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2 September 2008

What's in your basket?

By Andrew Clifford

No IT objective, such as cost reduction, can be managed in isolation. You need to adopt methods that let you manage a basket of competing objectives.

When I talk to people about reducing IT cost, I generally find that they do not actually want to reduce overall IT spend. What they want is to reduce some IT costs and redirect the money elsewhere, typically into new projects. Even if they do want to reduce overall spend, they have to preserve things such as service levels and regulatory compliance. Organisations do not want cost reduction in isolation, they want cost reduction in combination with other objectives.

I suspect you would find the same whatever specialist angle you looked at IT from. We do not want one objective in isolation. We want to balance multiple objectives, such as:

  • Speed of change
  • Service delivery
  • Cost containment
  • Risk management
  • Compliance
  • Fitness to continue to meet objectives in the future

Although we all know this, our management approaches only consider one objective at a time.

For example, many organisations want to improve the speed of change. To do this, they stop all investment on old systems, and divert the money into new systems. This works in the short term, but is counter-productive in the long term. Most IT change builds on what is already there. The difficulty and cost of change is proportional to the complexity of existing systems, which gets worse without timely maintenance. By pursuing one objective in isolation (speed of change) we undermine another (future fitness) which, eventually, impacts on speed of change.

This lack of balance is found in all parts of IT management. Agile development helps responsiveness to change but does not help control. We implement methods that improve control, reduce risk or improve compliance, but these add bureaucracy and costs to change. We reduce costs by cutting investment on old systems, but this undermines future fitness. We implement enterprise architectures to prepare IT for the future, but these can be out of step with the realities of today's business pressures. To be more responsive, we adopt agile methods. And so it goes on. We are stuck in an endless battle of competing management approaches.

To be more effective, you need an umbrella method to resolve these competing priorities at a high level. You need to set priorities for management, specific requirements that must be met (such as compliance), and rules for special cases. You need to know where each management approach should be applied, and where it should be avoided because it would undermine other objectives.

Although it is only a simple method, I think this is where system quality management logically fits. When I talk to people about system quality management, I often start with cost reduction, or risk management, or compliance. But the real value of the method is that it lets you look across multiple objectives and manage them all together in a balanced way. It may not be the last word in joined-up IT management, but I am sure it is a very good first step.

Next: Managing mergers and reorganisations

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