IT as a service: taking care of business

IT departments are taking on more business responsibilities

More and more organizations are transforming their IT departments into self-sustaining business units, treating internal users as if they were external customers. And for good reason, says Dennis Drogseth, vice president of Enterprise Management Associates, an IT management consultancy.

"IT is a business within the business," he says. "If it's not run that way, it won't be effective or efficient."

But delivering IT as a service is not a trivial transformation -- nor, ultimately, one with a foreseeable end. It can involve elements of project portfolio management, re-engineering of workflow, and process improvement spanning several years.

Many large IT organizations have discovered that the route to a customer-centric service organization runs along the ITIL (Information Technology Infrastructure Library) framework. By adopting best practices for managing service requests, changes, and IT assets, organizations can harness their help desks, avoid downtime from unauthorized changes, and deliver better service to their internal customers, notes David Ratcliffe, CEO of ITIL training organization Pink Elephant.

But ITIL is only a means, not an end. "The biggest misconception is that all you need to do is become ITIL certified," Drogseth warns. "That's a sure recipe for failure. You have to figure out what it is you're trying to enable. The end has to transcend ITIL."

With all big initiatives, the biggest hurdle is getting the support of your prospective customers. "The No. 1 pitfall is always people," says Jean-Pierre Garbani, a vice president at Forrester Research. "If people feel threatened by what you're doing, they're going to resist it. You've got to educate them, show them the benefits, remove the threat."

A customer-centric IT department increases productivity, drives up project success rates, and creates a higher profile for technology within an organization. If efforts in this direction are poorly implemented, organizations risk further alienating techies from the rest of the organization -- turning them into order takers for the enterprise, rather than business advisers. Done well, however, corporate strategy and investment track records stand to improve significantly.

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