Five Steps to Strategic IT Management

How IT managers can make themselves more strategic and create more value for their organization

A recent study of 500 IT managers around the world found that 9 out of 10 IT managers perceived themselves to be strategic to their organization (see Note 1). However, when asked where they spent their time, this same group reported that they were primarily focused on administrative tasks and troubleshooting rather than proactive planning.

If IT managers want to bridge this gap between perception and day-to-day reality, they must approach their role differently and better align themselves with their organization’s bottom-line business objectives.

We offer five steps IT managers should consider to make themselves more strategic and create more value for their organizations.

Step 1: Institutionalize Proactivity

Institutionalizing proactivity means being able to regularly focus on bigger issues and not being controlled by manual tasks. IT managers should be constantly reviewing their responsibilities and identifying those tasks that offer little business “value-add” but require a great deal of their time. Many repetitive tasks can be automated, such as software distribution, patch management, OS deployment and profile migration, and license monitoring.

In today’s market, there are a variety of affordable solutions from vendors that enable dependable automation of basic tasks. By automating repetitive tasks, any associated challenges can be proactively solved with little involvement from IT managers. This approach enables IT managers to spend a greater portion of their time on longer-term issues of higher importance.

Step 2: Manage Change More Efficiently

IT organizations need to manage change more efficiently. Mergers and acquisitions, the introduction of new technologies, and the migration of platforms create opportunities for IT managers to take a leadership role in managing change.

One way to demonstrate such leadership is through IT process management—that is, creating a common process that automatically manages any important change across an organization. Research shows that CIOs think that business process management offers a potential solution to better manage change at corporations. Tools and methodologies exist to help IT organizations do just that.

For example, the city of Paris recently moved entirely from the Windows platform to the Linux platform on all their computers. A change like this could be made very efficient by technology that helps define and automate the manual oversight of various steps in the process, as well as one that can model the process and offer insight into possible results and scenarios. It will improve timeliness and accelerate integration and project completion.

Step 3: Implement and Enforce Policies

The third step IT managers can take to demonstrate strategic value may seem obvious to savvy IT staffers, but implementing and enforcing policies company-wide is critical.

In an increasingly stringent regulatory environment, compliance with regulations such as HIPAA and SOX has reached paramount importance. Effective and timely IT implementation of policies that meet these requirements and provide important verification of their adherence reduces risk to the entire organization.

Unfortunately, after implementation, many organizations do not have strong policy enforcement in their business. Again, IT can show leadership by developing best practices and policies around regulatory compliance requirements. For example, IT departments should create centralized, corporate-wide policies that clearly identify who has access to information, why access is granted, and how information is monitored internally. Policy enforcement must have real teeth.

Step 4: Improve Insight to Senior Management

The next strategic action IT managers should take is to provide better insight into accomplishments and ongoing activities. Senior executives need visibility into IT activities and the role they play in creating return on investment, implementing corporate-wide policies, and instituting plans such as disaster recovery. Today, most IT departments are still seen as cost centers rather than being strategic drivers and participants in achieving business objectives.

By aggregating appropriate summary information from around the network, IT can provide valuable strategic business intelligence; highlight proactive IT projects that helped the organization save money; be seen as a strategic partner and participant in major organizational changes; and collaborate closely with representatives from different areas of the company.

One way to achieve this objective is with IT dashboards that provide high-level insight into network stability, security posture, project tracking, and overall organizational health. These can be electronic and always available for executive access and review, or printed and presented in a meeting environment with full discussion.

Step 5: Become a Trusted Advisor Outside of IT

Finally, IT managers must become trusted advisors outside of the IT department. Throughout every organization, departments have many tasks and processes that can often be made more efficient by application of IT tools and practices. Spending time with department heads so they understand their most time-intensive challenges and processes allows IT to recommend areas where technology can improve operations.

For example, from HR to product development to finance, many processes that require manual oversight, can be automated—thereby saving time and money, and creating value for an organization

By becoming more proactive and demonstrating new ways to reduce costs, IT managers become indispensable to every part of an organization. By helping by their organization to improve efficiency, IT managers move from being administrative to strategic, thereby demonstrating their true strategic value to any company or organization.

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Note 1: Dynamic Markets interviewed 500 enterprise IT managers across the US, UK, Germany and France during November 2005.