Getting Operations and IT to Mix

The Operations function and the IT function of most organizations are like oil and water. Due to the traditional roles these areas play, they often run into difficulty when combined on an improvement project. It is critical that these functions work well together in order for you to achieve any success in your organization. Here are a couple of the common issues which organizations face when the Operations and the IT functions cooperate in an effort toward continuous improvement.

The first area of concern in your organization is the conflicting agendas and objectives of each function. In most cases business operations must move very quickly. They must change business models, product / service offers and delivery of value-added activities. Your operations people must continually improve customer care and profitability / cost controls. The Operations department is generally aligned to the COO of your organization. This group usually sees IT as a ‘vendor’ as opposed to a ‘partner.’ They view IT as a ‘road-block’ to innovation and speedy changes to business processes.

On the other hand, IT is often charged with managing access to your data and systems and providing the security of your information. This is often a frustrating operation. For the most part, IT is generally aligned to the CFO in your organization. They often function in the role of monitor and reporter. Most often they must comply with traditional accounting approaches. IT usually sees Operations as ‘another of your customers’ that they must please within your bigger objectives and plans.

In the end, this first area of concern can be narrowed down to a lack of common business objectives. In an improvement effort, operation departments in your organization are usually tightly focused on delivery of value to the customers and reaching the bottom-line KPIs such as cost and profitability. In contrast, your IT area tends to focus on SLAs, conformance to budgets and maintaining technical viability for all its customers, including those that are internal.

One way top management can get around this issue is by leading dialogs around creating shared objectives and shared accountability for specific business and IT outcomes. Each area has a part to play in any opportunity. Operations cannot develop KPIs about a certain process without IT developing an easy means of reporting this data. In many cases, combined analysis of this data can lead to further revisions of this process and increased success.

In order to truly improve, top management in your organization must come up with strategies to lead each area in the discovery of the factors that can prevent optimal interactions between the Operations and IT functions. Each area must be aware of the others role and pitfalls in this process and operate accordingly. The key is for both areas of expertise to act as partners in obtaining common goals.

Another issue that may confront your organization is the traditional miss-match of expectations and understanding of outcomes in both the Operations and IT areas. Many times, IT is faced with a continuing and universal problem: The demand for service always exceeds available resources by a factor of at least 2 to 1 in the short term. It is common that due to the amount of time it takes to develop and deploy a new IT solution designed to dove-tail with an operational need that particular need will have changed before the new system becomes available.

On the other hand, your Operations department too often takes an ‘over-the-wall’ approach to working with your internal IT organizations. This is not unlike the methods used with vendors for materials and services used by the organization to deliver its goods and services. Your Operations department often expects the IT organization to ‘magically understand every nuance of its needs’ and deliver services to support them. The challenge is that because IT is not truly a ‘vendor’, your IT is not organized in the same manner most of your vendors are with all the marketing, sales, planning, engineering, accounting, HR and other support functions. To be frank, this is a view you should not have.

The root cause is that this miss-matched manner of thinking results in very low or non-existent level of shared accountability in the outcomes your IT function provides to your operations function. You often have a lack of shared accountability from your IT and Operations functions for the overall outcomes. Due to Operations and IT often functioning as their own discrete entities, there is little or no incentive to work harder at the interoperability of your organization.

You may use Operational Excellence methods and techniques such as Lean Six Sigma, Value Stream Mapping, AGILE and world-class facilitation skills to build a bridge to increased co-operability between these functions. As an example, a unified vision of the ‘custody of data’ supported by your IT area in conjunction with the value stream mapping provided by your operations area can be very successful. A top notch leader uses a simple model for creating the alignment in thinking, language and communication shared by operations and IT.

Recognizing and addressing the basic issues of differing agendas and the miss-matched expectations inherently faced by your Operations and IT functions can help these two vital functions to mix. Working to rectify these two issues fosters a sense of co-operability between them and is a great place to start your organization’s road to success.

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