by Scott Watson

Today’s Environment

“I wish I’d seen that coming!” The voracious appetite for technology by today’s business often prevents IT organizations from stepping back from the “daily grind” of implementation and operation to assess whether they are delivering the right things the right ways and maintaining alignment with business needs.

Point B’s Perspective

Here are seven recommendations for making your IT Assessment a positive and productive experience.

Look at your business through a different lens

IT assessments bring an outside perspective, an objective and agnostic second set of eyes, which are valuable to help identify and prioritize critical activities. A typical assessment will return three types of recommendations: 1) Validating what you already know, which can be a tool to get leadership to listen even if they weren’t before, 2) new observations, critical in nature, which should be addressed as a priority, and 3) items that are good to know, but for business reasons are not immediately actionable and should be held for later consideration.

Make it a collaboration, not an inquisition

The arrival of an “IT Assessment” is often interpreted as a bad omen implying an organization in trouble and requiring assistance to recover and realign. In reality, assessments can be a strategic tool IT periodically leverages to challenge current thinking and realign priorities to deliver better service levels.  

How you engage your team in an assessment will directly affect the value you get out of the assessment. Often, the members of an organization know their strengths and opportunities for improvement, but they lack the vehicle or communication skills to deliver their thoughts clearly and constructively. Engage in an open partnership to expose strengths and opportunities and develop solutions. This will produce longer-lasting, more meaningful results.  

Clearly define objectives

A sweeping assessment of IT is of little value unless the outcomes are actionable with the available resources, time, and budget. Focus the assessment to deliver actionable results:

First, determine the type of assessment you want:

  • A director’s perspective of people, process, and technology strengths and opportunities
  • An engineering assessment of technology architecture and configuration

Next, select the topics you’d like to focus on. Options:

  • Strategy and Roadmap: Is there a strategy guiding IT, supported by a well-defined roadmap?
  • Organizational Design: Is IT skilled, sized, and structured for efficient delivery?  
  • Operations: How mature are the incident, change and configuration management processes? Are service level agreements being met?
  • Project Management: Are the project and service request intake and delivery processes efficient?
  • Architecture: Is the target architecture for software, middleware, and infrastructure well defined and consistent with business needs?
  • Technology: Is the technology implemented to industry best practices? Standardized and current?
  • Resiliency and Redundancy: Is your data center and core infrastructure aligned with the business requirements for availability?

Lastly, define the level of assessment to perform: Brief to validate suspicions, mid-level to discover critical issues, or thorough to root out many challenges.

Select an approach that complements the culture

A relentless succession of detailed questions is an inefficient way to assess an organization. An effective process incorporates thoughtfully targeted interviews, research, data gathering, analysis, and day-in-the-life observation (see Figure 1 below). Working with executive stakeholders, a respectful assessor designs a unique approach for each client that is considerate of the organization’s culture and fosters trust with the participants.

Keep the business requirements in perspective

Don’t assess “IT for IT’s sake.” A determination of IT’s strengths and opportunities for improvement can only be made in the context of the business requirements and priorities. An assessment must engage key business stakeholders first, identify their IT needs, and then assess IT from that perspective.

Let outcomes dictate actions, not the reverse

The objective of an IT Assessment is to focus IT’s efforts on the most pressing problems. Do not mask a deficiency ahead of the assessment, such as by developing missing processes, procedures, standards, and documentation. Recognize the deficiency and let the outcomes of the assessment determine the priority of resolving it.

Finish with a conversation and an agreement, not just a document

An assessor has a limited period of time to gather observations, determine their criticality, and make recommendations. While a good assessor should be able to efficiently ascertain significant strengths and opportunities for improvement, there is no substitute for reviewing the results with the key stakeholders and asking “Do we agree on the assumptions and outcomes? Did I misinterpret anything?”   The conversation will facilitate a smooth transition from results to action.

The Bottom Line

Assessments are a critical tool for IT to maintain focus on the highest priorities, assessing and adjusting course as needed to stay abreast of business needs and the changing technology landscape. Critical to the success of an assessment is an experienced assessor that respects the organization’s culture and goals, and partners with IT for a constructive result.

 

Figure 1: Typical IT Assessment Approach: