Four Steps to Transform IT from Expense Center to Business Partner

by Nancy Van Elsacker

Much of an IT department’s work takes place behind the scenes. This means that you’re usually not visible within the organization – until something goes wrong, that is. As a result, the organization may not see how much valuable work you put in to keeping things running smoothly on a daily basis.

Meanwhile, the expectations for IT departments are sky-high. You are expected to keep up with the latest trends, while keeping all services up and running at all times. As a result, IT departments often struggle to keep up with customer wishes while maintaining the excellent service for which they strive.

This doesn’t have to be the case. Based on experience, I’ve seen IT managers completely change their department’s image. Based on that, the following framework provides insight for transforming your IT department from an expense to a business partner.

Step one: Stop the firefighting
It’s not unusual for IT departments to be swamped by the issues of the day. For example, they may have to deal with a new application pushed through by management that needs to be up and running by the following week. The organization will continue to expect a quick response to urgent requests, but that does not mean that IT cannot take a smarter, more strategic approach.

Focus on processes
Solving problems on an ad hoc basis can be caused by the fear of forgetting something, or problems arising from missing details when rolling out a system, for instance. Adopting a more process-oriented approach is an important step in minimizing firefighting. And if you already take care to register calls and changes, there’s probably still plenty of room for improvement. You could look into preventing common problems by standardizing them in a change.

Help end users find their own solutions
Lots of questions and requests sent to your service desk can be attributed to a lack of knowledge among end users. Properly informing users often helps prevent many potential calls. There are a number of ways to go about this: regular training for frequently used applications, for instance. Another option is good knowledge management, with users able to find the answers they need in the Self Service Desk.

Consider outsourcing
The trend to outsource certain applications and services is not new. However, we do see many customers hesitant about taking the plunge. Nevertheless, it can be a great tactic for avoiding certain problems. If the IT department lacks expertise in a certain field, for instance, or an application that isn’t part of the core services – marketing or sales, for example. Moreover, some external suppliers offer superior quality thanks to their specialization.

Step two: Take a more service-oriented approach
Unfortunately, working according to processes isn’t enough. Even if you stick to them religiously, you may still have to deal with frustrated customers. After all, they don’t see what is going on behind the scenes. To deal with this, it’s important to make the customer your main priority. Put yourself in their position and ask yourself: What is it the customer really wants? And how can we make this a reality?

Make it measurable
Conducting periodic customer satisfaction research lets you know what customers think of the department. You can do this using a survey, but you could also let customers rate services after each call. It’s important that you show them that their feedback is put to good use. One way of doing this is publishing the results.

Involve end users
In the end, you’re doing it all for the customer – so why not ask them about what they need when designing your services? Incorporating customer input right from the start lets you tailor your services to what they want, as well as create support within the organization. Try including a number of key users in the project group to ensure their voice is heard.

Manage expectations
Customers are happy when you meet their expectations, so it’s important that they know exactly what to expect. A products and services catalogue (PSC) can help. Make sure that this document is accessible and clear – don’t create a doorstopper no one wants to read. And again, include the customer in the PSC creation. It may be a good idea to make agreements about how quickly calls are processed, for instance. However, be aware that agreements may create a false sense of security. There is more to customer satisfaction than just quick processing. What’s more, if someone is unable to print their handouts before an important meeting because of a printer error, it won’t matter that you resolve an average of 90 per cent of calls within a day of registration.

Collaborate with other departments
Another way to take a more service-oriented approach is collaborating with other supporting departments, such as facilities or human resources. You could offer a central portal for all supporting services, for instance. This makes things much easier for your customers: They no longer have to figure out who to contact with their request, and no longer run the risk of feeling like they’re being sent on a wild goose chase.

Train your colleagues
It can be tempting to process calls as quickly as possible instead of taking the time to go the extra mile for a customer. If you recognize this, it may be a good idea to train your colleagues in taking a more customer-oriented approach. For example: You could set up a training process for new colleagues explaining the organization’s vision and culture.

Another option would be letting employees spend time at different departments every so often.

This helps them understand what is important to the organization, and may even help them actively aim for customer satisfaction instead of a metric like “number of calls processed this week.”

Step three: Invest in your image
It is important that you are able to explain to customers why investing in IT should take priority. It is only logical that managers who cannot do this as well receive smaller budgets, and therefore have fewer resources at their disposal to help them keep up with the rapidly developing market.

This is something of a chicken-and-egg problem: If IT is a mess, why invest thousands to help improve it? But, without the additional investment, how is IT supposed to meet the customer’s demands? The key to getting the support you need is ensuring the customer sees your department in a favorable light.

Increase transparency
Letting customers see what you are doing, what’s going on and how things stand can encourage understanding. How to achieve this? There are many options to consider, such as a monthly newsletter. You could use this medium to show how many calls have been resolved, and customer satisfaction survey results. A self-service portal is also an option.

Explain procedures
The average user may not know the amount of work required to provide the new phone they requested. What they do know is how long they have to wait. There are often good reasons for processes to be designed the way they are – help your customers understand, so they know and accept why things take a certain amount of time to complete.

Create a uniform look
Consistent customer communication is essential for creating a professional look. Think for instance of a standard logo in email templates, or a standard way of addressing end users. If you want to take things a step further, you could also consider recognizable clothes or accessories such as lanyards or name tags to improve your visibility within the organization.

Step four: Focus on business
The key to successful collaboration with the customer is thoroughly understanding the customer’s needs. This is easier said than done, but there are a number of methods to achieve this. Get to know you customers. What better way to understand what your customers value than regularly visiting them?

Encourage your colleagues to spend a day working at a different department, or ask others to join the IT department for a day. Appoint people who act on customer interests. Something else that can help is appointing someone responsible for acting on customer interests. This could be a service manager, for instance. Some organizations create an information management department to achieve this. In this case, IT is seen as the service supplier, while information management acts as the customer. It is the latter who determines which projects should be actualized.

Make sure priorities are shared
Work with the customer to determine what is important for them – not only concerning IT services, but also the challenges their departments face. Making these matters as clear as possible lets your IT department think about how they can support the customer in this. Maybe a marketing department wants to get to work with big data, or a development department wants to gain more insight into how clients use your products and services.

Nancy Van Elsacker is president of TOPdesk US, part of a global provider of IT service management software solutions.

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