It happens so slowly that you may not even notice what’s going on. A few extra steps to get around a problem here. An inefficiency or two there. A recurring help desk issue. A sluggish, outdated app. Minor inconveniences, right? “After all, we’re not a young IT enterprise anymore. So we’re a little sluggish on occasion—have a few extra aches and pains. That hardly means we’re at risk.”
Not so fast. The truth is, operational inefficiency is like weight gain. It sneaks up on you five pounds at a time. A little extra girth, a little less exercise and a few too many fatty foods—and all of a sudden, you’re at risk for heart attack, diabetes and a host of other chronic disorders that can take you down in no time. If left unchecked, an out-of-shape IT operation also comes with some dire long-term consequences—both for the organization itself and the business it supports. The reality check? Take a look at these six warning signs and see if you’re fast approaching the danger zone.
You Know You’re in Trouble If…
1. Your “Automated” Processes Require Manual Intervention—and No One’s Worried.
You’ve automated—you really have—but the process doesn’t really run end-to-end. Your “business as usual” involves a little manual intervention. You call it a workaround on an edit error or some other function. Everyone does it, right? Automation is never 100 percent…but should it be? When you need manual processes to keep your automated systems running, you not only waste resources and cause delays, but you increase the risk of bad data. Every time your system stops for the manual Band-Aids®, your system becomes vulnerable. While this reality check is a wake-up call, the real issue is the fact that no one is worried about these manual interventions. If you’ve accepted these daily tweaks as just a normal part of IT life, your risk factor doubles. You’ve made unhealthy habits a part of your daily routine. Eventually, you’re going to pay the price. In fact, you probably already are in the form of high maintenance costs and increased risk.
2. Your Best IT Talent Displays a “Hero Mentality”—Continually Swooping in and Saving The Day—Instead of Working on Innovation.
Yes, you want your IT department to be responsive—and it’s great to get so many compliments on the quality of service one or two of your heroes (or heroines) provide. But, if your most skilled, highest-paid people are continuously playing Superman, swooping in to reset passwords or perform other tasks that could easily be automated or delivered as self-service options, you need to take a long, hard look at your talent management. Wouldn’t you rather use these resources for innovation? In an IT organization with operational excellence, the lowest cost resources perform the highest volume of work; the highest cost resources focus on strategic work. If your best people are heroically coming to the aid of individual users or co-workers, that’s not happening. The question becomes, would you rather live in a Metropolis that’s protected by Superman or a Metropolis that’s so safe that Superman isn’t needed? The latter is always the preference—particularly in the world of IT.
3. Your Knowledge Management Repository is Located Between Somebody’s Ears.
When something goes wrong, nobody panics. You just pick up the phone and call that one employee who has all of the answers. Okay, maybe you had to call that person during his or her vacation—or maternity leave—to find out how to fix an issue. No big deal, right? Actually, it is. If your intellectual capital is between your SMEs’ ears, that information could walk out the door at any time, taking that knowledge base with them. And that’s a problem. If you’re constantly documenting and re-documenting incidents instead of taking the time (and investing the money) to create a centralized, accessible knowledge base—one that’s constantly updated when new incidents occur (because they will happen again)—you’re just a few resignations away from a critical situation.
4. Your Business Has Stopped Asking You for Help.
So, you hit a few rough spots. Some projects stumbled or were delayed. Bit by bit, your IT department loses credibility and trust throughout your organization. Instead of having too many requests, there’s an eerie silence on the strategic project front. If it’s taking you too long to respond to requests or if there’s too much red tape involved, your internal clients may have just taken their business elsewhere. Instead of being a vital part of the company, IT is dialed back to basic “lights on” maintenance. It’s time to take action or your vitality to the organization will quickly fade away.
5. Your Dashboard’s Always Green But Your Customers Are Seeing Red.
If your dashboard is giving you the thumbs up but your customers are yelling, there’s a good chance that you’re not paying attention to what matters to your business. You could be paying a premium for five 9’s availability and 15-minute response times and hitting your service levels on all cylinders, but that doesn’t guarantee your business is getting what they need. You could be hitting SLAs that no one really cares about. It’s also cause for concern if you’re regularly missing specific SLAs, but your customers don’t even seem to notice. That’s a sure sign you’re measuring the wrong things, as well. Maybe it’s time for a little re-alignment before permanent damage is done.
6. The Only Engineers Who Know Your Legacy System Live in a Retirement Home in Florida.
If you’re constantly hiring someone for specific skill sets or combing for talent to run your legacy systems, chances are a little modernization and optimization would do you a world of good. It’s also time to step back and look at your organization as a whole. Do you have the most appropriate team in place? Do you have a comprehensive roadmap to ensure your portfolio technology stack continues to be supportable in the future? Do you have a plan to capitalize or take advantage of migrating to new technology such as Cloud and Mobility? Or have you been to busy putting out fires that you can’t even begin to think two or three years down the road? When you’re carrying the weight of cumbersome legacy systems and outdated apps, you put a strain on the whole organization. You need to lighten up to position for the future.
Getting on the Road to Operational Excellence
If any of these warning signs exist in your IT operation, you can turn things around and get back on the road to operational excellence. No one’s saying that it’s going to be easy. But a little pain right now will bring a lot of gain in the end.
It all starts with admitting you have a problem. Take an honest assessment of your organization’s strengths and weaknesses. Inventory your current state. Identify and prioritize the things that need to change, and, most importantly, be willing to change.
Understand that operational excellence is a lifestyle change, accomplished bit by bit. Start with smaller changes that bring incremental gains then build from there. For example, invest in the governance necessary to make sure your knowledge base is updated regularly with reusable information. Then use that resource to promote cross-training to add a breadth of expertise to go along with the already established depth.
Invest in process automation and in tools for standardization. And be patient. You’re turning around a cruise ship, not a speedboat. Things are not going to happen fast.
Just as important, don’t try to go it alone. Changing the way you’ve always done things not only takes time but also requires executive sponsorship to drive that change from the top-down. Communicate often, communicate well, and engage advocates to get everyone on board. As with any lifestyle change, it’s easy to fall back into old patterns. Be a vigilant change manager.
Finally, recognize that like staying healthy, operational excellence has no finish line. The best IT infrastructures create an environment of perpetual optimization. In other words, you never stop improving. It’s a lifelong endeavor.
A Personal Trainer—and an Interactive Viewpoint Paper—Can Kick-start Your Results
Many people try to take control of their fitness and fail. Many companies try to tackle their operational deficiencies and also fall back in the same old, inefficient routine. At HP, we have the experience and best practices to help you achieve your operational excellence goals. We become a coach and personal trainer, working with you to identify next steps, to show you the shortest path toward incremental gains and to help you keep the momentum going. If you’re serious about achieving operational excellence, we’ve put together a comprehensive, interactive viewpoint paper on the subject entitled Operate efficiently, innovate effectively. As IT infrastructures mature, many have picked up habits that impede their overall health. By starting now, and starting small, you can turn things around—and create an environment for a healthy future.