it cannot conceivably be one that is dependent on IT to maintain a competitive edge and provide effective services. I find it hard to think of any business that will survive without either the executive driving the IT department, or the IT department hammering at the door of the chief executive with innovative ideas. Neither appears to be happening in your firm.

I suggest you have a serious but diplomatic discussion with your chief executive. Maybe he/she is unaware of the potential IT can offer the business, which could mean you have not done your job in communicating this, or it may be that they are not interested in talking to you, which in terms of your personal development is not good news.

If you are just waiting for the chief executive to ask you to do things, there may be no problems because they have no realistic idea of opportunities, budgets and timescales, or you are truly in one of those very few businesses which survives without innovation through IT.

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