What is your IT strategy? Is it to minimize spending? How does that impact operations and client delivery? Are you experiencing pain related to downtime or unreliable data? What impact does that have on your business from a big-picture standpoint?

Over the past few weeks we’ve explored how you can leverage technology to connect business processes with the right tools for different departments within your organization (from sales and marketing to HR to accounting) in order to enable growth and meet strategic goals. But of course, the IT department itself has to deliver core services to the business—services that keep you up and running on a daily basis!

So with that in mind, what should your IT strategy be? For almost any organization, it should be to optimize your IT investment and increase capabilities throughout the business. As your IT matures, you will be able to take advantage of standardization to reduce costs in certain areas, and this will reduce complexity and in turn improve reliability and data accuracy. An IT team that is able to deliver and maintain core systems that align with your business goals will deliver much higher value. But the first step is providing core IT services to the business.

Setting Expectations

Whether your IT team works with clients or provides strictly in-house services, establishing service level agreements (SLAs) for any users serviced by the IT department is essential to providing core services. Not to mention, if you don’t establish your own SLAs, customers or users will simply apply their own expectations, leading to misunderstanding and frustration.

Your SLAs may include required level of uptime for systems or applications, issue prioritization, response times, service restoration timelines, and overall expectations of IT. To make these determinations, you will need to look at the impact of downtime on individual users as well as the organization as a whole, and weigh this against the size and capabilities of your IT team. Core expectations will let your users know what to expect when a system is unavailable, or what level of service they can expect when they have an issue or request.  This allows you to easily measure and report the effectiveness of your IT performance relative to the set expectations in the SLA.

Make expectations clear to help weather any storms on the horizon

Report Metrics with a Business Focus

Speaking of measuring the effectiveness of your SLAs, tracking metrics and reporting them to management is a necessity, but you should define common language that IT and the business can both agree on.  Don’t just report downtime, put it in terms of impact on the business.  This will ensure that your organization is receiving the expected services that it is paying for, and that your IT team understands and is committed your strategic goals. It will also keep your IT team accountable for their systems and their work.

Simple graphs showing uptime vs. downtime are really not useful for understanding performance or how IT is helping to meet strategic goals. Instead, use these figures to show the value that your IT is providing the company with. How has meeting or exceeding SLAs had a positive impact on the business? If SLAs were not met, how did this affect the business, and what steps is the IT team taking to ensure that it does not happen again? Be sure you can share the value IT is providing when it delivers on service expectations.  IT must understand the impact on the business, and the business must also understand the value from the services and performance of IT.

A Successful IT Strategy

Regardless of how you define your IT team, or how large or small it may be, you have to be able to deliver on the core expectations of the business, which of course starts with defining them in your SLAs. From there you will have to organize team members by assigning them core responsibilities in order to provide robust IT services and meet your SLA expectations. Who is accountable for which components? What responsibilities and expectations does each team member have?

With a small team this can be difficult, and too often IT is just one person who cannot possibly cover all the aspects of a full and successful strategic IT plan. (Just like you wouldn’t want your general physician performing brain surgery, your IT guy shouldn’t work in areas well outside of their expertise). If you cannot address the core expectations of the business with your current IT approach, you probably need a new IT strategy. Don’t be afraid to go down that path, as it can have significant returns for the business. Besides, if your current IT resources cannot meet the core expectations, how will they ever be able to grow enough and become the business-connected IT team you need them to be in order to meet your strategic goals?