The art and craft of IT management - why IT management is more than best practice

Blog post   •   Aug 18, 2015 08:53 CEST

The digitalization of business raises the stakes for IT. IT is now, more than ever, an integrated part of the business. Making IT work, making change stick and delivering real business value are typically the ultimate goals of any IT management project. Given the amount of thought leadership, best practices and models available for IT professionals it seems surprising that IT organizations are still struggling to reach these goals. Why not implement these practices and get on with it? At 3gamma, we often discuss the need to balance best practices with the intricate complexity of each client’s business. To date, we’ve never encountered a client where there is a ready-made solution that can be implemented.

The role of the IT management consultant is (often) to provide fact-based analytically deduced advice. We gather facts, analyze them by processing them through a recognized model, apply logic and best practices and deliver a recommendation and a plan of action. But let’s be honest, more than a fair share of these reports, recommendations and plans end up gathering dust on some bookshelf (or the digital equivalent!). The recommendations in these reports are not implementable, or just irrelevant.

Analysis is critical. But analysis isolated from vision, experience and context is unbalanced and biased. IT management consultants that focus purely on models, or frameworks without regard for the client’s business miss two thirds of the picture. IT management consultants should primarily be facilitators of the (client’s) analytical process. We should support our clients in reaching their conclusions and provide outside perspectives, experiences and insights to enrich the process. We should act as catalysts and avoid dogmatic one size fits all-solutions (see The folly of framework implementations).

Drastic transformations and major changes will still need outside perspectives and input. However, they cannot be planned without context or real practical insight. They still need to be implemented and supported in the organization.

At 3gamma, our approach is to:

  • Start with a good understanding of the client’s business, business model and business context rather than a model or framework, to identify the key trends and drivers affecting IT’s role (see e.g. The state of IT service management in agile organizations)
  • Engage the client and make use of internal expertise. It is critical to include the experience and the visions of the people with the issue at hand, both on management and operational level. Through iterative approaches and a good client/consultant mix we make extensive use of the hands-on experiences of our clients
  • Apply agile principles to allow for exploration and venturing, from strategy formulation to implementation planning. Iterative methods should be used to ensure continuous adaptations and refinements of the transformation
  • Be humble when exploring best practices and models and use these as inspiration for the strategy; work to avoid dogmatic views on which models or frameworks to apply and when. We use a wide toolbox, as a means of facilitating the process
  • Apply a sound criticism to buzzword concepts and use explorative and iterative approaches to implementation to make sure that the entire landscape of people, processes and technology can manage the change

An example, developing a sourcing strategy for any mid-sized to large application portfolio without iterations is a futile effort. It is close to impossible to create a plan up-front without involving other internal and external stakeholders such as (but not limited to) users, service owners, potential vendors, the legal department, application and infrastructure specialists, etc. You may be able to draw the big picture but anyone that has been involved in these kinds of processes knows that sourcing objects need to be defined and redefined along the way. The devil is in the details. And in these details there might be a component that requires a change to the overall plan.

Another example, application rationalization projects typically assess applications’ functional and technical adequacy to provide a plan for cost reduction. They typically identify candidates for decommission. However, the step from analysis to implementation is substantial. Anyone who has commenced an application decommission project knows the difficulty of decommissioning through the complexity of the application’s environment and actual context.

Simply put, it is always easier said than done. Paying someone to say or write something obvious is seldom a good way to great IT.

As mentioned, IT management is much more than analysis and best practices. IT management is about balancing analytical deductions; imagination and vision; and context-relevant experience and practicalities. Too much of any one of them will lead to an imbalance. All too often a consultant report is just an analytical deduction of the question asked, it is not explorative, imaginative or (sufficiently) grounded in the client’s practical environment. By purely relying on analysis, models and best practices a consultant conveniently disregards the intricate details of the client’s business, its legacy and in some cases, even its strategy.

In the digital enterprise, there is no room for detached, generic IT strategies. It is true that IT in some aspects can be considered generic, but in other ways it is very industry and company-specific. Some parts can be managed as standardized services and others cannot. Which parts and how much vary from company to company. However, in today’s business, IT as a whole cannot be viewed as something generic. It is an integral part of the business and is a key driver of competitive advantage in the digital enterprise. In short, IT strategy is strategy.

With digitalization, and as IT’s role in the business changes, so does the role of the consultant and the IT manager. Applying best practices is not enough. IT management is a key business enabler and should not be reduced to detached analysis. It is much more. IT is much more!

Jens Ekberg
Head of Group Insights
Jens Ekberg's LinkedIn Profile jens.ekberg@3gamma.com