Throughout my 20 plus year career in IT consulting, I have noticed that the most successful businesses often have something in common – they run their IT like a business and they treat IT like a key part of the business, and not like an add-on function. I have been in Qatar for only just over one month now but I have already seen encouraging signs that businesses here are starting to recognize that IT can be a key enabler for achieving strategic objectives. The next step for many companies in Qatar is to run their IT like a business, with the same deliverables, service levels and outcomes that is expected from any other business.
Businesses decisions are driven by three constraints, affordability, risk and time to deliver. Generally, suppliers to business leverage this understanding to deliver something that their customer needs yet is constrained from doing themselves. So, for example, if you need a 24 x 7 security patrol for your company premises, you can either choose to employ and manage a team of security officers or you can outsource the service to a professional security firm.
The outsourced security firm can be an effective business choice because it reduces risk and you can determine what you need by defining a service level (such as a full perimeter patrol every 2 hours and check all doors and windows are secure at 7PM) rather than deciding to employ a team of employees to deliver security. Service levels are the key business driver here because they force us to think about the problem before we think about the solution.
Much the same is true of Information Technology, companies can choose to think of IT as hardware, software and people that somehow come together to help business execute or, alternatively, as a set of underpinning business services with service level agreements and requirements. Companies that start off thinking about the problem – what they are trying to deliver – generally do a better job than those who leave it all to chance.
By thinking of IT as a set of services that underpin your core business processes (selling cars or homes, banking, insurance, liquefying gas) you can start aligning your business and IT requirements and make significantly better investment decisions. Research shows that the most successful and profitable businesses have mature business processes underpinned by mature IT processes. No surprise then that here in Qatar, IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL) training is extremely popular as fast growing businesses look to grow their IT and business maturity.
The basis of ITIL Is that IT becomes a set of services delivered as standard processes with service level agreements in a structured and repeatable way. Businesses are looking to make IT repeatable, standard and reliable with defined costs and reduced risk.
So in the same way that security, cleaning, and facilities management have long been recognized as being suitable for outsourcing as a managed service, many parts of IT delivery are equally suitable. Managed storage, managed network, managed email and managed data center services are common across the world. These reflect the IT outsourcers’ ability to build repeatable capability at low cost by leveraging scale and investment in process and technology.
The characteristics of a service that is suitable for outsourcing are:
- Definable by a service level
- Requirement to scale up and down depending on demand
- Benefits from delivery by a mature specialist organization with defined processes
- Benefits from volumes of scale above your own requirements
Reliable IT delivery is becoming business critical with outages often meaning that customers take their business elsewhere or employees cannot work. IT outages cost money and damage brand reputation so careful management and delivery of IT is critical. Service levels align business needs to IT delivery ensuring that the right levels of service design and service operation are put in place to avoid problems.
For businesses to truly reap the advantages that IT can provide, there needs to be this focus on service levels, outcomes and deliverables. Running IT like a business will enable IT to help businesses prosper and grow.