Advice for IT on Making Metrics Meaningful

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Much of my work here involves pointing out areas in which IT professionals and business users might not see eye to eye. Like world peace, everyone seems to wish for a seamless blend of IT and business cultures. Unfortunately, the IT/business blend sometimes seems just about as attainable.


Establishing metrics is one area in which misunderstandings between IT and business users seem common. Maybe that's because, as Colin Fletcher, BMC Software's solutions marketing manager for BMC Atrium, said in a recent podcast, IT tends to focus on its existing technical abilities:

It's human nature to focus on what is directly in front of us, and often that means putting out operational fires.

IT also loves its data, which is easily found in logs of network, server and application activity. Said Fletcher:

Often we quantify what is easy to measure, but not what is meaningful, especially to the end user.

While gathering data used to be the tough part of measuring performance, that's no longer true, said Fletcher, thanks to IT services management tools and technologies and frameworks like the IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL), which gives IT a core set of metrics to kick-start improvement efforts. Now, said Fletcher, it's up to companies to "take it to the next mile." He said:

There's still work to do, but it's on the people and organizational side.

Fletcher's message echoes that of Dick Hunter, Dell's former VP of global consumer support services, who in a recent half-hour webcast at DataInfoCom discussed how Dell tweaked its call center metrics to focus on how often customer problems were solved during first calls rather than the length of calls. While it seems intuitive to focus on problem resolution, Hunter said companies often focus instead on average handle time because it's easy to measure and to tie directly to call center costs.


So how do you identify meaningful metrics? Fletcher suggests enlisting one or two internal groups that have good working relationships with IT for help in creating key performance indicators that focus on customer perceptions rather than hard data. Once IT knows what customers consider important, it can establish baselines to illustrate the current status and begin working backward to identify the infrastructure issues associated with these KPIs.


Focusing first on perceptions should help IT differentiate between what is urgent vs. what is important. A lack of such differentiation, when combined with confusion over what constitutes "activity" and "progress," is "a very dangerous mix," said Fletcher. Hopefully, beginning with customer perception should result in a state where "you only quantify and measure what is really important."


For more astute advice on better aligning metrics to the business, check out some tips from Jim Quick of Diamond Management & Technology Consultants that I wrote about in August.