IT folks are busy people. Their typical workday doesn't fit in the 9-5 slot (equipment NEVER breaks down during the workday - 3am being the preferred time.)
Busy is good, right? There's so much to do!
A wise IT leader should never, ever, confuse motion with progress.
You can be busy, but busy doing the wrong things.
So, how do you know how to work on the right things? Glad you asked.
Several years ago, Geoffrey A. Moore wrote a seminal book on technology adoption called Crossing the Chasm. This book was a tremendous resource in my days building a company providing software solutions. 2 years ago, I found out that Mr. Moore did not retire to a sunny island with the proceeds of his hit book, but instead kept working away on following the technology industry. He was the keynote speaker at the 2009 MidSize Enterprise Summit and I went to the conference specifically to hear him. While there were other excellent speakers, Geoff brought out the following slide which can (and should) change the way you think about prioritization.
There are a number of things in the world of IT that are non-mission critical, low risk to the organization if they aren't done, and do not differentiate your organization from its competitors in any meaningful way. If you and your team are spending lots of time, energy and resources in this quadrant, I've found the obvious place you can find savings. Spending resources in this quadrant does not provide any meaningful benefit to your organization. Stop doing them! Just because you've "always done them" doesn't mean you should continue.
There could be low risk, non mission critical services or products that do differentiate your company. Keep up the support. Having them is core to your organization's success.
There are a number of tasks and services that we provide in an IT department that could be considered mission critical - your organization could not function without them. Networks, web sites, email, storage, backups, application development, break/fix, etc. could all fall into this category. These services are contextual, important but not differentiating.
Very important stuff. Right?
Let's take email for example. While your organization could not function without email being available and secure, does it give you any competitive differentiation from other organizations? Nobody buys products from Company X because you can reach their employees by email. Does this make sense?
There has been strong convergence of products and services (SaaS, Cloud Computing, hosted solutions) that will allow me as a CIO to ensure that mission critical services are available to my company, but without me having to necessarily provide that service from my team. While there might not be tremendous cost savings, there are a large number of benefits in allowing my team to focus their development and support on product and services that will differentiate us. This is core to our organization's success.
Let's go back to email. Microsoft recently announced Office 365, which builds on its Live platform. With a simplified licensing model, I can ensure my users have access to some of the critical tools, on multiple devices, without the associated skills overhead, storage space etc. (Note to the Microsoft - I using this as an example - I haven't made the switch... yet).
How do I as a CIO know what fits in which category? In my case, I look at the strategic objectives of my institution. We have already gone through the exercise of defining the things that make us different and define the value of our product - which is an exceptional education experience that provides the skills, literacies and competencies necessary for success in today's world. Any thing I do which supports and enhances our ability to deliver this would be considered core.
So, while we are still busy people, I have confidence that we are busy doing the right things.
This simple diagram has changed the way I approach IT strategy, how I staff my team, and most importantly, where we spend our resources. I hope it is as successful for you.
As a final thought. If RIM had a copy of this diagram, would they still have developed the Playbook?