Thought for the day: Magnificent obsession

Channelled obsession can give you business edge and help you sharpen key processes within IT governance frameworks, says Stephen...

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Channelled obsession can give you business edge and help you sharpen key processes within IT governance frameworks, says Stephen Dance.




Obsession is assumed to be a negative word. It conjures up someone blind to practicalities and totally consumed by their passion. Nevertheless, to paraphrase Gordon Gecko, “obsession is good”, but only if it is appropriately focused.

Some firms have turned their obsessions into leading businesses. Starbucks, the global chain of coffee shops, obsesses about decor and product consistency. Its obsession is consistent product quality in familiar surroundings, regardless of whether you are in London or Beijing. Similarly, Prèt a Manger has built a global business based around an obsession with product quality.

Google is obsessed with search speed and relevance. This guides the company in everything it does and influences every decision it takes. This has not only facilitated Google’s ascent to the position of the search engine of choice, it has shaped its other services, such as image searching and the runaway success of Adwords.

Obsession targeted at the right things can be a positive rather than negative force. An important lesson to be learned from these examples is that obsession has positive effects when it is focused on something that is relevant and important to the ways customers experience a product.

What can we in the IT industry learn from these companies? What might happen if we became obsessive about key processes within IT governance frameworks?

Reliable hardware and software asset data generates not only the cost savings from better asset utilisation, but also offers significant productivity gains for helpdesk staff. For example, if helpdesk staff are given access to accurate information, they can troubleshoot problems quickly.

With the potential for cost savings from better asset utilisation and an increase in helpdesk productivity, accurate inventory data may well be worth obsessing about.

Perhaps we should become obsessive about configuration and change management when we see the productivity improvements that can be obtained from world-class release and incident management approaches.

We might see improved infrastructure availability but also radical productivity improvements due to vastly improved “sysadmin”/server ratios. The IT department need no longer spend most of its time diagnosing and firefighting erroneously configured servers and routers.

Going the extra mile is the difference between merely fixing an immediate problem and creating real business benefits. The key is making the decision to be obsessive about the right things and, in many cases, that means having a clear and detailed insight into the real causes of problems and the best solutions.

The examples  given – asset management and configuration change management – can be done pragmatically or exceptionally well. When performed pragmatically, they are often addressed with a “point solution” rather than by a wider-ranging initiative that takes into account their relationship with other areas of the IT function.

Performed well, benefits are promulgated to other IT processes within the organisation and can result in significant cost savings and productivity gains. A little intelligently directed  obsession can go a long way.

What do you think?

Is obsession beneficial to the enterprise?  Tell us in an e-mail >> reserves the right to edit and publish answers on the website. Please state if your answer is not for publication.

Stephen Dance is a senior consultant with chartered accountants RSM Robson Rhodes

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