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Driving with data: aligning IT and business in equal measure

The article below was published in the December issue of TechPro. 

Over the years, IT has become increasingly obsessed – and rightly so – with the idea of measuring its own performance. Perhaps because the data is machine-generated, it’s tended to be sensible, pragmatic, and technical in nature. If we think of it as a dashboard, that might be a red/amber/green indicator to show whether applications are performing at the right speed – basically, telling us that all the lights are on.

It’s arguable that this material misses asking the bigger question: whether IT is delivering value to the business, and how it aligns to the business drivers of its organisation? Lately, many senior IT leaders I’ve been speaking with are asking questions about how they do just that.

Measuring IT value has been problematic because technology touches every part of a business. For that reason, it’s been difficult to attribute any incremental improvements in each area specifically to IT doing a better job.

Now, many business-focused CIOs and IT leaders are talking to their colleagues such as a head of marketing, risk or other operating division, and asking a relatively simple question: what measures would you put on IT that would make it relevant to you and align it to your KPIs?

A good example of that is in customer experience. A marketing department may have customer feedback such as a net promoter score. With this, it’s possible to make a direct connection between the customer experience and the efficiency of the technology platforms delivering that service to the end user.

Alternatively, if customers are dissatisfied with some aspect of the service, this could highlight unnecessary complexity, or poorly configured data architecture in the IT platform that underpins the service. IT leaders can use that data to support a decision to address the problem or reduce the complexity.

It might sound obvious to want to align IT more closely with the business, but in practice, we’ve found it takes a lot of effort to define measures that are meaningful to both. The process calls for constant questioning and ongoing iteration. In the early days of developing the data and dashboards to show these aligned KPIs, we talked to IT teams with a blank piece of paper, looking to define broad themes like cost, risk or productivity or complexity measures. Once we had identified those big headings, we began digging to identify a relevant, usable measure and the data it’s possible to get to support that. If the data source doesn’t exist or the data quality isn’t there, we need to keep iterating.

Fortunately, this doesn’t need to be a drawn out process that reminds us of the bad old days of lengthy IT projects. We have worked with medium and large-sized organisations and it’s possible to develop a proof-of-concept version within around eight weeks, starting from working on core themes and measures to having a usable tool on the desktop. This first iteration is deliberately constrained in both time and budget, so there’s no overrun for the organisation, but what’s delivered at the end looks and feels the same as a fully operational environment. Being able to see data-driven KPIs about IT for the first time is an exciting first port of call, and it whets the appetite for what’s possible in the future, when CIOs and CTOs can show the value they bring, backed by real numbers. 


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