Metrics: Improving the Health of Your IT Organization

IT service metrics are simply tools to help you measure progress and determine success in achieving your goals. Here's how to use metrics wisely.

by Atwell Williams

At the beginning of each new year, many people make resolutions to improve their health. It can be overwhelming, however, trying to figure how and where to start. Should you strive to lose weight, handle stress better, or lower your cholesterol? To ensure long-term success, you first need to establish appropriate health goals for your particular situation and identify the correct means to measure your progress toward those goals. In other words, you need to identify the appropriate metrics to measure your success. Your metrics could pertain to the amount of weight you want to lose, a desired blood pressure rate, or a target cholesterol level.

Similarly, if you want to improve the health of your IT organization, you need to identify the appropriate metrics to measure the progress and success of your improvement efforts. Having the right metrics to measure your progress will enable you to ensure that your efforts are on track and yielding the desired outcomes.

Establish Goals

As with your personal health, you must first identify what a healthy IT organization looks like to you so you can determine where you fall short and how you plan to bridge the gap. For example, a healthy IT organization might be one where change is introduced in a controlled manner with minimal adverse impact to the business. If your IT organization, however, frequently causes disruptions to service when introducing change, an objective may be to reduce the number of disruptions.

With your goals understood, you can now identify the appropriate metrics to measure progress towards those goals. For example, the incident-to-change ratio would be an ideal metric to keep track of to measure progress toward reducing the adverse impact of change on the business.

Identify the Right Metrics: The Measure of Success

Today’s IT service management solutions enable you to collect a wide variety of data. However, just because you can measure something doesn’t necessarily mean you should measure it. As you set about identifying metrics, keep in mind these guidelines:

Focus on the desired end result: Always remember that measurement is not the objective. It is merely a means to an end -- measuring progress toward your goal(s). Before you start gathering large amounts of data, know specifically what you need. Focus on the desired objective and collect just enough data to validate progress toward achievement of that objective. For example, if your goal is to increase availability of a critical business service, then mean time between failures (MTBF) and mean time to repair (MTTR) would be two appropriate metrics for tracking progress.

Recognize different roles will have different perspectives: People in different functions will have unique perspectives on how best to measure progress toward a given goal. For instance, if the IT organization needs to reduce costs, the CIO will look at this with a broad view and may simply look at overall IT spend as a measure of success. The IT operations manager, however, may measure administrative costs per server while the IT support manager may measure cost per service-desk ticket. Ensure that different perspectives are taken into account, but that all metrics can be rolled up to the high-level metrics that will be used to ultimately determine success.

Make sure that you recognize and avoid the unintended consequences of measurement: It’s important to realize that people are going to do the things that you measure -- and sometimes that’s all they’ll do. You must be careful to measure the right things. For example, many IT organizations with service-desk improvement initiatives often want to measure first-call resolution rates. Although that might seem like a good idea at first, the problem is that if you tell people you’re going to measure how quickly they close a call, then that’s exactly what they’re likely to do -- close the call quickly -- regardless of whether the customer is satisfied. You must make sure you have “symbiotic” or “correlated” metrics. For example, you wouldn’t want to measure first-call resolution rates without the context of customer satisfaction.

Measure Value

Ultimately, most IT initiatives will be evaluated on their perceived value to the overall organization (i.e., value to the business). It’s key, therefore, to understand who gets to decide what’s valuable. Ultimately it’s the business that has to decide if a particular IT investment or initiative has value. When you start talking about measuring value, you always have to recognize that value is in the eye of the beholder. The problem is that many CIOs and IT organizations think they decide what’s of value to the business. As a result, too often these IT executives frame the value discussion in IT terms and want to establish IT metrics to measure business value. Big mistake!

When BMC first introduced its Business Services Management (BSM) strategy, it signaled the beginning of the end of IT projects. There are no more IT projects; there are only business projects enabled by IT. Value must always be defined in business terms. IT leaders who don’t understand this are going to constantly face challenges when trying to get funding.

Measure Wisely

At the end of the day, tape measures, scales, and IT service metrics all serve the same purpose. They are simply tools to help you measure progress and determine success or failure in achieving your goals. As the noted Harvard Business School professor Theodore Levett once put it, “People don’t want a quarter-inch drill. They want a quarter-inch hole in the wall.” The same principle should be applied to metrics. You’re not really after the metric. You’re really after the health improvement it represents.

Atwell Williams is a solutions architect within BMC Software’s Office of the CTO, where he focuses on the IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL) and other best-practice frameworks for improving IT processes. Williams consults with customers on how best to derive value from their technology investments. He brings a unique combination of IT process expertise (having served as an ITIL instructor and being ITIL Foundation, Practitioner, and Service Manager certified) and real-world IT experience (having served as director of service management in BMC’s internal IT organization). You can contact the author at Atwell_Williams@bmc.com.