ITIL proves a bargain for The Warehouse - by improving IT performance

ITIL helps by providing an accepted framework on which to build change, says CIO

According to Owen McCall, ITIL is not important in itself. The chief information officer for The Warehouse told an audience at the IT service Management Forum (itSMFnz) earlier this month it is “the business result that is important”.

Through defining the role of IT more rigorously — using an exercise centred on ITIL (IT Infrastructure Library) — the retailer has achieved measurable improvement in the performance of IT. It has also improved its relationship with the business, says McCall.

ITIL helps by providing an accepted framework on which to build change. There is no need to “reinvent the wheel”, adds McCall.

When McCall first came on board, The Warehouse’s IT department had an immature management process, he says.

“We had very good technical staff, but they didn’t know the business. Users thought of IT as a break on their plans to advance the business.”

One danger signal was that although users had this view, and encountered problems, they consulted the IT helpdesk only about 50% of the time.

The IT department had a “hero” culture — the hero was the person who stayed up all night to fix a problem, says McCall.

In addition, virtually all IT expenditure went on maintaining systems, with very little being spent on new development.

“We needed to institutionalise key information services disciplines,” McCall says.

An enterprise architecture was needed to formalise what the business did — and how IT supported it — before competent decisions could be made on what aspects of IT needed to be advanced. Projects also needed to be set up in a systematic way.

Building credibility with the business is crucial to “getting a seat at the table where decisions are made.” Having achieved that objective, closer business alignment will follow, says McCall.

The department was reorganised into business-focused teams and a consistent process management framework was defined across all teams. Strict performance measurement criteria were put in place, on the principle that “what gets measured gets done”. Sanctions for poor performance were also installed.

The latter kicked off with incident and problem management, which brought down the number of unresolved problems. The most serious problems were attacked first; the same pressure was then brought to bear on the less important ones.

Six-monthly surveys of customer satisfaction were put in place and soon all figures were trending in the right direction.

McCall does not claim everything is fixed yet. In terms of that crucial measure: the proportion of IT expenditure devoted to new development, the figures are still not up with the leaders in the field, he acknowledges. But there has been material improvement. And management can be apprised of this.

“Don’t spend too much time telling the business what you are going to do,” McCall says. “Show them what you have done.”

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