IT as a Business Service: A New Approach to Processes

Rick Wilcox & Mark Lees
A business can be described as the sum of its processes. These processes distinguish one business from another, create and sustain competitive advantage, lead to market growth, create brand equity and subsequently deliver success. Southwest Airlines provides a classic example, illustrating the importance of continually assessing and innovating processes to maintain a competitive edge. Its unique supply chain processes, customer-acquisition processes, customer-management processes and after-market service processes distinguish it from competitors and have led to rapid growth and success.

Clearly, processes are important to the success of any business. A process, however, is only as good as the team that executes it. A team's success depends on the consumption and exchange of information that is timely, accurate and relevant. Various workers within an organization consume information differently, but whether you are a C-level executive, customer-service representative, field engineer, plant manager or the greenest of interns, you use technology every day to consume information. The applications we use allow us to consume and exchange information. Technology executives' biggest challenge is to deliver the right applications at an affordable cost to all employees so they can maximize their contribution to the enterprise.

A New Way of Doing Business

Historically, technology executives supported business processes but did not enable them. Management was only concerned with efficiency and cost, focusing on outputs rather than outcome. As a result, IT focused on what technology did rather than on how it helped with what people did.The key issue confronting technology executives today is how to change this paradigm, and the place to start is with applications.

The role of an IT professional in a modern corporation is to integrate, aggregate and manage the right blend of services to suit business processes and requirements. The traditional service-delivery model -- based around subject-matter experts in both technology and processes building customized services -- is no longer sustainable. Developing applications in this model is expensive, while managing and enhancing them relies too much on individual experts. More importantly, this outdated model breeds inflexibility by focusing on the IT application itself rather than on how an employee uses the application.

We're beginning to see changes to this model, and it's about time. This shift is being accelerated by cloud computing, where massively scaled IT-enabled capabilities are delivered as a service to external customers using Internet technologies. Catalyzed by interest in the cloud, the traditional model -- 1) a business unit defining a need, 2) IT specifying a solution and 3) the purchasing department negotiating a contract -- is breaking down. Meanwhile, the model of IT as business service is beginning to dominate.

21st Century Industrialization

Just as industrialization heralded a new way of doing business in the 19th century, an industrialized service model approach will inform a new way of thinking about business applications. Technology executives must evolve from thinking about IT in terms of assets and resource efficiency to a concept of IT as a business service, in which a solution is a combination of standardized services built around the processes executed by the employee. Industrialization involves the delivery of services and benefits from models based on rigorous processes and toolsets, with value being realized through consistency, quality, reduced time to market and lower costs.

Combining standardized applications enables you to change the mix within the solution dynamically as your processes change and as the needs of your employees change. This in turn raises the value of IT to the business and maximizes IT's contribution to the success of the enterprise. By beginning with business processes, which are enabled by applications, you can demonstrate a direct link between your IT investment and the success of your business.

Industrialization also provides options for sourcing your applications. Ranging from seat-based purchases and managed services to full outsourcing options, as a technology executive you are able to choose the elements of your solution that best meet your financial and operational needs. Managed services, whether in the form of cloud computing or through outsourcing, soon will dominate the purchase methods for applications as they facilitate close alignment with business processes and provide greater flexibility and economic management than traditional models. With the barriers between the consumer, IT and purchasing breaking down, managed services and outsourcing provide greater transparency in terms of the value being delivered by the purchase.

In this new model, the technology executive becomes the lynchpin of the business, understanding both the business process and the technology that can support it. The focus on the employee, or information consumer, leads naturally to the delivery of applications-enabled business services. This tight focus on supporting business processes will allow you to deliver a solution that enables growth, leads to innovation in your business, increases agility and strengthens your service to your customers. Most importantly, it maximizes the contribution of every employee through the delivery of effective applications information technologies.

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