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Applying IT Governance to achieve Process Alignment

September 10, 2008


Aligning IT processes with business processes is key to improving efficiencies for IT and reducing costs for the business. But first, the enterprise needs to select, adopt, and implement a governance framework against which processes can be aligned. This research note:
» Outlines the benefits of process alignment.
» Compares and contrasts four important governance frameworks. » Provides a basic structure for adopting a framework.
Aligning business and IT processes begins with the selection of a governance framework. However, the enterprise must be firmly committed to the project and aware of its implications.

Technology Point

Aligning IT processes and control objectives with business processes is key to improving efficiencies and reducing costs. But first, the enterprise needs to adopt and implement a governance framework against which processes can be aligned. By doing so, the enterprise can make a profound impact on its bottom line by:
» Lowering operational costs due to standardized processes and services. » Lowering the costs required to start new services.
» Reducing operational and compliance costs due to process repeatability. » Improving cycle time for introducing changes.
» Reducing business risk.
» Better utilizing capital in IT investments.
More specific benefits of process alignment via framework adoption include: » Improved quality of service provision.
» Cost-justifiable service quality.
» Integrated, centralized processes.
» Clearly-defined roles and responsibilities in service provision. » Demonstrable performance indicators.

What It Is & How It Works

I. IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL)
Since its birth in the late 1980s, ITIL has become the de facto world standard for IT service management. In the past, organizations have struggled with its implementation, but recent developments are addressing the challenges.
Managed by the Information Technology Service Management Forum (itSMF), ITIL is a non-proprietary, publicly available list of best practices for IT service management. It offers organizations, of any size, a framework that can help their IT department develop a service orientation and strengthen alignment with business goals. ITIL is composed of seven books titled: Best Practice for Service Support, Best Practice for Service Delivery, Planning to Implement Service Management, ICT Infrastructure Management, Application Management, and Security Management, and Software Asset Management.
These seven books are centered on the basic precept that IT is a service desk whose mission is to support five main processes for the business.

II. Microsoft Operations Framework (MOF)
MOF is based on ITIL, recognizing that it reflects best practices. MOF differs from ITIL and COBIT by providing comprehensive operations guidance to help small to mid-sized enterprises (SMEs) achieve mission-critical production system reliability, availability, and manageability on the Microsoft platform. For SME organizations relying primarily on the Microsoft architecture, MOF is a cost-effective path to implementing a best-practice process framework, but SMEs with specific regulatory requirements should implement COBIT (discussed below) as an adjunct governance process. MOF describes Service Management Functions (SMFs) in 21 categories through white papers, service management guides, assessment tools, operations kits, best practices, case studies, and support tools. MOF enhances the ITIL framework, providing detailed guidance optimized for the Microsoft technology platform.

III. Control Objectives for Information and Related Technology (COBIT)
Originally published by the Information Systems Audit and Control Association (ISACA) in 1996, the COBIT framework contains four domains broken down into a total of 34 high-level IT control objectives. The entire COBIT documentation set is available online at no charge and includes an executive summary, the framework itself, control objectives, audit guidelines, management guidelines, and an implementation guide. Because COBIT provides the basic structure for IT controls that meet operational objectives, its control objectives are directly applicable to IT’s obligations to the business.

IV. Framework for ICT Technical Support (FITS)
FITS is a British model designed for schools in the U.K., and is basically a simplified version of ITIL. FITS is best suited for smaller IT environments, though it can also be used in mid-sized enterprises. The British Educational Communications and Technology Agency (BECTA), which developed and supports FITS, positions the framework as follows:
“The emphasis of FITS is on proactive tasks as well as reactive ones. It views technical support not just as a function responsible for resolving incidents, but as a service provider whose main objective is to prevent incidents from occurring in the first place. (This is) the ultimate goal of technical support…” The FITS processes listed below directly maps to ITIL definitions and processes.

Key Considerations

» Frameworks require dedication, motivation, and commitment. Although the frameworks listed above hold significant promise, many enterprises have struggled with them, mainly because step-by-step implementation roadmaps don’t exist. The predominant challenge is the fact that such frameworks describe only what to do, but not how to do it. As such, enterprises are often unclear on whether implementing frameworks actually produces tangible results.
» Knowing which framework to choose for the enterprise. Some frameworks are better than others under certain circumstances. Sometimes a combination of the two is necessary in complex IT environments. For example, many ServiceXen clients tend to pursue ITIL and COBIT concurrently, using the implementation process from one to drive the implementation of the other.
» Underestimating the cultural and operational impact of adoption. When moving to a process-focused method of delivering IT services, the enterprise introduces new ways of working. To date, many IT departments have been silos focused on managing servers, mainframes, desktops, networks, and application development, with no real integration. In order to design a process alignment program via framework adoption, the enterprise must change long-established reporting structures. Today, many internal IT service delivery organizations integrate multiple external service partners into their service infrastructure, so the extended enterprise must also be taken into account.
» Having a balanced approach between processes, people, and products. Look at all three areas together. IT cannot document new processes and be done with it. Purchasing new products and tools doesn’t automatically change the way people work. IT controls cannot be improved simply by changing the underlying technology. People, processes, and products must be modified in tandem.
» Setting unrealistic expectations. Frameworks are not a panacea for all an enterprise’s problems. Nor can major organizational and process change happen successfully in six months to a year. Framework adoption is a long-term strategy that may take three to five years to realize its full potential. Focusing on finding the points of pain and fighting one battle at a time is a more successful strategy than massive, wholesale changes.

Key Takeaways

1. Assess current IT infrastructure. Frameworks are process-heavy. In order to maximize success when implementing a framework, an infrastructure conducive to process change needs to be in place. If the enterprise has an IT strategy and governance plan in place, it is already well- positioned for framework adoption. Although each framework has its own governance structure, ready adherence to rules and regulations will make the transition to a framework much smoother.
2. Organize IT around delivering services to business units. ServiceXen believes that a traditional organizational structure often inhibits IT’s ability to demonstrate business value. More mid-sized organizations are replacing the silo approach to IT with a service/process-based structure. Instead of dividing IT workers into technology groups, they are allocating cross-disciplinary teams to service the unique needs of each business unit.
3. Educate yourself on framework terms and concepts. Read related ServiceXen research notes, take classes, and leverage freely-available case studies and other resources on the Web. The scope of a framework implementation effort will determine how much education is required. Remember, frameworks are really just lists of leading practices, organized according to no particular priority. IT decision-makers need to decide what processes they want to focus on and how to put the respective frameworks to use.
4. Obtain buy-in. Executive management is often the driving group behind governance frameworks, usually as a result of compliance needs and other business-driven issues. However, senior management buy-in can further be secured by presenting a case that focuses on the business value that can be achieved through framework adoption. Cost savings achieved through process efficiencies, competitive advantages via business and IT strategy alignment, and higher IT service levels all offer significant value to the enterprise.
– ITIL catalogs leading practices for IT service management, but it lacks much-needed prescriptive guidance for implementation. Most IT organizations find that mapping existing processes and designing new ones requires ITIL consultants to help fill in the gaps between the theoretical and the tactical.
– MOF is particularly suitable for SMEs because it reduces the workload of implementing IT operational management as well as outside consulting costs.
– COBIT emphasizes general controls for IT aimed at providing business process owners a governance model. COBIT – as a part of Sarbanes-Oxley compliance efforts – allows an enterprise to provide evidence to auditors that the organization is executing on processes. However, COBIT’s model is too narrow for service management.
– FITS is also suited for SMEs. BECTA has adapted the FITS processes to form a manageable and relevant set of procedures that are less cumbersome than a full-blown ITIL implementation.
» Securing senior management buy-in. There is a direct correlation between the project’s chance of success and the level of buy-in up the chain of command. The higher up the chain, the better the chance of securing the authority to introduce change, gaining consensus among heterogeneous departments, and obtaining the necessary resources to implement the project.
For example, while a help desk manager may be the most vocal advocate of an ITIL implementation, this person shouldn’t be the project manager or sponsor of the implementation, as help desk managers lack the authority to make the necessary process and organizational changes required for a successful implementation.

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