I don't put a lot of thought into how electricity gets to my house. About the only times I think about it are when the power goes out, plunging my house into darkness, or when my local utility (which is actually owned by a German corporation) announces a rate increase. Considering how important a reliable supply of electricity is to my lifestyle and the complicated interplay of technology and human intervention that's required to supply it, it's a shame I don't appreciate it more. I take it for granted and tend to get hung up on the few negatives instead of appreciating all the positives.
I think that's a pretty accurate analogy of the relationship many business workers -- including me -- have with their IT departments. Would we appreciate IT more if we better understood the effort and cost involved in offering the services we need to do our jobs? Yes, and creating a service catalog is a good way to make IT more transparent to end users, said Markos Symeonides, vice president of business development for Axios Systems, a provider of IT service-management solutions, when I spoke to him earlier this month. He told me:
[Service catalogs] are now providing a user-friendly IT and improving user perceptions of IT. You're much more likely to be outsourced if no one knows the value IT provides. If IT is a black box in terms of cost, executives will assume they can get these services for less from someone else. So this is IT being able to stand up and say, "We are providing good service. We're going to continue to improve." Until IT can do that, I think there's a risk it'll be outsourced. They can defend their position if they can measure their performance.
Service catalogs help IT reduce the costs of providing standard IT services by at least 20 percent, Symeonides said, by removing administrative bottlenecks and reducing manual rework and errors. Speaking in a SearchCIO.com article, Forrester Research analyst Craig Symons said service catalogs also reveal redundancies that can be eliminated and help identify low-demand, high-cost services that would be good candidates for outsourcing.
Both Symeonides and Symons stressed the importance of translating charges into terms business users can understand. In fact, said Symeonides, some of his company's clients appoint business liaisons within IT to ensure this translation occurs. He said:
Service-level management has not been done from a business perspective. What we normally have is a service desk and service-level management from an IT perspective. "This server is up, but that component broke down." That's IT stuff. Business doesn't understand or care about all those service levels. But we're putting a service layer catalog on top of all of those IT offerings and mapping it to the business services. So we can measure IT performance in business terms. Without that, you're left with a perception barrier between IT and the business. The service catalog using business terms can change that landscape completely. The service catalog can be your translation mechanism between business requirements and IT offerings.
The SearchCIO.com article also mentions two companies that improved IT's performance and business users' perceptions of IT, by introducing project portfolio-management practices. Dealer Services Corp., an Indiana-based lender for car dealerships, gathers all IT-related projects in a single report developed using its Information Builders business intelligence tool. The report shows the number of requests in the pipeline and helps the business and IT agree upon which ones get top priority.
Another company, Oregon-based Mentor Graphics, implemented a project portfolio-management tool from HP, which displays through dashboards each project's requirements, associated resources and progress being made. The company's CIO said it has bolstered business users' confidence in IT's ability to deliver projects on time and led to better communication between IT and the business.
In October when interviewed Bruce Randall, director of product marketing for HP Project & Portfolio Management Center, he told me users of HP's product on average enjoyed a 6.5 percent savings in their IT budgets within the first year following deployment, largely by eliminating projects that are duplicative or that weren't going to meet business needs and requirements. HP clients saw a 30 percent increase in on-time IT projects in the first year and a 45 percent increase by the third year, he told me.
Beyond simply adding visibility to IT projects, he said tools like HP's help companies weigh costs and benefits of all IT projects so they can invest in those that will yield the most business value. They also can help companies see how and where resources are being used on multiple projects, to avoid skills bottlenecks.