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Run Your IT Department Like a Business! What?

April 4th, 2005

IT process definition and automation allows IT departments to gain control over all of the numerous processes necessary to run an effective and efficient IT department.

Although many people´s eyes glaze over when then they hear about all of the processes needed to manage an IT department, many of the processes are just plain common business sense. However, as in many areas of business, common sense may not be so common. Furthermore, as senior management increasingly views IT as a strategic enabler closely aligned with the traditional business processes, IT department leadership has to separate the strategic side of IT from the operational side that historically has occupied a great deal of the IT management effort.

The history of cataloging and managing IT processes goes back decades, but the IT Infrastructure Library designed by the Office of Government Commerce (www.ogc.gov.uk) of the UK really helped to bring a level of structure to the whole exercise. Microsoft has also helped by adopting and adapting the ITIL into its Microsoft Operations Framework. Basically, the ITIL defines a common set of processes along with recommended best practices for governing and running an IT department. Processes regarding IT service delivery and IT service support are included in the library. Included in the IT service delivery processes are those areas of an IT department providing service level management, capacity management, continuity management, availability management, and IT financial management. For the IT service support processes, such areas as configuration management, incident management, problem management, change management, release management, and service/help desk management are included.

While the ITIL may seem intimidating and overly complex at first glance, what it really does is give structure to the numerous services and functions provided and required of the 21st century IT department. To my way of thinking it’s like a company beginning a journey towards Six Sigma certification. The reward from reaching four sigma from three sigma provides tremendous value to the enterprise even if six sigma is never reached. Similarly, the reward from seeking to deploy best practices within your IT department has the potential to get senior IT leadership out of “fire-fighting” mode and into providing strategic support for the business.

Well, what does IT process definition and automation entail? First, an IT department needs to define and document the processes for budgeting, project selection, IT/business alignment, personnel management, business continuity, and other IT department functions. In essence, the processes encompassed by the ITIL definitions have to be considered. However, a word of caution is in order. As with all IT projects, start with a small set of processes at first and show some success. Without an adequately detailed process definition, both managing the process as well as automating the process becomes untenable if not impossible.

Next, the process must be automated. Automation means that the process needs to be broken down into a set of quantifiable tasks that can be tracked and completed. Finally, the process as it has been automated must be measured by IT department management as well as senior management in the organization. As the saying goes, “we measure what we care about,” and by measuring the results of IT process definition and automation, an IT department can move from ad hoc, chaotic operations to definable, repeatable processes that allow for continuous improvement.

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