Aligning IT and the business to support fast enterprise growth

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Everyone understands the key role that technology plays in business success. However, making sure that IT (the department, the sum of the technology parts and more) enables corporate goals can be more difficult to achieve in reality. How can IT teams bridge the gap?

I work for energy provider Utilita – we supply pre-paid gas and electricity to domestic premises, with our customers able to top up their meters online, by phone, through texting or by visiting a shop. When I joined in 2015 we had 250 staff – and extremely challenging targets of growing by 600 per cent over a short space of time. Three years later, we’ve now got 2,000 staff and 610,000 customers, adding 100,000 customers in the last nine months of 2017 alone. IT has to support all of our staff, whether they are in central and regional offices or engineers working in the field.

While every business is unique, I believe our experience hopefully provides some lessons that will help other IT teams to align with business requirements and targets. At the beginning, we knew we needed to research, define and adopt a service infrastructure that would effectively support our growth targets, which meant focusing on five key areas.

1. Listening

It can appear daunting, but we began our process of improvement by talking to key business stakeholders and users. After all, if you don’t know where you are compared to what the business wants, any plans you make are likely to be off-target. We employed a specialist outside service management consultant to question stakeholders and create a maturity assessment to reveal the state of play. The picture was generally positive, but people felt IT needed to improve on elements of communication, process and standards to fully support Utilita’s ambitions. This helped us set targets and plan activities going forward.

2. Defining business metrics

As they say, what gets measured gets managed, so we took the time to understand and set the right business Service Level Agreements that were meaningful to our company growth. We’ve now got over 30 of these, including first time fix rates, call to ticket ratios and reopen rates. Using external reporting frameworks, such as those certified by the Service Desk Institute (SDI) has helped us create relevant metrics and deliver them successfully to stakeholders at the speed they require.

3. Pick scalable technology

Previously our IT support was quite ad-hoc, with low call volumes and a relatively small number of staff meaning we could provide personalised, desk-side support to users. We knew that was impossible to scale – and our stakeholder interviews had already pointed to a lack of process underpinning what we did. Our existing helpdesk tool couldn’t meet our anticipated needs, so once we knew our requirements and criteria we went out to the market.

We knew we needed a Service Management platform that allowed us not just to grow, but also aligned with ITIL industry best practice. We looked for technology that could improve service quality, demonstrate value through familiar interfaces and provide a single source to deliver best practice. We also wanted the platform to be Software as a Service, both so that it could scale with the business, and as it was easier to manage and maintain. After researching the market, we found Sunrise ITSM, which really ticked all of our boxes. We had tight timescales for implementation, and went live in March 2018.

4. Market IT to your users

‘Marketing’ is often seen as a dirty word by many in IT, but we knew that it was key to engaging with our users and ensuring we were supporting the business.

That meant that from initial discovery through to roll out, workshops were held with business stakeholders. We ran IT forums – open meetings - in headquarters and regional offices to discuss plans for the reinvented service desk offerings from the start. We began by asking the question “What do you think of IT?”. Now, I know that being that open can worry a lot of IT people, as they’ll expect a flood of issues to be brought up. However, we worked on the principle that if you don’t know what the problems are, you can’t fix them. It also showed we were listening and committed to acting on user needs.

Once our new service desk went live, we also made sure we were promoting it relentlessly in order to increase awareness and adoption. Roadshows continued at launch, along with desk drops of credit card sized ‘how to contact IT’ cards, competitions for early users and cake on launch day, all helping boost approval. Cementing our positioning, we moved the team from the top to the ground floor in HQ, putting us at the heart of business operations with an ‘open door’ policy. Moving forward we’ve publicised what we’re doing both externally at conferences and in our in-house company magazine.

5. Shifting left

We’re all consumers of technology in our private lives, which raises the expectations we have when using IT at work. This also means that employees are happier to help themselves when it comes to support, so we have created a graphical, easy to use self-service portal to ‘shift left’, lowering the number of requests we get by phone and email. Thanks to the marketing and engagement we did around IT, and the simplicity of the portal itself, statistics show that in the first six months after going live an average of 60 per cent of tickets were logged via self-service, which was tremendous.  The portal includes automated approvals, stating which requests require approvals by their line managers and notifying of any pending approval. The new starter process is fully co-ordinated - simply log a request in Sunrise via Self-Service and it is then streamed to all relevant departments. Our support team has also grown accordingly in stature and knowledge – they’re now trained better technically and have a more fulfilling job answering more complex queries; it’s great that we can support their career path now too.

While we’re proud of our success so far, we also know you can’t rest on your laurels. We’re therefore committed to continuous service improvement, meaning we are always looking at how we can do more for the business.

At a time of increased competition in many markets, technology is central to delivering on business objectives. That means IT teams need to work closely with stakeholders and users alike, focus themselves on business needs and market IT effectively if they want to drive real results.

Dave Woods, IT support manager, Utilita
Image source: Shutterstock/violetkaipa