by March 10, 2007 0 comments

The CIO or IT manager is always caught in a very interesting situation. On
one side, he’s a consumer of various services offered by vendors, ISPs, etc, and
is therefore always trying to negotiate the best contracts and deals with them.
On the other hand, he is the provider of IT services to users within the
organization, trying to minimize downtime and improve user satisfaction.
Achieving the fine balance to these roles as both a consumer and a provider to
these two groups is quite challenging. We interacted with some key IT decision
makers across the country to find out what they considered important for walking
this tight rope. Most responses were among the usual suspects: low downtimes,
frequent surveys and defining well-balanced SLAs were key to do the balancing
act. However, some deviated a little by presenting interesting insights into how
a CIO could function better in his role as the enterprise’s very own acrobat.
Let’s put all that together now to identify a sound IT strategy.

Managing users
The key to managing users successfully in an organization is knowing what they
want and getting them to agree on using new technologies. This means that your
organization’s IT needs to be aligned to the business. And your users must find
a value in using that IT for the enterprise’s needs. In other words, there needs
to be a seamless integration between user’s needs and your infrastructure. Users
will try to use more than what is on the platter. For instance, if you announce
the availability of a fatter Internet pipe, instantly there will be huge
downloads, P2P software, etc. Another reason for higher-than-available usage is
that users tend to grow comfortable with what you offer and desire for more to
boost their productivity. For eg, they may find using instant messaging (even if
none is internally deployed, or it is against your IT policies to use) faster
and better for communicating with their contacts compared to telephone or email.
Your organization’s IT policy must therefore be flexible enough to accommodate
such needs.

If you’re doing a large deployment, then it must be done in steps, on smaller
business units, keeping time-buffers in hand. Change management practices need
to sink in before IT projects start delivering on their promise.

It is also usual to make big presentations on benefits that a new deployment
is going to deliver. Things may not work out exactly as planned and when this
happens, everyone’s morale goes down and their frustration makes it worse. So,
don’t raise user expectations too high. For instance, if you have a managed mail
service and you change providers (or decide to implement it in-house), and after
the switch the amount of spam coming in increases ten-fold, your users will
naturally complain. In another scenario, even if there are a hundred users
accessing your file server everyday, they would have no way of knowing that it
is going to shutdown to complete an automated patch-installation, or that half
the system files have been quarantined by the anti virus and the system could
crash at any moment. Planning and anticipating problems here (in the automatic
environment) is challenging to say the least.

Dilip Sharma
AVP — IT, Man Financial — Sify Securities India Pvt
“We are a securities trading company. For
us, downtime means large financial losses and we cannot afford that. In
fact, when we conduct our monthly IT feedback survey, the number one crib
our users have is downtime. To solve that, we have our own IT team who are
trained by the vendor each time we deploy something new. We have an outside
agency responsible for our IT infrastructure audits and they analyze
different logs once a month to help us remove our bottlenecks and improve
the performance and reliability of our infrastructure. We maintain good
relationships with our IT team as well as vendors with timely feedback to
them and appreciation of a job well-done.

We face
minimal resistance from our users in adoption of new things introduced in
our IT. When we have a problem with someone not toeing the line, we attempt
to give the required training if applicable or if it is something remotely
enforceable, we enforce it directly (for example: restriction of what sites
users can browse at). Regarding vendors, we go with someone only after we
are satisfied with their credentials and have sufficient references from
others in the industry. Then we set up strong SLAs with them and get them to
justify their costs to us. We engage them in regular meetings where we
exchange feedback and attempt to work together better…taking all steps to
appreciate good service from their side.”

On the other hand, you also need to be extremely careful as not to make the
IT system too flexible either. This can create security and compliance issues.
For instance, while allowing IM, take care about what kind of files can be
transferred out. Or you would quickly find your company’s intellectual property
leaking out. Implement logging features to track down accidental or willful
misuse of facilities and turn them off as amicably as possible.

Most organizations also have a bunch of demanding, tough users, who will
always keep the IT department busy. They’ll give their suggestions, and have
criticism for just about everything that the IT department does. They may or may
not know more than an average user, but will definitely pretend to. How do you
tackle such users? A good 56% of our respondents said they preferred talking to
such users directly to resolve issues. Another 13% of the decision makers added
that they provided special training to such users to get them to see the point
behind the IT policies and why they should be followed. If nothing else worked,
6% of the respondents said that they resorted to remote and automatic
enforcement of policies (like URL blocking at the firewall). Six percent of our
respondents interestingly said that these users could usually provide the IT
department with better insights to what was wrong or what could be improved.
Therefore, they took special care when handling them. Some reported these users
and their extra interests to higher-ups (like their CEOs) and acknowledged their
knowledge. Others made efforts to provide best-of-breed facilities to users and
actively sought constructive criticism from them to improve the IT
infrastructure. We would like to add that one should listen to such non-IT users
as well. They can sometimes come up with startling feedback too. You may also
want to segregate such users from the average ones while providing training.
This will ensure that the novices get sufficient time to learn, and the experts
are not only trained faster, but they end up giving you precious feedback in

Getting user feedback
The easiest way to find out what your users are happy or unhappy about is to ask
them, using surveys (online or offline) and feedback forms. If you have an
online (usually Web-based) help desk mechanism deployed, they usually also have
an automatic feedback field for users to fill when their tickets are closed.
They can be conducted at any frequency: weekly, monthly or annually. We found
the same variety of frequencies with our respondents. But a majority of them
chose to do it monthly (21%) or not at all (27%). About 16% of the CIOs said
they did not have a preset frequency or format, but they did it in other ways.
For instance, some of them used meetings with group/divisional heads to collect
feedback or disseminate information about their IT.

While 15% of these CIOs asked the usual questions about their IT
infrastructure in their surveys, 24% of them had other things on their minds.
The usual questions were on availability of systems, efficiency of helpdesk in
solving users’ problems and the friendliness of the helpdesk when contacted.
Some of them asked their users if they were deriving the desired benefits out of
their IT and improvements that could be made to the setup to boost what was
missing. Ashish Dandekar of NSE-IT said they went on to include a question on
what was missing from the deployed IT setup and what could bridge this gap.

Managing Vendors
When we asked CIOs what they considered important for maintaining a good
relationship with vendors, 23% of them said it was mutual understanding. Regular
meetings with vendors were necessary to apprise them of your needs and give them
your feedback. Also listening to their part of the story is a good way to
achieve mutual understanding, acknowledged some of our respondents. Then of
course, there were the usual responses of drawing up water-tight SLAs, adding
penalties for non-performance or SLA violations, timely delivery, payments and
commitment to service and quality.

Vendors should be treated as business partners. One could also help out a
vendor in serving you in several ways. This includes clear communication from
your side.

Ensure that you’ve provided all the information and help from your side to
the vendor. After all, the vendor needs to use it to make your IT infrastructure
better. If you’d like to deviate just a little bit in your SLAs with your
vendors, consider the following tips that some of our respondents shared:

  • Emphasize on service rather than penalties for non-performance. This makes
    your SLA sound less intimidating.
  • Define clearly measurable parameters for each of the clauses in your SLA,
    especially if they have a penalty.
  • Add rewards for special considerations shown or out of the way assistance
    granted at particular times to your vendor.
  • Accountability, standardization and clear deliverables are other pieces of
    your SLA.

Finding the right vendor
Before you go out and select that vendor, you may want to push back a bit and do
some research. Who are his other clients? Does he have sufficient manpower? and
spare parts wherever your offices are so that he can provide timely service? Can
he move his resources around fast to meet your demands? He should have relevant
industry/domain expertise to serve you best. But in doing so, which of your
competitors is he serving? What kind of terms is he giving them? Are these terms
tipped in your favor or theirs? But that aside, 14% of those surveyed preferred
cost and 11% domain expertise before they finalized a vendor.

As discussed many a times earlier, the debate on going with a single or
multiple vendors continues. Sometimes, it’s better to go with a single vendor
for all your IT needs. The flip side to this is that you might end up paying a
premium if the vendor has a monopoly in the market. For one, you wouldn’t have
reasons about his competition offering you better prices when you want to strike
a good bargain. Speaking of bargains, it’s also a good idea to have some expert
negotiators on your side while dealing with vendors.

To know what to buy, keep a watch on what your competition is up to and what
they are experimenting with. Most of the time, your vendors will tell you, in
trying to cross-sell you the same thing. These were a few points we thought
important to keep you balanced and on the rope.

Walking the enterprise IT tight rope of keeping the user and the vendor happy
with you is tough and one can never walk to the other end of the rope, as some
CIOs caution. But at least, you can keep from falling down.

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