Would you hire your IT department?

Author by Nathan Lasnoski

IceCream A few years ago our family went into an ice cream shop in a small upper peninsula town of Escanaba.  We went up to the counter and asked the clerk, "what kind of ice cream do you have?"  She looked at us in a somewhat confused face and said, "uh… flavored?"  Yup… "flavored ice cream…" thanks.  We can all understand how this customer experience lacked the ability to describe the business's services and ultimately reduced both any upsell opportunity, as well as our likely hood to want to come back.  This store is no longer in business.   Another business in the same town "Swedish Pantry" may have the nicest people in the world working for them.  It's always crazy busy, has the best Swedish pancakes in the world (although I'm partial to eggs instead), and has great customer service.  It has become a staple of our family, as we feel at home there.  I won't say that their food is that much better than ice cream, but the customer service and its relationship to the food provides a different experience all together.  Swedish Pantry has been in business for years and will be for many years to come.   Your business… If your IT department had to become its own business, would it have any customers?  Would you be closer to the ice cream shop, where you can't describe what you do, or would you be closer to the latter?  I find that very few IT departments can describe "what they do" and "sell" their services to their customers in the business.  In most cases the reason why the business users IT to help them is because they "have to".   I find the discussion interesting as I have several customers who have actually done this.  They've been spun off from the parent company and now deliver "vertical IT" services to specific sorts of organizations (such as healthcare, financial, or manufacturing).   In many of these cases the spin-off has created an excellent opportunity for the organization, but also a crisis for the organizations who have largely kept their business users hostage to the "monopoly power" of IT within the organization.   How to function like a service provider (or a business) in 10 not-so easy steps…  
  1. Decide to.  Functioning as a service provider requires a cultural shift.  It's not just putting up a service catalog and calling it a day, but an actual decision surrounding how IT will function.
  1. Describe what you currently do.  Make a list of the services that your IT department delivers.  This may be a complex or simple exercise, but it will change your IT department, because it will cause it to look at itself as delivering "services" rather than just exercising tactical IT functions.  Think of this as saying, "we sell ice cream, hamburgers, and a warm place to hang out".
  1. Define your service offerings.  For each service, create a list of service offerings and requests.  These requests discuss what someone can "order" from you.  This answers the "type of ice cream" you sell and what you can get with it, "such as a waffle cone or a sugar cone".   
  1. Make your customers priorities, your priorities.  Your priorities need to align with where the business (your customer) is going.  If you do not align, they will start to look elsewhere and minimize the IT organization.  If your customers want strawberry ice cream, why are you selling them chocolate?   Make sure your services and investments align with how your company is growing.
  1. Cost transparency and expectations.  You need to define costs for the services and expectations around turnaround.   The reason why IT is challenged to provide consistent expectations is because it has largely functioned without cost transparency and for many years investment has been shrinking (at least operationally).  Imagine if you went to purchase ice cream and they didn't tell you what it costs?  Then… you got a $100 bill for ice cream.   That better be some pretty fantastic ice cream if you were willing to buy it without knowing how much it costs.
  1. Market and sell what you do.  The majority of IT organizations are like the ice cream shop who can't sell ice cream.  Do you say… "well, I support the company's workstations??"  Or… can you confidently present what you do to serve the strategic needs of the business and its growth?   Do your customer know how to find what you do and request it?
  1. Receive requests and customer service.  After the initial request, customer service and execution will make or break your departmental perception.  Many organizations I work with are in the process of rebuilding that perception after years of poor service.  Focus on mapping out how you will serve your customers and put people in positions of strength.  Especially ensure you have customer service, as this will color every aspect of your engagements.  If your customer service is bad, but your product is excellent, you'll end up average or worse.
  1. Execute.  Where customer service hands off to execution, you now are just down to execution.  The manner of execution and putting people in the right roles will determine the quantity of staff you need.   We are leaving the days of Tier 1 and instead moving into the "shift-left" or "Tier 0" mentality where the majority of investment should be in repeatable processes, customer enablement, and automation.  Think about the soda machine that lets you mix soda on your own.  You don't need someone to pour you a soda, because you can do it yourself and pick whatever you want.  Someone had to make the soda machine that did that, but you don't have a staff member standing by it 24x7.
  1. Gather feedback.  If you aren't surveying your customers you are doing yourself a disservice.  Without surveying your customers you are both blind to their feedback and telling them you don't value them.  Include an ability for a customer to provide feedback on every interaction, don't "target surveys".  Gather their feedback, don't argue with them, and thank them.
  1. Review what you do.  Take knowledge from your service lifecycle and improve.  This is what continuous improvement is all about.  Leaders have two traits.  They are constantly learning and have a desire for best practices.  Show the organization you are a leader by targeting and executing on improvements.
  Closing: Ask yourself if "you would do business with you".  If not, target it and fix it.   Watch the recent roundtable I did with Travis Wright, Pete Zerger, Chris Ross, and Lee Berg on Service Management to learn more.   Nathan Lasnoski

Nathan Lasnoski

Chief Technology Officer