What is IT quality? How do you achieve it?
Last month I harped on-and-on about how the definition of IT Quality (from the viewpoint of IT) depends on where you sit in the organization. For IT Infrastructure, high availability and capacity are generally the measures of quality. For Application Development, software defects, I should say the lack of them, are used as quality measures. For Project Management, on-time and on-budget is used. For Data Warehouse, it’s processing speed.
These measures are okay. We need availability, fewer defects, and on-time projects. However, those are just table stakes; the building blocks of credibility. In and of themselves, these measures add no value to customers, and customers want value.
In the "old days", IT added value by automating business processes. That doesn’t cut it anymore. Today, enterprise customers view quality as one of these two items:
- Adding new business capability and/or
- Expanding existing business capability
How do you get to this level of value? There are three steps.
1. Build Infrastructure Credibility i.e. high availability and high capacity on ALL critical business systems.
Easy right? Let me ask you this:
- Do you have a current list of ALL the critical business systems?
- Is the list prioritized based on business criticality?
- Are the components of each system mapped, both physically and logically?
- Does each critical system have redundancy? Has it been tested lately?
- For the critical systems, are threshold alarms active and monitored?
- Is system performance monitored real-time?
I could go on with the questions, but you get the picture. Building credibility with your business partners requires a lot of infrastructure work. Getting to this level is quality step #1. (A good reference for this level is ISO 20000)
2. Develop Application Credibility.
Your apps, both off the shelf and custom, must deliver to the requirements – both written AND unwritten. More importantly, they must solve the business problem your customer is experiencing, not just deliver a technical solution. In addition, apps must also;
- Have a user-friendly interface (best case, no training is required)
- Be available online and offline
- Function on multiple platforms (phones, tablets, computers)
- Be accessible from remote locations
- Be up 100% of the time (or perceived 100% availability)
This last one, 100% availability, requires "hidden maintenance windows", exceptionally mature Change & Release Management practices, robust Testing & Validation processes, and of course, credible infrastructure.
3. Develop good Business Relationship Management (BRM).
The Business Relationship Managers are dedicated, customer facing professionals that are experts in translating business needs into technical requirements. Don’t confuse this role with the business analyst role, however. The BRM role is focused on understanding the needs of existing customers and maintaining the service portfolio for those customers.
In the best of cases, the BRM is embedded in the business. This allows the BRM to function as part of the business team and gives them some separation from IT.
As an IT leader, consider them more akin to a corporate spy. IT espionage, if you will.
Good BRM enables the following:
- Trusted advisor status with the business (not just an order taker)
- Increased customer satisfaction
- Joint accountability for success
- Increased transparency of IT
I know what you are thinking right now "Is he joking? So far this list is ridiculous (or impossible, or too simple, too hard…whatever)." I hear you. However, my experience is that most IT shops are busy keeping-the-lights on and firefighting. Unfortunately, most are really good at it – because they have had a lot of practice. But that is not what you need to be doing.
If your infrastructure has high availability and capacity, your applications deliver solutions to business problems, and you have trusted advisor status with the business, you have built business capability and you have earned a seat at the Business Strategy table.
The key is to stop firefighting, allocate some resource away from the day to day, resource that can focus on the requirements needed to earn the trusted advisor status and get your department ahead of the game. After all if your whole team spend their days firefighting, who is going to have the time to make and progress or build that credibility.
If you don’t have the resource available, the answer is of course to hire – yes it’s an expense, but also think of it as an investment. A company working to capacity is a company one crisis away from meltdown – stop thinking everyone should be flat out at all times and realize that a little slack, a little leeway is needed to give your best the room to breathe and the room to improve.
This is where IT should be. This is IT Quality.