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Sharpen IT effectiveness to go from cost center to business nexus

IT departments must work to keep user experience positive to avoid a perception as a resource vacuum. If users can't manipulate the app effectively, what does uptime matter?

Even though it couldn't get anywhere without you, the business usually sees its IT group as a cost center.

IT is in a powerful position to make the user experience (UX) great and be a part of solving problems. Everyone in a company should be there to make the company better, and IT effectiveness, while difficult to achieve, propels business advances.

Achieve IT effectiveness

IT departments often approach improvement projects with the mindset that they are seen as the people who get in the way of everyone else doing work. There are ample opportunities to change that image. Even perfectly functional, mature IT groups can find ways to ramp up effectiveness and prove themselves essential to users and the business as a whole.

IT user surveys are a great way to understand your current status and how you should improve in the future -- if they're done right. Send short, easy-to-access surveys with clear, simple questions. Tailor the survey to the specifics of your company, starting with these first two questions:

User satisfaction survey questions
Communicate with application users about the quality of IT's service, then use responses as a guide to prioritize remedies.

Use a 1 to 5 rating system for the IT user survey on a platform such as Microsoft Forms or SurveyMonkey. The first question indicates how people feel about IT, which often can be fixed by better communication. The second question guides you to the key systems to focus on when improving IT effectiveness and services. This feedback also comes in handy when the IT manager needs approval to spend on given improvements.

Everyone in a company should be there to make the company better.

Once you have a basic understanding of user satisfaction, dive into the areas causing the most angst in your user base. Talk to the staff members who log the most calls through the help desk or to department heads, working your way down. Some of the frequent help desk callers have training issues, which is an opportunity to address poor IT perception of internal or external training, with the user's manager or HR involved. The user surveys should reveal people who are keen to provide feedback and improve IT efficiency and capabilities and who understand the environment they work in enough to provide constructive criticism.

Business department heads should know their teams' pain and problem areas with IT systems as well and relay them. Even without full knowledge of a given problem, a department head will know the best team member to talk to your IT staff about the issue.

Kumbaya moments

Spend the time talking to IT's customers in the business, and you will build up a better user base relationship. IT should be a team that people can talk to and that gives an honest response on what the situation is and how hard or easy it is to fix. Communication should also help IT find ways to improve scores on the user survey -- just holding conversations aids in the perception of IT as a part of the company.

IT efficiency isn't just about investing in better tools and technologies. Users will tell you what a problem looked like from the outside. For example, someone complains about an ERP system being down for a day, when, in reality, the outage lasted only for one hour. If he didn't find out in a timely fashion that the system was fixed, then his downtime was much longer than necessary. Work on ways to communicate the status of all systems better. Some organizations have email alerts about outages that they trigger manually. Another method uses a dedicated webpage with a traffic light indicator for each system to say simply whether it is up or down.

What does downtime mean in modern IT ops?

Metrics alone on system uptimes create a trap. The true measure of IT performance and efficiency is end-user experience. If workers were unable to send or receive email messages for a half-hour, that has a potential business impact and should be documented. However, if one of the six clustered email servers went down and the other five continued to function and service users with zero business impact, that issue should be on a completely unrelated report. If you provide uptime reports to management, differentiate between these two scenarios.

In the same vein, time to recovery should be documented in terms of how long it took for IT to restore business functions and how long it took to regain full redundant operations. These metrics will help the IT support team think about service levels and outages, encouraging them to get systems up for business to continue, rather than attempt to fix all the systems at once.

Even if your IT organization decides to provide detailed uptime reports, don't expect customers to read them or care. If the database server that holds their prospects list dies, how does that impact their work? Were they able to use something else in the meantime, and did they have access to the most important data to fulfill their role?

IT's focus on UX and business operations can always improve, at both the macro and micro scale. Let IT efficiency slip and the user base won't think much of your department, but monitor and adjust to improve their experiences and they'll see IT as an invaluable part of the company's success.

This was last published in January 2018

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