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We in IT spend so much time trying to deliver productivity to the enterprise that it’s easy to overlook one area of critical importance - the productivity of IT itself. What other function has as broad a mandate and requires excellence in such varied competencies? IT needs to provide outstanding customer service, keep operational systems running at 99.99 per cent, secure the enterprise from hoards of hackers, all while delivering strategic solutions to the business. Oh, and don’t forget about innovation!
Unfortunately and not surprisingly, in the face of such disparate demands, IT commonly delivers lukewarm results, and develops a reputation for being…unproductive. But what if there was a way to change that, to turbocharge effectiveness and increase the productivity of IT dramatically?
Before I started working for a company that deployed social business technology, I searched for productivity in the usual places. Collaboration was done primarily via email. Corporate communication was handled by the much-maligned company intranet. Important documents were little used, and far too much time was spent managing the “ERP” system of IT, the ITSM. All along I would regularly extol my team on the virtues of collaboration, and exhort them to make the best use of existing technology. But I always felt like the Greek mythological character Sisyphus, dutifully pushing my boulder uphill, and I couldn't escape the feeling that something was missing.
Today, social business collaboration systems address this need. Social business is at the heart of my company culture and IT infrastructure. It’s our intranet, our departmental portals, our document system and the central hub that fosters all of our collaboration. And in IT, we use it for every process across the ITIL spectrum, from strategic alignment to release management to service desk. We couldn't run IT without it. Here are specific examples of how social business has turned our lives around.
I’ll start by describing the wonderful thing that happened with email. I get less of it -- in fact about 1/5 the email of my peers. The remaining messages go into the collaboration system in the form of group discussions, which don't clog my inbox and that I browse at my leisure. It turns out that much of the email I used to get didn't actually need my immediate attention, or even my input. Who knew?
Corporate Communication and Alignment
With so much spare time not reading emails, my team and I can focus on effective communication with the enterprise. Since the whole company uses the social system, we have a holistic perspective, with visibility and reach into every part of the organisation. My team writes blogs to share our point of view, we keep up to date on the strategic priorities of other business units, we announce new product releases, and importantly, we keep an eye on the sentiment of the employee-base, to see how people react to IT issues, policies, and changes. I cannot stress enough the importance of this feedback, and the opportunity for dialog that it provides to calibrate and manage IT delivery and reputation.
Having everyone on the same social business system has other tremendous benefits. Behaviours that people wouldn't exhibit when they had to jump between different systems suddenly come to life when they live in a single, elegantly designed user interface. A good example of this is customer service. We use our social system as a front end for IT support. Employees can ask questions and have easy access to knowledge base articles, training documents, and other important IT-support information. Because this information is so accessible, end users will often self-help themselves before submitting IT helpdesk tickets. And better yet, employees from other departments will regularly jump in to answer questions and write official solutions, deflecting work for the helpdesk team!
I've long believed that qualities like creativity, problem solving and continuous improvement form the core of any successful operational culture (and for you Lean practitioners, you know what I mean). But in order to create an IT culture based on these qualities, you need to enable, or better yet, unleash collaboration. Today, using our social business system, collaboration between the applications, security, infrastructure, and helpdesk teams is easy, dare I say, enjoyable. Team members brainstorm, create, argue over and ultimately utilise living documents like standards, policies, and procedures in a way that I have never seen before. They OWN their work, which has created a culture of excellence.
In summary, the silo’d systems of old have not delivered on the promise of productivity, and in fact have resulted in its opposite - a workforce that has simply given up and resorted to email as the lowest common denominator for getting work done. Social business systems are a new way for IT departments to fundamentally change the way they work, and an opportunity to finally deliver on the latent productivity that you always knew was there, locked away in your organisation.
Mike Westlund is the Head of IT at Jive Software,