Most of us have heard the story of the six blind men who come upon an elephant and conclude different things based on their area of exploration. The blind man who feels the leg says the elephant is like a pillar; the one who feels the tail says it's like a rope; the one who feels the trunk says it's like a tree branch; the one who feels the ear says it's like a hand fan; the one who feels the belly says it's like a wall; and the one who feels the tusk says it's like a solid pipe.
In some versions of the story, the men come to blows, so convinced are they that their interpretation of the elephant is the correct one. Eventually, they recognize their blindness and work together to create a more complete picture.
Nice story but...
You may be wondering what this has to do with you. Well, in the IT world, the blind men are represented by enterprise functions like support, operations, HR, finance, sales, and management. The elephant? IT services.
Think about it. Support looks at packaged services as a way to fine tune delivery of service level agreements. Operations sees a way to group offerings that are easier for clients to consume. HR anticipates new opportunities for staff to stretch their skills. Finance sees more accountability, and Sales sees the potential to problem solve vs. manage down demand. If there is a sixth man, perhaps it’s Management, who sees an opportunity to guide the organization at a more nuanced level.
Everyone is right about their view of the potential, of course. But the sum of all the parts is key: what they all want is optimized IT production for business consumption. When IT is viewed as a service—indeed, when IT offers a better packaging of business-relevant services, in standard bundles offered at market-driven prices—each enterprise function gains a better understanding of the value they’re receiving and the control they have over their own spend.
So, how do you bring this unified view of the elephant to life? It takes some strategic planning and communication, but here’s how you make it happen.
10 key steps to creating a unified view of IT as a service
Moving traditional IT into a service-based model is not rocket science, but practitioners who have gone before you will agree: there are a few pitfalls you can avoid by following a logical path. The steps listed here are not exhaustive, but they represent the ones most important to get right and the easiest to flub.
1. Define your vision, goals, and objectives
This is the logical place to start—you really can’t proceed with other change management initiatives until you’ve aligned key stakeholders around your vision. In fact, if you don’t have explicit CIO and leadership endorsement, you may need to lower your expectations. Begin by clearly defining IT as a service, why it’s important, and how you will get there (in broad strokes).
- Allow for a ramp-up period to get stakeholders on the same page—this will take time, effort, and influence.
- Having a CIO mandate will shave months off the process. If the initiative is at all tentative, push for more leadership discussions until alignment is reached or you’ve concluded alignment isn’t possible.
2. Define your plan and scope
An overall plan, with a well-defined scope and success metrics, comes next. You’ve got a vision—how will you get there?
- IT delivered as a service requires plan elements with different risk/cost trade-offs from traditional IT projects. For example: traditional overhead will smother this program so you won’t want a full complement of program managers. Also, error avoidance is key for IT programs because the cost of undiscovered mistakes rises exponentially as the project proceeds. For a transformation project, however, experimentation is key to success and should be encouraged, so your tolerance should be higher.
- All 27 ITIL processes have advocates. Be ready for a fight if you try to exclude any, but also know that service transformation is the goal, while perfect adherence to ITIL principles is not. Others have gone so far as to postpone work on service desk processes (e.g. incident, problem, event, change mgmt.) until the new service model was in place.
- Tool deployment (e.g. ServiceNow) requires a very different project management structure so implementation should be factored into your plan.
3. Determine your financial model
Determining how you’re going to price IT services is an important step, as typical IT financial practices may be at odds with market-driven services. Communication is key. A P&L approach will encourage a deep understanding of IT unit costs, how those costs roll up to IT resource towers, and how costs will ultimately roll up to business-facing IT services. Your new market will only be as effective as the accuracy of the underlying cost model.
- A chargeback model works best for achieving alignment because when the business pays directly for consumption, they have a stake in the results. Chargeback is not a requirement, but it can be very helpful.
- Showback can be very effective for improving collaboration, as it helps business units associate cost with value. In the absence of chargebacks, you should strive for fully transparent showback—meaning, you can leverage the power of disclosure if BU leads are making poor IT spend decisions.
- Use showback and chargeback based on business services consumed to best position your team to change behavior.
4. Design your change management plan
With your financial model in place, your focus should be on transitioning teams to end-to-end service responsibilities and helping them understand and embrace these new roles. A training plan is a good idea here. While this step is often neglected or under-resourced, it may be your single most critical success factor.
- Socialize a mock-up of the user portal, which will help reduce the impact of change for users and encourage early evangelism. This also allows the team to experiment and gather early and frequent user feedback.
- Establish user groups that meet every 2–3 weeks to get feedback on your work.
- Because change management may take years to complete, look for opportunities to highlight successes and early wins.
5. Win hearts and minds
While this may seem like a no-brainer, winning hearts and minds is easier said than done. There is real work to be done to prepare your organization for a shift to delivering IT as a service. Employees may feel threatened and fears may run ahead of truth, so a combination of consensus building and a mandate from the top will help set expectations and encourage staff to follow transition steps that ultimately lead to their own success.
- Coach staff to see the project’s potential, not the perceived threat to jobs and work streams.
- To reduce resistance to necessary power shifts, help leadership understand how important this step is to the organization’s evolution—including their role in achieving the business benefit.
- Help everyone focus on people and processes, not on the technology (which is where some will naturally gravitate).
6. Acquire resources
This step requires balance. Perhaps counter-intuitive, IT as a service is not best accomplished by throwing resources at it. An incremental approach builds consensus by demonstrating what success will look like when a broader approach is applied. Tiger teams are better than approaching this transition with overwhelming force. This effort requires strong executive sponsors who can provide air cover, course correction, and realignment of the leadership team when necessary. It also needs the support of a project management function, subject matter experts, and an execution team that consists of quality versus a large quantity of players.
- Beef up your team. While all previous steps initiated with minimal team and resources, this is where you’re going to need a mix of minds to achieve your objectives.
- Go light on bureaucratic activities like large group updates and risk management sessions. Opt for drop-in communications and many informal touchpoints instead.
- Don’t let your team ask for too much too fast. Tackle smaller but strategic wins that make extension to other areas faster and easier.
- At the same time, don’t let executives underestimate resource needs in some areas, especially marketing and change management.
7. Establish a marketing team
Don’t fear the “m” word. Marketing will be key to conducting focus groups and promoting things like the user interface and experience, services, and internal change management efforts.
- As you allocate resources in step 6, consider what kind of talent you’ll need for marketing. These skills may not be present in IT.
- Head off reluctance to engage account teams and clients by engaging marketing as early as you can. A good marketing team will lead town halls, brown bags, video demos, and user groups that educate and improve buy in from users and stakeholders.
8. Define service lifecycle and governance
As soon as your execution team is in place, you can identify and document a lifecycle process that delineates how IT products and services are defined, approved, funded, brought to market, enhanced, and retired. This can take eight to twelve weeks to develop.
- Keep governance as lightweight as possible at first. Though governance is most important early in the life of a service, keeping it flexible during the experimental phase can help improve buy in and later compliance, as experience begets best practices. You can tighten this up once processes are settled.
9. Develop a service framework
The most important elements in the deceptively logical step of developing a service framework are the taxonomy, initial bundles of offerings, the service stand-up process, and the deployment schedule. We say deceptive because the process of positioning services can be surprisingly political (see 3 Political Pitfalls to Avoid When Moving to an IT Services Model). Don’t forget where we started, with the elephant and six completely different views.
- Don’t define your framework by committee: many people will want to weigh in on these areas, but allowing them all to weigh in is very inefficient.
- Start with best practice recommendations! If you adopt best practice recommendations from an outside organization (like Apptio’s ATUM™ model) and make necessary adjustments, you can avoid unnecessary conflict about what goes where and when. This can’t be emphasized enough—it’s MUCH easier than starting with a blank sheet of paper.
10. Define your new org structure
Laying out an org chart for your new IT services platform can start once you have your execution team in place, but it requires significant realignment of roles and responsibilities. You’ll need new service owners, service operations managers, and account managers who understand the needs of the business. This can take time to execute. Getting your new org structure approved will take focus—and all of your patience.
- Find the right people for these roles. These folks need skills that allow them to address all of those different views of the elephant. These skills go beyond technical knowledge to include financial management, communication, sales, and negotiation.
- Be sure to clearly define and publicly support the career path for these positions, which are individual contributor roles with leadership potential.
Seeing the elephant
Creating a unified view of IT as a service is challenging, but it can also be a tremendously satisfying experience. Just as the elephant becomes larger than the sum of its parts to the fabled blind men, IT as a service becomes a more complete and valuable partner to the business, delivering improved product and service offerings, better performance and service, and greater efficiency.
The greatest outcome is a much-improved relationship with partners, who have long held IT in contempt for not understanding the business. By helping business units optimize their limited IT dollars, you can help partners get the most value out of their IT spend. Sharing the same view—seeing the whole elephant—enables better collaboration, moving IT around to the business side of the table.
Phil Gormley is regional VP of Strategic Services at Apptio and formerly a senior strategy consultant at EMC, where he spearheaded a service transformation and learned a few lessons along the way.