Three Mindsets for Improving the IT-Business Relationship

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Due to its functional nature, IT is often sidelined and is sometimes considered to be a necessary though costly burden. A “we need IT to keep the lights on” kind of thinking is still very common rather than an IT-business relationship (or partnership). It’s no surprise that a lot of digital transformation efforts are extra challenging because of this viewpoint. Going through an event as disruptive as COVID-19 caused digital transformation efforts to be fast-tracked and showed that when IT is a strategic partner of the business, organizations clearly have a competitive advantage as they can quickly transform in a more sustainable way.

But how do we improve the business-IT relationship? There are three mindsets IT should focus on: being business engaged, outcome-driven, and customer-centric. In this article, I’ll touch on all three and share some tips on how to achieve them from an IT service desk standpoint.

This article by @NancyVElsacker looks at the three mindsets that IT needs to focus on to improve the IT-business partnership in your organization. #servicedesk #ITSM Click To Tweet

1) Outcome Driven

To shift from outputs to outcomes, and to improve the IT-business relationship or partnership, the first step is to know what value means for the business and how you, the IT service desk, contribute to that. Every business has ways to generate money, and those are usually defined as operational value streams. Think of them as products or services that generate money for the business. Once we know these value streams, it’ll be clear what is needed to enable them. In other words, the role and strategy of IT will be based on supporting the operational value streams.

This will look different for each organization. However, when we look at value from an IT service desk perspective, we usually see five themes: ensuring operational stability, fulfilling requests, onboarding, increasing employee engagement and satisfaction, and the impact on continual service improvement. Let me dive deeper into these.

Our first theme is operational stability or keeping the lights on. Think about it: the quicker we resolve an incident, the less productivity loss we have. In this theme, mitigating business loss is the measurable value. Examples of opportunities to increase value are preventing incidents and having a solid knowledge base and smooth self-service capabilities to speed incident resolution.

The second theme is about request fulfillment. And the more efficiently that goes, the bigger the positive impact there is on business-process enablement. In this theme, we can increase value by offering a smooth request fulfillment process that starts with self-service capabilities and limits the number of decision gates.

The third theme, onboarding, is a crucial process because of its complexity and the impact on the entire organization and employee engagement. Currently, most employees are working from home due to the pandemic, and that only complicates this process further. A big opportunity to increase value comes when we take a holistic approach to the onboarding process that is not just based around the first day. When we take into account the time between contract signing and the starting date, and then the six months after starting, onboarding gives a natural opportunity to shape the business-IT relationship with new hires and offers a great amount of value. Think of initiatives such as a welcome package to introduce the IT service desk, and check-ins with the new hire at regular intervals.

That brings me to the fourth theme: employee engagement and satisfaction. Usually, there are a lot of initiatives around creating a “WOW” customer experience or going the extra mile. However, when it comes to employees, many studies show that they’re most satisfied when they can just do what they are best at. So, great opportunities to increase value within this theme lie in business enablement so employees can achieve flow without interruptions. Again, smooth processes and employee empowerment with self-service options, a solid knowledge base, and choice of how they can be helped mean a great deal.

The last theme is about the impact the IT service desk has on continual service improvement. The service desk is a major communication point within organizations as they have a lot of interactions and the means to spot trends. An opportunity to increase value here is improving the feedback loops toward and from development, operations, and the business. 

There are three mindsets IT should focus on to improve the IT-business-relationship says @NancyVElsacker: being business engaged, outcome-driven, and customer-centric. Here she explains more. #servicedesk #ITSM Click To Tweet

2) Business Engaged

Especially in busy times, it’s easy to lose connection with the business and the value of an effective IT-business relationship or partnership. Actively measuring and keeping track of the IT service desk’s outcomes and how those impact the operational value streams of the business is a good starting point. Include the business in IT performance reviews with actual meetings where both IT and business leaders sit together and evaluate the current, past, and future situations.

Business engagement does not stop on a higher level though. True business engagement starts from the bottom as well. For IT service desks, this can be regular check-ins with new hires (as I touched on before when talking about onboarding). Another initiative could be “walk a mile” days where either someone from the business follows the service desk or vice versa; I call them experience expeditions. Depending on the level of business engagement you have, you’ll have to set the right expectations. If you just started introducing these types of initiatives, just be ready to first go through a lot of to-do lists and complaints, questions, and requests that you’ve probably never heard of before. As you create more trust, you’ll get to a higher discussion level and be able to work on gaining more business engagement.

A third way of engaging the business is by engaging with specific persons within departments in the organization. You’ll want to identify the go-to people within each group and engage with them because they’ll know more about what is going on within the organization. They’re usually a bit more tech-savvy and will be able to give you more background or details on underlying challenges.

Business engagement does not stop on a higher level though. True business engagement starts from the bottom as well – @NancyVElsacker #servicedesk #ITSM Click To Tweet

3) Business Centricity

When you engage well with key contacts within the business, that will give you an advantage and a better IT-business relationship or partnership. The biggest problem with customer-centricity is knowing what the customers really need—not what they say they need.

Let me elaborate on this. First, the majority of unhappy customers don’t complain. When they don’t get a good service, they’ll just turn away and find other solutions. They’ll only turn to you when really necessary, which is less than desirable, to say the least.

Knowing this, you must ask yourself the question: do you have a full picture of how to be customer-centric? This is why I wanted to touch on business engagement first. In my opinion, if you have a low level of business engagement, you cannot (claim to) be customer-centric. Perfect customer satisfaction metrics alone usually don’t give the full picture and don’t show the exact level of customer-centricity. While a customer can be satisfied with every transaction or interaction with the IT service desk, the overall satisfaction can still be bad. It’s crucial to measure the end-to-end experience from a holistic view instead of a transactional perspective.

The last point I want to make is that when talking about customer-centricity, a lot of people equate that to doing whatever the customer asks. That is not true; it goes further. The “what” is usually not important. When I go to the doctor, I talk about my symptoms, I don’t go there with a diagnosis or a treatment plan. When people call the IT service desk, it should be the same thing. If people ask for a specific solution, the service desk should always make sure they know the actual symptoms or, in other words, what the employee wants to achieve and why. And that means expressing empathy, asking a lot of questions, and never assuming. The question behind the question opens up the path to innovation and higher customer satisfaction.

When talking about customer-centricity, a lot of people equate that to doing whatever the customer asks. That is not true; it goes further, says @NancyVElsacker. Here she explains. #servicedesk #ITSM Click To Tweet

Metrics Are Needed Too

Improving the IT-business relationship doesn’t stop with a focus on being outcome-driven, business engaged, and customer-centric. You’ll also need to use the correct metrics to prove the value you bring to the organization and to be able to continuously improve. Historically, however, any type of business case from IT is very much based on cutting costs, for example, by making things more efficient through automation. The metrics most IT service desks use clearly point in the direction of cutting costs as well: the number of tickets closed per agent, the average time to resolve incidents, the cost per incident, etc. That is a result of the image that the service desk and IT are an operational entity and not a business partner.

When we improve our business-IT relationship, not only the high-level IT strategy but everything down to the KPIs and metrics we use daily should be tied to the operational value streams of the organization and focused on how we’re contributing to increasing the revenue of the business.

Improving the IT-business relationship doesn’t stop with a focus on being outcome-driven, business engaged, and customer-centric. You also need to use the correct metrics – @NancyVElsacker #servicedesk #ITSM Click To Tweet

I cannot stress enough how important it is to use the right metrics. Metrics will define how the performance of employees, departments, and even entire organizations is measured. And we all know that that will drive how people will behave and what they’ll focus on. Therefore, metrics, when used correctly, have a tremendous impact on people’s behavior, drive, and engagement and ultimately, in a way, define culture and enable a shift to being outcome-driven, business engaged, and customer-centric.  

In other words, metrics can be used to drive change and prove your value. Combine metrics with the three mindsets I outlined above – being business engaged, outcome-driven, and customer-centric – and we can achieve a stellar IT-business relationship and shift from being operational to becoming a strategic business partner.

Chief Marketing Officer at EasyVista

Nancy Louisnord is the Chief Marketing Officer of EasyVista, responsible for the company’s global and regional marketing programs and product marketing strategy. With more than 14 years of global leadership experience in the ITSM software industry, she is a sought-after presenter at conferences and contributor to several leading industry publications. EasyVista is a global software provider of intelligent service automation solutions for enterprise service management and self-help. Leveraging the power of ITSM, Self-Help, AI, and Micro Apps to create customer-focused service experiences, EasyVista has helped companies improve employee productivity, reduce operating costs, and increase customer satisfaction.

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