An ITSM.tools survey, called “How Well Does IT Know the Business?”, posed ten questions to IT service management (ITSM) professionals related to their business knowledge and focus.
This article details the results of the survey, with the aggregation of the anonymous responses showing both positive and negative facts of modern-day IT service delivery and support.
The level of business knowledge
- The majority of ITSM professionals are happy that they know enough about their business’s operations – with only 29% stating that they need to know more.
- The majority of ITSM professionals are happy that they know enough about their business’s goals and strategies – but a more significant 39% would like/need to know more.
- More than half of IT organizations need to do more to understand how their IT services support business operations and success.
- Only 9% of IT organizations currently measure performance using business-success-related metrics in addition to traditional ITSM key performance indicators (KPIs).
- Worryingly, 36% of IT organizations have “some basic performance measures that they need to improve upon.”
What IT costs and value demonstration
- Only 4% of ITSM professionals think that business colleagues view IT costs as optimized and offering great value for money. Another 24% think that the cost of IT is seen as acceptable.
- Over two-thirds of ITSM professionals think that business colleagues perceive IT as costing too much.
- Only 13% of ITSM professionals know exactly how their IT organization’s annual investment in IT positively impacts their business. A further 21% roughly know which IT services help to increase revenue and customer satisfaction.
- Another one-third of IT organizations are starting to link IT expenditure to business value, but the final third has no insight in the business value of IT.
- 95% of ITSM professionals view the people they serve, within their parent organization, as their customers.
- Only 21% of ITSM professionals always ensure that their end users/customers know what can be done and by when.
- 38% of respondents stated that expectation management is something that they need to get better at.
The business impact of IT issues
- The majority of ITSM professionals understand the impact of IT issues on business operations.
- Just 40% of survey respondents were very aware of the business costs of IT issues, with 50% only aware of the IT costs and not the business costs.
Please read on for greater insight into these, and other, survey findings.
The Level of Business Knowledge
Over the last decade, much has been done to better align IT organization strategies with the parent company’s business strategies, and the delivered IT services and support to business needs and expectations. And, while this can be considered better “business alignment,” this term shouldn’t be viewed as IT serving a separate entity – because the IT organization is part of the business.
So how well do ITSM professionals know their business and its needs and expectations?
In terms of overall business knowledge, the majority of ITSM professionals are happy that they know enough about their business’s products and services, markets, and customers – with only 29% stating that they need to know more (see Figure 1). This is of course a self-assessment, but the business viewpoint would require a separate survey of non-IT personnel.
Figure 1: How would you rate your knowledge of your company’s products and services, markets, and customers?
The surveyed ITSM professionals were similarly bullish about what they know about their business’ goals and objectives, plus the role that IT and ITSM play in helping to deliver against them (see Figure 2).
The distribution of this question’s responses is very similar to that of Figure 1 except for the “I have a thorough understanding of my company’s operations” response-choice which lost 9% and the “I’m unhappy with how little I know and would like to know more” response-choice which gained 9% (in terms of responses). With this likely indicative of industry-wide issues in cascading business goals and objectives to those in operational roles within the IT organization which, unlike more operational knowledge, can be intentionally, or unintentionally, shielded from staff.
Figure 2: How would you rate your knowledge of your company’s business goals and objectives, and how you contribute to them?
While the term “performance measurement” might, for many, conjure up thoughts of operational and output-based metrics, there’s also a need to understand how the activities IT undertakes, and the services it delivers, impact business operations and results. It’s an extension of the first two survey questions but from a more granular, outcomes-focused perspective.
So how well does the average IT organization understand its influence on business operations and success?
Figure 3 shows that half of survey respondents feel that their IT organization needs to do more in this area, with just 13% of organizations having mapped all their IT services to business outcomes and another 25% happy that they have mapped enough.
The survey also highlighted that only 5% of respondents don’t think in IT-service terms which has to be a success measure of ITIL and other ITSM best practice approaches.
Figure 3: Does your IT organization understand how its IT services support business operations and success?
However, some of the above mentioned 38% of survey respondents, that have mapped their IT services to business outcomes, still measure their success using traditional IT and ITSM metrics. With only 9% of all the survey respondents stating that their IT organization performance is measured using business-success-related metrics in addition to traditional ITSM KPIs. Another 13% are working on such metrics (see Figure 4).
Thus, unlike with the first two survey questions, where respondents stated that they understand about their business, the majority stated that their IT organization is still measuring its performance using traditional ITSM KPIs:
- 38% measure traditional KPIs – volumes, process efficiency, costs, etc.
- 36% have some basic performance measures that they need to improve upon
- 3% don’t need to measure their performance
Figure 4: How do you measure the IT organization’s performance?
What IT Costs and Value Demonstration
Only 4% of survey respondents think that business colleagues view IT costs as optimized and offering great value for money (see Figure 5). Another 24% think that the cost of IT is acceptable to business colleagues. However, the majority, over two-thirds, of survey respondents think that business colleagues perceive IT as costing too much:
- 37% of respondents think that their IT organization needs to do more to justify what it spends on IT
- 20% think that their IT organization has worked to bring down its costs but still needs to do more
- 14% think that IT costs way too much
Figure 5: How do you think business colleagues perceive the overall cost of IT?
While cost is an important yardstick for IT organizations, for many, questions and scrutiny around the business value that the money spent on IT services are increasing.
When asked about their understanding of how the money invested in IT services, each and every year, generates business value, only 13% of survey respondents stated that they know exactly how their IT organization’s annual investment in IT positively impacts their business. A further 21% stated that they roughly know which IT services help to increase revenue and customer satisfaction.
Nearly one third of respondents stated that they’re starting to link IT expenditure to business value, which is testament to the growing focus on business value over costs.
The final third stated that their IT organizations have no insight in the business value of IT. And, thankfully only 3% of respondents stated that their IT organizations are only interested in IT value for money.
While this might seem a relatively healthy position, the results shown in Figure 4 relative to performance measures still being solely “traditional” are an obvious disconnect between aspirational end states and the current status quo.
Figure 6: Do you know how IT spend helps to generate business value (revenue, profit, and customer satisfaction/retention)?
The term “customer” has long been a point of contention for IT organizations. From the old-school obliviousness of the importance of “outside-in” thinking to the ongoing debates over whether end users are customers of the IT organization (because they don’t directly pay for the IT services they use/consume).
In many ways the term used is irrelevant – end user, customer, consumer, business colleague, business user, or something else – with the focus and level of service and support provided (by the IT organization) the really important thing. After all, one IT organization could call the people they “serve” end users and deliver a great service. While another might call them customers and deliver a poor service.
Interestingly, and pleasingly, 95% of survey respondents stated that they view the people they serve, within their parent organization, as their customers (see Figure 7).
Figure 7: Who do you consider, and therefore treat as, a customer?
So, end users are treated as customers but how well are they actually treated?
In particular in terms of setting, managing, and meeting their expectations. Figure 8 shows that the survey respondents offer a far-wider spectrum of expectation management levels than the previous statistic would suggest. With only 21% of survey respondents always ensuring that their end users/customers know what can be done and by when.
One third of respondents “sometimes try” to ensure that expectations are managed – which sounds somewhat “hit or miss.” With logic implying that “sometimes managing customer expectations” means that expectations are not effectively managed.
Whereas another 38% of respondents stated that expectation management is something that they need to get better at. Worryingly though, 8% of survey respondents stated that they don’t know their customers’ expectations so are unable to set and manage them.
Figure 8: How well do you set and manage your customers’ expectations of IT?
Business Impact of IT Issues
There’s an IT industry adage that “There’s no such thing as IT issues, only business issues” – reflecting the increasing dependency of business operations on IT services. After all, logic dictates that if an issue with an IT service – even if small – doesn’t somehow affect business operations (including employee personal productivity), then surely that IT service isn’t needed (with the obvious caveat that some issues only impact business operations at certain points in time).
The good news is that the majority of survey respondents understand the impact of IT issues on business operations. 52% stated that they understand that even small IT issues can affect personal/business productivity and another 36% are very aware of the business impact of major incidents.
Figure 9: How well do you understand the adverse impact of IT outages on business operations?
While this is a positive attribute for IT organizations, and their staff, knowing the impact of IT issues surely needs to involve some form of quantification. For instance, what IT issues cost the business in financial, customer retention, brand management, or other terms.
When the survey takers were asked about the business cost of incidents and IT outages, it brought back a considerably different viewpoint (see Figure 10). Only 40% of survey respondents were very aware of the business costs of IT issues, while 50% were only aware of the IT costs and not the business costs.
Figure 10: How well do you understand the cost of incidents and IT outages?
The ITSM.tools survey highlighted both good IT organization, and staff, attributes and areas for improvement. These can be split, in a rudimentary way, between “thinking, perhaps knowing, what’s right” and actually doing what they think is right.
For example, that:
- The majority of ITSM professionals are happy that they know enough about their business’ operations, but half of them are unaware of the business costs of IT issues.
- 39% of ITSM professionals would like to know more about business goals and strategies but don’t.
- Despite the obvious focus on, and importance of, “knowing about the business,” IT success measures are generally still internally focused.
- Less than one-third of ITSM professionals think that business colleagues view IT costs as acceptable but what’s being done to change this perception (or reality)?
- 95% of ITSM professionals treat their business colleagues as customers but only 21% always ensure that their expectations are managed.
It’s yet another disconnect that the IT industry continues to live with. A disconnect that that will continue to act as a barrier to the internal IT organization being able to sufficiently demonstrate that it’s in tune with business want and needs, and able to consistently deliver against them in a value-adding way.
Principal Analyst and Content Director at the ITSM-focused industry analyst firm ITSM.tools. Also an independent IT and IT service management marketing content creator, and a frequent blogger, writer, and presenter on the challenges and opportunities for IT service management professionals.
Previously held positions in IT research and analysis (at IT industry analyst firms Ovum and Forrester and the UK Post Office), IT service management consultancy, enterprise IT service desk and IT service management, IT asset management, innovation and creativity facilitation, project management, finance consultancy, internal audit, and product marketing for a SaaS IT service management technology vendor.