If you want to keep your CIO, let them change things more quickly

Credit: Creative Commons image from US Army on Flickr

From one angle, ServiceNow looks like another of the new wave of IT tools designed to take the IT department from the barefoot cobbler's children running everything in Excel spreadsheets to the modern IT world of instrumentation and automation.

Indeed, if you're trying to make business users happy by delivering IT systems that do what they need more quickly so you don't find everyone putting cloud services on the company credit card, the integrated ServiceNow tools can help. They give an IT team ways to monitor and automate systems and off self-service support for users that will help you move away from the siloed systems that make IT in the average business so inefficient compared to the cloud services employees are turning to.

For instance, when you need to reconfigure a server to fix a problem with a database that’s slowing down a line of business application, you usually have make the changes and record the changes in different systems, and then do any time tracking in a completely different system. Because the ServiceNow system covers monitoring and change management, when you make changes to that server, they’re automatically discovered and tied to the change ticket for that server update in the change management system and recorded against your timesheets, so you don’t have do the work and then tell two or three different systems what you’ve done.

“We think of ourselves as a system of record for IT,” says ServiceNow CTO Arne Josefsberg.

That sounds so much like common sense that it’s surprising how few IT teams have anything like it. Underneath, what you’re getting is actually an app development platform that just happens to come with IT apps like server discovery and management, change management, IT cost management, portfolio management and governance, regulation and compliance tools for the CIO already built. You can also build your own apps on top of it.

At CERN, where the IT team needs to deal with not just the regular 2,400 employees but also 10,000 visiting scientists who might carry on working with the CERN systems after they’ve gone back to the 608 universities they came from, having multiple IT support systems made everything more complicated. Once they’d adopted ServiceNow for the help desk, the facilities management team used it to build an app where they could request a new desk for a visiting physicist as well as setting up their accounts and passwords and allocating them a computer.

That goes to show that everything you do in business these days depends on IT, claims Josefsberg – and often the team can’t keep up.

“You’d be hard-pressed to find an enterprise today that would survive without IT; it’s so foundational to the enterprise world. The pressures on the IT department have just blown up. The pace of business is accelerating and IT is falling behind.” 

Being able to get business teams the tools they need more quickly is crucial, but today that often takes 12 to 18 months.

“You interview the business unit, you spec out the system, you start development - and by the time the system deployed months or sometimes years later, the business has already moved on. IT is meeting yesterday’s requirements not today.” Cloud services aren’t enough to solve the problem alone.

As you’d expect, he thinks you need an integrated system like ServiceNow to get the agility you need. “If you go into an IT department today, there are so many independent systems that are silos and don't integrate so there is no way you can walk in and get a single integrated view into the heart of IT. The network guys and the security team all use their own tools and their own processes. But to deliver an IT solution these technologies need to be integrated.”

Take the phone system in the average company. The telephone on your desk might look like a phone but it’s probably using VoIP, so it’s a network device as well. “The team in the data center and the network engineer and the system engineer all need to work together.”

Josefsberg is used to working with a variety of teams; in a previous job he ran Microsoft’s global IT infrastructure and built the global data centers that businesses like Hotmail, MSN Messenger, and Office 365 run on. He was also involved in the project where Microsoft took over running Exchange and Windows Server and other IT functions for Energizer, to teach itself how IT worked in the real enterprise world. That project ended up with the internal IT department at Energizer redefining itself as a consultancy team that suggested how business teams could use IT more effectively to solve problems and speed up business processes.

That’s what every IT department should be doing, if it doesn’t want to be seen as just another cost to be cut, says Josefsberg.

“IT will not be measured on how well they run the servers. The business doesn’t care who runs the servers, or what OS they run on. CEOs care about business value. IT has to meet the needs of the business. Companies around the globe spend $3.5 trillion on IT – but how many enterprises do you think are happy with their IT department?”

IT has to be less about keeping the lights on, which is actually more interesting to talented people, he points out. “Our potential customers spend so much of their time focused on maintenance of their legacy systems that they don’t have time to add business value. If IT gets unshackled from that they can unleash their creativity to help meet the needs of the business. You get to add value and the business can appreciate what IT does.”

But if you want your CIO to do that in your business, they need to be able to make changes and they need to get the support they need to push changes through. At the moment, few CIOs stick around long enough to introduce more than one or two new systems. “We talk about how critical IT is to the enterprise but the average CIO tenure is only 18-24 months,” Josefsberg points out. “If they could enact change more quickly and be viewed as a business enabler, I bet they wouldn't move on so quickly.”

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