Put Process First, Where It Belongs


All too often technology and business processes remind me of those vintage commercials for Reese's Peanut Butter Cups. Maybe you know the ones I mean, in which it always takes some kind of a happy accident for people to discover how well peanut butter and chocolate complement each other. (Please. What food doesn't benefit from a layer of chocolate? But I digress.)


In a recent post about CRM, I pointed out that even the best technology isn't worth much without strong underlying processes. Yet too often, as I wrote in this post about IT's role in process improvement, some CIOs and other tech execs focus so closely on hardware and software that they lose sight of the processes those things are supposed to improve. If we get the right gear and the right applications, they seem to think, all of our problems will be solved.


I liked two recent blog posts that made a similar point so much I want to share them here.


Fellow Louisvillian Glenn Whitfield, on his IT Business Alignment blog, knocks a recent CIO.com advertorial for its implication that purchasing a certain type of software will help companies better align IT with their business goals. He writes:


People go off, buy the software, install it, and then wonder why they aren't magically aligned. They focus on the technology, maybe glance at the process, are blind to the people and wonder why things don't go as planned. How about a new approach: Focus on the process while engaging and involving the people to prepare for the technology.


On his The Hitchhiker's Guide to the ITIL Galaxy and Beyond blog (if that title doesn't win some geek cred, I don't know what will), Pink Elephant's Troy DuMoulin writes that the current economic downturn may help bring the importance of process into sharper focus. In flush times, says DuMoulin, IT organizations often throw money at problems. Some examples: buying more hardware than they need and provisioning it poorly, making unnecessary pruchases due to poor asset management and solving the same incidents over and over without bothering to analyze root causes of problems.


During the previous downturn in the late 1980s and early '90s, companies began paying more attention to process, but IT largely didn't participate, remaining "safely ensconced in the glass room with our lab coats and pocket protectors secure in the knowledge that we represented the future hope of the business," writes DuMoulin. Then, as times improved, IT took on a more prominent role, often accompanied by increases in spending. He writes:


Throughout the last two decades we have continued to build, buy and hire without strong governance structures, long-term plans or financial goals other than "spend your budget or else you won't get as much next year."


This will likely change, he says, as companies realize they can "no longer afford excess capacity, redundancy and inefficient processes." IT needs to realize this and take the lead on process improvement, or risk becoming irrelevant.


Having seen plenty of recent statements to the effect of "companies can't afford to cut IT spending much, because IT is so central to all aspects of the business," I worry that some IT folks might still be living in that glass room that DuMoulin describes. IT must be prepared to leave this inner sanctum and show it can deliver clear business value.