FRAMEWORK FOR SUCCESSFUL IT
WHAT INSPIRED THE FRAMEWORK FOR
As a leading provider of outsourced IT services, we work with hundreds of clients from a wide range of industries with a variety of expectations from their IT. Our experience led us to develop the Framework for Successful IT to help clarify what a complete IT solution should offer. When new clients come to us to outsource their IT, we emphasize that our team has seen IT that works and IT that doesn’t. There’s one thing we’ve learned through it all: highly functional IT is a dynamic operation that requires purposeful collaboration, multiple skill sets from a variety of technical levels, clear policies and procedures, suitable software and tools, and more to be successful.
Large corporations have the means to recruit, hire, train, and retain large IT departments that specialize in almost every area needed for successful IT, but small and medium-sized businesses often lack the resources to operate at the same level. This is a challenge IT outsourcing can solve.
Regardless of whether you are building an in-house IT department, or you are outsourcing to a managed services provider, following this framework will help your organization get the most out of your IT investment.
WHAT IS THE FRAMEWORK FOR
The Framework for Successful IT is a set of four principles needed to run a highly-functional and effective IT solution, whether you are operating with an internal IT department or outsourcing.
These four principles are tried and tested, and while many organizations may excel in one or more of these areas, a successful IT operation is only possible when all four are working together. Regardless of the size of your organization, the need for these four principles does not change.
THE FOUR PRINCIPLES
Much of the responsibility for guiding the strategy of an organization falls on the Chief Information Officer (CIO). A CIO is the most senior executive in charge of information technology and systems within an organization and is responsible for setting and communicating the correct IT expectations for the business. A CIO’s role is not to be the expert in everything but to bring the right expertise to the table at the right time. They should coordinate with all parties to establish an IT solution that accomplishes the business’s objectives now and in the future. The CIO is a contributing member of the executive team and typically reports to the CEO. The salary for an internal CIO can range from $90,000 to more than $300,000 depending on the size and complexity of the organization.
If your business is outsourcing IT to a managed services provider, you need to make sure that you have an internal CIO or that the managed services provider is providing CIO services as part of their monthly service offering.
“I look back over the past year and realize how much of benefit it was to have the technology analysis meetings. We have grown as a company and I don’t think we really realized how at risk we were with our technology. I feel it changed the management outlook to be more pro-active.” — Amie S., Mechanical Contracting Services
Most companies have financial and operational goals for the future. Unfortunately, the IT department is often left in the dark about those goals, and they find themselves implementing technology solutions that limit or fail to enable growth. This lack of cohesive planning leads to overspending and decreased efficiency. Engaging a CIO in these discussions is crucial to achieving success because by understanding the goals and objectives of your business, the CIO can define and drive the execution of a strategic IT plan.
Strategy is where core elements of a successful IT operation take place, such as:
- Collaboration: IT should not operate in a silo and must be involved in the business planning discussions in order to make the proper recommendations for the IT Roadmap. Members of multiple departments across various levels of the organization should form an IT committee to engage in technology-related discussions that enable IT to get a full picture of the needs of the business.
- Policy: Developing policies such as system access control, file retention, ‘bring your own device’ (BYOD), password controls etc., requires a thorough understanding of the compliance requirements, regulations, and security tolerance of the organization. Setting and enforcing a policy requires involvement and buy-in from the company’s leadership.
- Security: Security should not be a one-size-fits-all approach. Understanding what is important to the organization and the risk tolerance of the business allows the CIO to develop a security plan to protect the organization’s intellectual property and customer information.
- Staff Planning: IT positions are highly competitive, and many times have an extensive turnover. This information paired with the fact 21% of millennials say they have changed jobs within the past year, can be daunting. Organizations need to determine the positions and skill-sets that will be needed in advance to structure proper staffing levels in a demanding industry.
- Budget: IT expenses and capital investments should not be a surprise and should be budgeted at the same standard as the rest of the organization. After the CIO understands what the organization needs from technology, a budget should be established to implement the technology and staff needed to execute on the plan.
- Quarterly Reviews: To stay in alignment with the rest of the organization, the CIO should conduct quarterly reviews and planning sessions with the executive team. They should indicate any instances where KPIs were not met, but more importantly, confirm that IT is still headed in a direction that aligns with the rest of the organization.
- Defining Success: By developing tangible goals and Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), IT will have a clear expectation of what the business needs from technology and will have transparency and accountability within the organization.
While an IT strategy is the first step in creating a strong foundation for your IT department, it alone will not facilitate success. The IT strategy needs to be communicated properly to the rest of the IT team as well as the rest of the organization. An effective CIO will outline and abide by an 18 to 24-month IT roadmap that clearly communicates the time, expense, and effort required to propel your organization toward its goals.
The design principle is a role that is filled primarily by one or more Solutions Architects. These architects have various skillsets and are experts in various technologies. The focus of this principle is to contribute to and understand your organization’s IT strategy and to develop actionable solutions for the implementation team to execute. This piece of the Framework for Successful IT is vital as a well-designed IT environment enables solutions to fluidly connect, integrate, and speak to one another for an ideal IT experience.
“Aldridge is an extremely capable and highly professional IT company. Proactive strategies and excellent problem-solving abilities are just two of the many compliments our company can give Aldridge and the always helpful staff.” — Michael P., Manufacturing Representative
Many companies, especially small to medium-sized businesses, under-invest in this crucial component of the Framework for Successful IT due to the highly technical and specialized employees that are needed to do this properly. People in the design role should have both technical expertise and business acumen so that they understand what needs to be accomplished and determine the best-fit solutions for your business without over-engineering and overspending. These solutions will include the applications that need to be implemented, the infrastructure needed to support the applications, the cloud technology that will be utilized, the disaster recovery & business continuity plan, etc. This role must perform the following functions:
- Vetting and Selection: IT should determine the best tools, infrastructure, and solutions for resolving business issues and meeting the organization’s unique requirements. Such changes should be outlined in the IT roadmap established by the CIO.
- Documentation: The level of documentation necessary to effectively support IT is often misjudged and undervalued. IT should have a clear view of the organization’s network, processes, credentials, onboarding and offboarding process, integrated applications, and more. These records can expand to hundreds of pages, and despite their in-depth detail, should serve as a clear guide to navigate the company’s IT environment and its unique discrepancies.
- System Capacity Planning and Lifecycle Management: Keeping IT in-line with the business’s growth and needs is crucial to maintaining an environment capable of supporting the organization’s initiatives. The design team should have a firm understanding of what needs to be replaced (and when) so they can provide up-to-date software, hardware, solutions, and an overall stable IT environment on which the business can depend.
- Research and Development (R&D): Technology is constantly changing, and new solutions are being offered at an exponential rate. The IT design team should be continuously researching, suggesting, and developing new solutions to better enable the business. These suggestions should be communicated to the CIO in a clear and timely manner so that they can be integrated within the IT roadmap.
The IT Design principle of the Framework for Successful IT requires a hybrid of business and technical acumen. The IT design team must have an in-depth understanding of your organization’s needs, goals, and challenges, and align this understanding with their technical expertise to design a best-fit IT solution for your business. Most solutions are not ready for use right out of the box and need to be vetted to understand the customizations needed to fit the specific organization’s requirements. Understanding and planning for these customizations will save an organization money and establish a plan for a successful implementation.
After the strategy is set and the applications/systems are selected, it is up to the implementation team to execute on the projects outlined within the IT roadmap. These implementations are handled by Subject Matter Experts (SME) such as Cisco Engineers, Windows Engineers, VMware Engineers, etc. This principle of the Framework for Successful IT focuses on execution, which is why it’s important to have SMEs who know what they’re doing and understand how their efforts will impact your business. The SMEs work as a part of the project team to help implement an entire infrastructure (both physical and cloud) for your organization, which means various skillsets and areas of expertise are needed. Your business wants an implementation team that can put the plan into action by managing project deployments that meet their on-time and on-budget KPIs.
“We have been partnering with Aldridge to maintain and service our computer equipment for over 3 years. We benefit from their IT expertise regularly and have been very pleased with Aldridge’s help in times of regular update and maintenance and also in situations when our need for assistance is urgent!” – Sara P., Manufacturing
What good is a plan if it doesn’t get implemented? Adhering to this principle allows for an on-time, on-budget implementation of IT projects, which is crucial to supporting the success of the business. Because IT operations are complex, implementation requires various skillsets and IT expertise across a wide range of hardware and software packages. Key elements of effective implementation include:
- Project Management: Coordinating the resources to execute the initiatives outlined in the IT roadmap is not as easy as it seems. Those responsible for putting the plan into action must have the knowledge and expertise to predict what may go wrong and plan ahead so they can avoid causing a headache for the business and its staff.
- Continuous Improvement: A stagnant IT solution is not an effective one, which means a constant reevaluation of the methods and processes utilized by an organization’s IT department is a necessary element for increasing efficiency and cost-savings for the business.
- Automation: Any time a business removes the human element from technology, it will likely increase efficiency and reliability. IT should determine the role automation will play in the business to reduce the time spent on low-value tasks such as deploying a new application or update.
- Training and Adoption: Once a new solution is implemented, IT is responsible for fully documenting the support process and providing training to the necessary individuals so they can fix the technology tools if and when they break.
Strategy and design guide the vision for the implementation team to execute in an efficient and timely manner. If you’re trying to reach your business goals, the last thing you want is a long, drawn-out IT project holding you back. Each pillar of the Framework for Successful IT is interdependent and must be capable of relying on the IT team’s knowledge and expertise to help get your business where it needs to go. This means your business needs an IT implementation team that will do things right the first time.
Support is a dynamic piece of the Framework for Successful IT and requires just as much strategic planning as the other elements. Support technicians, often identified by their level of seniority, are the front-line personnel within an organization for identifying and resolving IT issues. Support exists to not only provide technical assistance and education to an organization’s staff but do so in a way that delivers prompt resolution and creates an optimal customer experience.
“Aldridge worked with us to better understand our tech, empower us to use it better, and deal with everything that we couldn’t. They have great communication and many times even notice our problems before we do.” – Eric T., Oil and Gas
No matter how great your organization’s IT planning and implementation abilities are, your employees will always require support. A well-trained and knowledgeable support team is essential for responding to your staff when they have an issue so they can return to work with minimal downtime.
Providing both reactive and proactive support is the bare minimum for any support department, but modern-day support should take a customer service-oriented approach. Most employees dread having to call IT when they have an issue. The technicians responding to their requests have historically been known for being too “techy” and talking down to the individual requesting support. Having an IT support team that your organization is happy to talk to encourages your employees to take action when they have an IT issue and quickly contact the support team to get it resolved. Then, your staff can spend less time being frustrated by IT and get back to doing what they do best.
Support should have KPIs that measure their success. That success should include client satisfaction as well as time-based response and resolution commitments. Successful IT support for an organization should include the following elements:
- Helpdesk and desk-side support: While an IT help-desk needs to be available whenever employees have an issue, not all issues can be handled remotely. Desk-side support is also necessary to provide on-site troubleshooting and resolution when needed. The Aldridge help-desk operates 24/7/365, but not all do, which is an important consideration when assessing the level of support needed by a business.
- Vendor management: As technology is becoming more cloud-centric, communicating and coordinating with vendors can require a significant time investment. It’s also confusing to know who to call and when. The support team should take all requests, regardless of the vendor, and troubleshoot the issue.
- Standard Operating Procedures (SOP): IT should create and document a standard operating procedure for supporting the business. By having these procedures in place, IT support will be consistent and more importantly efficient when issues arise.
- Network Operations Center (NOC): The NOC is a combination of senior technicians and advanced monitoring tools. The NOC serves as a proactive resource for monitoring and responding to alerts that, if left unresolved, could result in an outage/downtime for the organization. These technicians also handle cyberthreats, manage the chronic incident process if an outage does occur, and expeditiously aid in the recovery of the IT environment so employees can return to work as soon as possible.
- Tools: One of the many advantages of outsourcing IT is gaining access to the managed services provider’s large, and often expensive, IT toolset. If an organization chooses to operate IT internally, they are often blindsided by the costs associated with the IT support tools needed for efficiency and tracking. These tools often include the systems needed for ticketing, monitoring and alerts, documentation, inventory management, remote control software, patch management, password vaulting, security monitoring, and more.
- Employee Education: A business can implement the most cutting-edge technology, but it’s the organization’s people who determine the value such tools will be able to provide. Educating employees regarding IT best practices around the use, security, and management of their technology is key to getting the most out of IT.
Support is an integral part of any successful IT operation and should be responsible for more than just answering tickets. Your organization’s staff should not be burdened by unexpected IT interruptions, but when these issues occur, the support team should be able to provide swift and friendly resolution. This keeps your employees happy and productive.
SUCCESSFUL IT MEANS EVERY PIECE
The Framework for Successful IT was developed to provide a blueprint for what a fully capable IT organization looks like. Whether you choose to outsource your IT or to operate IT in-house, the necessity of these four principles does not change.
If you have a solid IT strategy but no one to design your plan, implementation will surely stumble. If you design a blueprint for an IT solution based only on technical knowledge, there is a high likelihood you will miss your business objectives.
Running and maintaining a successful IT operation requires a mix of business and technical expertise across a wide range of skills. Aldridge has all of the skills and tools required to support successful IT all in one place, with one mission: to support the success of your business now and in the future. We developed a framework based on what we have implemented, tested, iterated on, and implemented over again. Let us put the Framework for Successful IT to use for you.