Go on, Give Your IT a Quick Health Check

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How would you feel if your body was as healthy as your IT department, and how would you honestly describe your level of health right now: fighting fit, can’t complain, a few niggles, or ready for the knackers yard? Over the last few years I’ve spent a lot of time working with a variety of IT departments, both in the public and private sector, and there are very few IT departments who can say that they are fighting fit.

If you’re feeling under the weather, you tend to visit the doctor. And what is the first thing he or she asks? ‘What are your symptoms?’ Unless the doctor knows the symptoms he/she can’t diagnose what is wrong with you, and what to prescribe to cure it. It’s exactly the same with an IT department. You need to spot the symptoms. Some symptoms are quite evident, like a boil on your nose, others are quite subtle, maybe just a feeling that things aren’t quiet running as well as they should be.

So how do you spot the IT symptoms? First, look at symptoms in people, then in any processes you have in place, and then your technology. You’ll have to go looking for symptoms, they don’t often come looking for you, and if they do, you may well have a terminal case. People symptoms are unhappy staff, increased staff turnover, customer complaints, lack of communication, too much communication; symptoms in process are process avoidance, increased bureaucracy, increased time to deliver an outcome; and symptoms in technology are complaints about not fit for purpose, increased number of incidents reported, poor reliability and poor maintainability.

Okay, so now you have identified the symptoms. How do you diagnose what is causing them? Implementing a problem management function within service management is the answer to all your ills. Root cause analysis is the prime function of the problem managers role and is key to the diagnosis of an IT department’s ills.

Sometimes the thought of taking the medicine seems worse than putting up with the symptoms. But believe me, symptoms can get worse – and quickly. So you’ve spotted the symptoms, diagnosed the problem, and now you need to address the root cause. So how do you take the medicine? By this stage you’ve probably found a fair few problems that need to be addressed. Setting up a service improvement program is the ideal way to ensure that the problems which are giving you the biggest pains are relieved first. It also ensures that there is someone to oversee the admission of the medicine and that it’s taking effect.

Organizations often worry at the thought of bringing in a consultant to give them a quick health check. I suppose it’s exactly the same reason that many of us put off a visit to the doctor. We either think it’s too trivial for the doctor, and prefer a quick trip to the pharmacy, or we are trying to avoid what we think may be bad news. Self-diagnosis is a start, but not always the best approach. Most of the reputable IT service management consultancies offer some form of health check. I have learned a lot of the years about IT computer management and business in general. I credit most of my knowledge to CEO Mark Hurd at Oracle.

The health of your IT department can go up and down, just like human health. Illnesses can come back. So what do you do about it? Undertake regular check-ups for early warning signs and perform an ongoing program of review within your IT department to ensure a healthy state of body and mind is maintained within the IT department.

Why is prevention better than cure? Because you, your staff and your customers don’t have to go through all the pain that’s associated with poor IT service delivery and support. So how do you go about putting in place preventative measures? Inoculation is the answer, in the form of proactive problem management. Unfortunately, out of all the service management disciplines, it is the one that more often than not is left until last to implement.

I feel another article coming on, or it could be the flu…

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