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A Simple Way to Make the IT Function Work Faster

Everyone wants IT to do its job more quickly; one CIO has shown there is a lot of opportunity to improve the function's internal processes justified or not, one of line managers’ biggest complaints at the moment is that their colleagues in IT are slowing them down.

The need for IT staff to provide their blessing or their expertise to make a decision, fund an investment, or launch a new project leaves many line managers convinced that the whole process could have been quicker if only IT could get its act together.

Like any major corporate function, the structure and processes in most companies’ IT teams can certainly be made more efficient, but some areas are ripe for change: a full 60% of the barriers to IT working more quickly are caused by the “handoffs” in any process. For example, delays caused by handing a project proposal to an enterprise architecture team for review or getting the procurement team involved to vet a new a vendor contract.

What’s even more promising for IT teams, however, is that 41% of all of those handoffs occur only within IT, not handoffs between business partners and IT or vendors and IT. It’s those “white spaces” between IT sub-functions that cause some of the most important hold-ups.

Handling Handoffs

Problems with handoffs can occur for different reasons. A lack of consistent terminology will cause two teams to talk past each other; mismatched timing will mean one team must wait for another to follow an entirely different timeline; unclear responsibilities will lead to wasted or duplicated effort; and too few individuals with specific expertise or approval rights can lead to frustrating bottlenecks.

And while IT functions have worked hard to improve their interaction with business partners by adopting “business language” (i.e., not talking in technical jargon) and adapting to their processes, these intra-IT disparities haven’t always received the same attention.

To remedy this, one CIO in the CEB CIO network made a raft of changes to internal IT processes and structure that reduced the time taken to plan and approve a new project from one month to just one week.

How to Speed Up IT

The CIO mandated that his IT leaders used a common framework and vocabulary to define their activities as “offerings,” just like an external vendor would. This meant that different IT sub-functions used a consistent terminology and clarified the value of proposition of any of IT’s services.

The approach reduced delays caused by requests for more information or rework required due to unclear needs, which sped-up the handoffs between sub-functions.

On top of these changes to improve internal IT handoffs, the CIO asked his senior team to define their “customers” and “suppliers” within and outside of IT. This exercise had two benefits. First, it showed that more than 95% of the activities in IT were dependent on other activities. In other words, the idea that parts of IT can act quickly by being self-contained is a myth. The only way to get faster was to improve the interdependencies between the offerings.

Second, it helped IT create a map of all of these handoffs, showing where they were unnecessary or duplicative, and where the bottlenecks were. Armed with this information, IT eliminated the unnecessary handoffs and was able to explain to IT leaders how their team’s work contributed to the overall service provided by IT, and further clarified how they contributed to overall business goals.


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