The Virtuous CIO  

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January 23, 2010 — The Cultural Aspects of Best Practices

Implementing best practices usually involves cultural change within the IT organization, and perhaps in the enterprise as well. Getting there involves serious challenges as well as tests the mettle of your leadership. Most importantly there is a high degree of risk associated with adopting best practices. Keeping all these things in mind, you don't want to go down this road merely to score political points or to put other parties on the defensive.

As we saw in the previous essay, best practices are not an end unto themselves. Rather best practices are a tool used to enhance the performance of a business, or more specifically the IT organization. In other words this is not the first question you should be asking, if you have just embarked on a CIO’s position in a new company. You will first of all be asking the question, "What is broken?" When you consider the vast volumes of information which have been written about IT management over the past generation, it is astonishing the number of businesses with badly broken IT shops. Of course, as the newly minted CIO, you view this as an opportunity.

Okay, now that we have agreed best practices are a means to an end, what are some of the things that we should adopt when confronting a subpar organization? Keep in mind that you cannot function strategically if the tactical functions are not where they should be. A useful way to find out how the organization is viewed is to visit the other CXOs and ask them their opinion of IT. Most will be happy to relate every conceivable sin committed by the denizens of the tech world. Your survey of the business should be broad and shallow. You are trying to discover that consensus opinion on what's wrong with your shop.

Most of the time you will find enough problems to avoid serious boredom for the next six months. Unfortunately you will not have six months to implement any sort of practices in the shop. You can buy yourself some time by making quick dramatic changes and marketing IT to the rest of the business. It is best to look in three broad areas for change. Look at software development, the service desk and data center operations. There will be serious problems in at least one and probably all three.