IT must deliver reality cheque

IT needs to be upfront about costs, speak in plain English and be prepared to deliver reality rather than promises to both users and suppliers to secure the budget they want.

That's the view of chief information officer of the Department of Immigration Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs (DIMIA), Cheryl Hannah who, following an overwhelming response from last week's special report on how to secure IT budget, gives up the good oil on how to sell your success, get heard and get value.

One of the federal government's IT champions and trouble shooters, Hannah speaking to Computerworld about what it takes to gain both confidence and funding for IT, said IT departments had to seize the day to capture the hearts and minds of other senior executives –like the CEO and CFO.

"ITC is not top of their list of priorities, so it's important to keep presenting, communicating and explaining what is going on and why whenever the opportunity arises - or can be made. ITC is so often seen as an expensive failure. It's critical to deliver and deliver and deliver [and] to 'fess up quickly and comprehensively when things are going badly - then to recover as quickly as possible," Hannah said.

As part of this strategy, DIMIA's business solutions group [IT] has set about eradicating "jargon and acronyms" from business communications to combat attention fatigue and misconceptions amongst both management and users. Adding to this, DIMIA has also " embedded" business analysts from outside the IT budget, but working with IT group managers in business units for start-up and early phases of high-profile, business-critical and major projects.

"[Be] careful to be realistic and shape expectations to expect problems and some delays. But also focus on the business people taking responsibility for what they are trying to achieve - and how they will use any new system or functionality once it is delivered," Hannah said.

Asked about what dangers still lurk beneath the surface of what may appear to straight-forward business processes, Hannah warns that heightened user expectations of IT, combined with rising complexity, may result in collisions.

"Increased demand with increased complexity in what is delivered [means] rising costs - even if the unit costs are decreasing. Explaining what that means to end users who 'just want to get the job done' can be very frustrating, on both sides, if the fundamentals are not well understood.

"[It's] just like cars that now have to be maintained by complex electronic sensing equipment…there is little use in teaching people in general what is under the bonnet of their car. The new generations of ITC equipment make little sense to the average user. They just want to be able to 'drive' and not worry about the systems at all."

Hannah said that even though "levels of desktop PC literacy" in organisations may be "intractably low" users still required the highest possible level of business value from their systems.

"This is a paradox that probably has a fancy name somewhere in the industry, but naming it doesn't resolve it," Hannah said.

Tell your mates

IT executives like Department of Family and Community Services executive director of people, business improvement and support, Virginia Mudie are supporting colleagues like Cheryl Hannah for being prepared to stand up and be counted, not least for driving improvements in both customer service delivery and business process with IT.

"I think if we can use principles [like] self service, as well as other improvements, and apply them broadly across government to deliver better service back to our customers that's important and valuable," Mudie said.

Mudie said that IT professionals should consider how they could apply, with discretion, "the same sorts of thinking".

"It's important to be able to use appropriate forums, like the [federal] Chief Information Officer Committee to communicate these sorts ideas - and learn from others. That can apply not only to the federal government, but across state-to-federal and state-to-state agencies too. Nobody [customers] ever wants to fill in 50 sets of forms," Mudie said.

Vendor wrangling on a two-way street

While plenty of advice exists on how to get suppliers to behave and deliver what enterprises need, Hannah feels users and buyers also need to consider their own behaviour when it comes to getting maximum value from supplier relationships.

"After the first five years of working with CSC we launched 'be a better client' in our relationship with both CSC and Optus. [It's] basically designed to get a much better understanding of how and why our outsource partners do what they do - so we can match and model our work flows and processes to fit theirs.

"The bottom line is removing 'the sand from the machine' [in areas like] billing, assets management, service level agreements reporting, call outs and escalation [or] anything where processes and people could be better aligned," Hannah said.

As a consequence, the emphasis at DIMIA has been on evaluation, streamlining and taking responsibility to remove cost obstacles for both parties.

"[It's] leading to less stress and more delivery on both sides. The business doesn't care who is responsible. If their systems aren't working, they aren't working [so] saying it is someone else's fault just makes it harder for everyone," Hannah said.