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Operations & Service Delivery

Service-level agreements (SLAs) serve as a powerful tool for enabling an IS organisation to understand the business'' definition of adequate service (based on business requirements) and for business communities to understand the support function''s responsibilities. If the services are sourced externally, then they are also one of the most critical factors in the success of the outsourcing relationship.

To date we have been concentrating our efforts on improving the performance of our Help Desk, through better incident and problem management, and through imposing some much needed disciplines on our infrastructure support team by introducing more rigorous and collaborative change management processes. It is true to say that, prior to ITIL, we firmly believed that it was important to resolve as many issues as possible on the Help Desk, without escalating them to Level Two support. We were unaware that this practice was significantly downgrading the level of service we were providing.

One of the most difficult dilemmas an IS project manager or CIO is likely to face is what steps should be taken when the client will not accept a proven technical solution, e.g. because she claims acceptance will compromise her ability to meet her performance criteria set by the CEO.  

While the ‘crash or crash through' approach is tempting, it is risky. Pursuing it is likely to bruise everyone involved. Another option, which is to go to the CEO to get the matter resolved, is not politically astute. In most firms it is lore that asking the CEO to resolve an impasse is viewed as failure.

Small and midsize companies have, so far, mostly postponed investment in CRM solutions because of their complexity, their cost and dubious return on investment. Now, with Microsoft in the fray alongside Salesforce.com and others like them with their online deployment models, SME''s have a better range from which to choose and should be planning how they can take advantage of more affordable solutions

In the August publication I discussed a planned review of our service delivery model and the introduction of ITIL methodologies to correct any areas where there are found to be shortcomings. Our first step on this path has been to employ an external organisation, with ITIL skills, to review and comment on our existing service processes (ITIL Maturity Assessment).

In most businesses, regardless of size or industry, formal business continuity and/or disaster recovery planning is consistently under-funded and generally neglected by management. The business risks associated with this attitude can be very high but are not understood. Those plans that are in place simply don’t work. This is not surprising since disaster recovery hasn''t been given sufficient consideration, ensuring that plans are rarely tested (if ever) and equally rarely updated to reflect changes in process, technology or applications. In an emergency, there are many continuity requirements within an organisation’s business and services covering processes, facilities, and personnel. IT and a range of business units across the whole organisation must work together, both in planning for continuity and in its execution.

With a number of significant IT projects either completed or well under way we are now turning our attention to improving the quality of the service we deliver to the company. With our IT infrastructure becoming increasingly mission critical it is essential that we constantly review and ensure the provision of the appropriate level of IT resource to contribute to the organisation’s success and growth. The challenge is how to achieve this in the tight budgetary and technically complex and logistically distributed environment in which we operate.

IT cost recovery is an ongoing issue for CIO’s as they try to regain the cost of providing IT services to the business. As illustrated by IBRS in previous publications, while there are a number of alternative cost recovery methodologies available to organisations not all methodologies are suited to all companies. This month, I will share with you the processes we apply when back charging for IT services. The methodology we use could be considered fairly unique; I certainly have not come across any other company utilising similar techniques. While I am by no means claiming our methods are any better or worse than others, they do have the advantage of being fairly simple both to understand and to administer, and most importantly, they work for us.

IT cost recovery is viewed as a necessary part of establishing a clear service relationship with business units, but by itself it will not reduce costs or increase efficiency. In fact the worst cost recovery systems, with IT-centric cost algorithms, reinforce the image of IT as a techno-jungle with no concept of business value, dealing in “funny money” (what do I get for a CPU second?). Misinterpretation of fixed versus variable costs can also lead to faulty decision-making.

IT Disaster Recovery and Business Continuity have always been issues that have figured prominently on our list of priorities but continually get pushed to the back of the queue, replaced by other operational issues that assume greater importance and that can be seen to return some immediate benefit. It is not that the company does not recognise its importance, its more of a “laissez faire” attitude that “nothing has gone wrong so far so we will continue to take a short to medium term risk on anything happening in the future”. It is typical of the approach to risk in the company where construction risk is everything and other risk is considered insignificant.

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