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How the VP of IT Ops can better drive business relevance


 Vice President of Operations Challenges


Recently, after hearing from my peers about what they think IT Vice Presidents of Operations care about, I decided to put my undergraduate anthropology degree to good use. For those of you that don’t know, anthropology is the study of cultures and involves doing field work and often asking hard and sometimes seemingly stupid questions. In the world of IT, anthropologists would try to discover what are the common cultural traits of the IT Operations leader, these overseers of the network, servers, and help desk. What is their unique world view? And they would seek the answer to the classic of all cultural anthropology questions, “what tools and technology do they use to solve problems?” 


24-7-pic.jpgClearly here, I was not trying to find the “Ark of the Covenant.” I was trying to get a better understanding of these guardians of IT infrastructure. So I spent considerable time talking to the VP of IT Ops and finding out what makes them tick and how they operate on a daily basis.  The Vice Presidents of Ops that I spoke with proved to be significant people managers. In fact, they are effectively the chief of one of the largest “tribes” within the typical IT “nation.” This means they have increasing pressure to reduce cost for IT as a whole. At the same time, their function involves a lot more than ensuring that their infrastructure is up and running 24/7.



Managers of the largest tribe within IT

In contrast to some expectations, the VP of Ops are not the Indiana Jones of the operational console posted to swing into action the minute a problem crosses the threshold. Consoles are, in fact, relegated to lower members of their tribe.


I have found that the VPs of Operations function more like mini CIOs or IT Business Chief Operations Officers. No longer is the job about looking after just the back office. Increasingly, they are about delivering services and looking after the supply chain and operations procedures. They also are about determining how to be more efficient in their use of people and capital. At the same time, they are increasingly influence the business-- all the way to the customer and service design. For example, many spend a lot of time looking at the data coming out of service management tools. When asked about this, I was told that for compliance reasons everything needs to be recorded within the book of Service Management. “Even when the operations team determines there is a capacity issue, it gets recorded in Service Manager.” They varied in terms of having an infrastructure or service perspective, but all had their fingers in projects related to infrastructure.


7 concrete measures VPs of Ops can use to demonstrate their effectiveness

Given their orientation above, there are concrete measures that today’s VP of Operations need to use in order to demonstrate their value to the business. These include the following:


1)    % of SLAs met. Ideally this should be focused on SLAs for Services, but for VPs of Operations that are not there yet, having SLAs, OLAs, or underpinning contracts for infrastructure measured is an absolute must.


2)    % change in business service cost is essential to demonstrating continuous improvement and cost reduction. For many organizations, there is a yearly goal of a 5% reduction for each infrastructure service. One banking CIO that I know said that over time he wants to drive differentiated business services on top of increasingly commoditized infrastructure. This means cost reduction must be demonstrated.


3)    % of unauthorized implemented changes. VPs of Operations need to show that they can truly “batten down the hatches.” Not doing so allows the enemy tribes into your territory—i.e. hackers, rouge IT, or even rogue employees. Several years ago, I mentioned in a conference the number of changes taking place per week for one of my banking customers. One of the attendees from another bank challenged me on the number. But when I asked a few questions, he said, “Oh, you mean all the changes we do not document or control. Yes, that number is that big.” This simply cannot be tolerated for VP of Operations who wants to demonstrate they are in control of their process.


4)    % first call resolution. This is kind of obvious. It saves money to fix things as early as possible. Clearly, those of you who are smart will say, “If I invest in problem management then my incidents count will go down, but my first call resolution will then go down too.” Clearly, the right answer here is really an index of the percent of  first call resolution and incident volume.


5)    Mean Time to Repair (MTTR). VP’s of Operations are investing significant dollars and time in converged infrastructure, hybrid IT, and automation software. Taken together these investments mean there is less diversity to the IT environment, more expertise within the IT team, and less time to repair and fix things when they break.


6)    Mean Time Between Failure (MTBF). VP’s of Operations are investing in an automation strategy should, also, allow them to deploy more quickly and drive better consistency in patches and changes across less diverse infrastructure. This means that things will break less often and as indicated above; and when they break, they take less time to repair.


7)    The number of security related incidents. VPs of Operations may not be directly responsible for security. However, they control many of the key levers that determine whether a security incident happens. These include the change process, the quality of process, and the list goes on.


Related links:

Feature:  Peak performance demands precision control

Solution page: VP of Operations Editions

Solution page:  IT performance management

(Image courtesy of Rotten Tomatoes and Lucas Films.)

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About the Author


Mr. Suer is a senior manager for IT Performance Management. Prior to this role, Mr. Suer headed IT Performance Management Analytics Product Management including IT Financial Management and Executive Scorecard.

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