IT for IT
Gartner Inc. analyst Hams El-Gabri makes the case that IT is—or should be—a project-focused organization much like any professional services business. She maintains that IT can improve its own operations in the same way as any other people-intensive craft, by focusing specifically on better project management practices, and using software designed to automate repetitive project-related tasks. Gartner calls this category Project Portfolio Management, or PPM, and it includes the broad set of functions needed to prioritize and manage projects appropriately, including project pipelines, risk assessment, scope, time, human and other resources, cost management, procurement processes, team communications, reporting and forecasting.
If you're salivating to run such applications, don't jump in just yet. It may seem counterintuitive that software designed to optimize IT is useful only if IT is already running itself efficiently. But according to El-Gabri, these programs are mostly good at aggregating reports and automating existing processes. "PPM is 90 percent service methodology and 10 percent software," she says. As with virtually any enterprise software, baking inefficient processes into applications simply institutionalizes ineffectiveness, so IT has to get its own shop into order first.
Booz Allen Hamilton Inc. CIO George Tillmann, a former management advisor himself, hired his company's own consultants to help his team hone its internal practices. Like many, Tillmann's optimization efforts were driven by the need for staff efficiency, since this company of 13,000 went from an IT department of 235 in 2000 to 186 today. Once that work was done, Tillmann was then ready to install Kintana Inc.'s IT governance software. "You can't use a tool to replace bad practices," Tillmann says flatly.
Still, like other executives overseeing critical corporate functions, CIOs will ultimately benefit from the ability of such applications to provide an up-to-date overview of operations. "I definitely see us evolving toward an executive dashboard with information bubbling up to decision-makers, so they have more information at their fingertips," says Reliant Energy's Barlow. "We're moving from more of a reactive mode to more of a planned mode." Gartner's El-Gabri thinks that's a good thing. "The IT department is the last untouched and unoptimized branch within the organization," she says.
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