Opinion: Toyota's 'lean' model tackles IT complexity

Many IT companies have learnt that to succeed in business you can not save your way to success - you need to add value to prosper and grow

Every organisation has customer satisfaction, operational excellence or financial performance as one of their main drivers of corporate strategy.

Lean is a systematic approach to eliminating waste from processes so every part of the process adds value to the customer and helps organisations achieve their main business objective.

Also known as the Toyota Production Method (as opposed to the Henry Ford method — where you could have a car of any colour as long as it was black), Lean helps modern organisations to service market segments of just one.

Think Dell. It not only by-passed the traditional manufacturer-distributor-retailer link and created a lean supply chain, it also engineered its business process to supply a machine configured to your requirements.

Lean organisations achieve business velocity and agility. It is not about cutting costs, it is about eliminating waste, and equally it is about adding value from a customer’s perspective.

Many IT companies have learnt, and some are still learning, that to succeed in business you can not save your way to success — you need to add value to prosper and grow.

Lean lends itself to the ITIL framework which is prescriptive in the process an organisation needs to deliver IT services to its customers. It does not matter what framework you have in place, if the processes themselves are not Lean, the services delivered will be less than optimal.

I have found Lean to be a powerful agent of change in the service desk function. At a high level these perform a relatively simple business process: a customer logs a call; a case or ticket is created; the issue is assigned to the most appropriate group for resolution; a solution is provided and the case is closed.

Complexities creep in when you have large call volumes, disparate support systems, outsourced second- and third-level support providers, loose service level agreements among other factors. Add to this lack of alignment with the business and you have a recipe for disaster. Your customer satisfaction will be red-lining, your staff turn-over will be high, your vendors will be taking you for a ride and you will have severe issues retaining customers.

Fix your service desk and its processes and you will find your business will either be able to command a premium because it is now synonymous with first class customer satisfaction; or you will be able to generate additional revenues from the resources freed up from doing meaningless work.

Here are a few concrete steps you can take using Lean to improving customer satisfaction:

• Business alignment — start with the end in mind, understand and communicate where it is you want to go. Make sure it is measurable.

• Measure where you are today — have meaningful metrics in place. Remember, customers only care about timelines and quality. Value will be a function of these two. Relate your call metrics to these. Benchmark where possible.

• Walk the flow — identify the waste. Where are you double handling, what steps are being performed that the customer would not pay for? Where are the bottlenecks?

• Empower — get the people closest to the process to figure it out; processes that are imposed will never work.

• Quick wins — identify low hanging fruit; create visibility and urgency.

• Sustain — anchor constant improvement in the culture of your organisation.

Prakash has almost 20 years experience building, operating and optimising the service desk function for tech companies in the Asia Pacific region.

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