7 Steps to Evolve Your IT Organization from Being Reactive to Proactive

Written by Adis Tucakovic, Senior Microsoft Premier Field Engineer

Proactive Service Management ChecklistMost IT organizations realize that yesterday’s potential issues are today’s actual problems; in turn, management and operations teams are constantly consumed fighting problems today because they did not avert yesterday’s issues and are consumed with the low-value work of reactively addressing problems instead of proactively addressing issues.  A reactive organization needs to look at what would have enabled it and its staff to identify these potential issues in the first place.

An analogy I like to use is a car.  For example, it’s unlikely a car will fail without some prior warning.  If your brakes need replacement you’ll hear that awful squeaking in advance. If your oil is low then your oil-light indicator light will come on, etc. You wouldn’t really want to drive a car without any instrumentation, would you? Yet a lot of organizations do this with their systems and fail to avert incidents that can cause serious damage to the business.

How do you quantify the ROI of proactive IT service management?

One aspect of effective IT Service Management is to analyze what past problems would have cost had these been dealt with before these occurred.  Most likely, the analysis will show that addressing issues proactively is considerably cheaper than dealing with these reactively, even taking into account that not all potential risks will become actual issues. So how do you identify potential IT issues?  There is a myriad of different ways, such as leveraging monitoring applications and tools, and investing in proactive services such as risk assessments, support reviews and audits. A multipronged approach tends to yield best results, but it takes time and investment.

A lot of IT organizations have challenges quantifying the benefits of such investments. How do you measure the value of something that did not occur if you’re not even sure if it should have occurred in the first place? As well, many IT organizations do a very poor job of accurately tracking Service Level attainment and do not do a good job of measuring uptime accurately. Nor do most do a good job of  attaching any financial value to the downtime of IT systems. Without historical data it’s hard to quantify the benefits and determine the true ROI of Proactive Service Management.

Effectively monitoring IT systems is essential to any proactive organization as it enables you to build processes that allow you to measure, retain and report on the right data, which in turn helps you understand and realize the value of investments made in proactive services.

If it takes a call to the help desk to make you aware of most issues, odds are you are not doing a good job of monitoring

The following diagram shows what a typical incident lifecycle looks like. Typical Incident Lifecycle

Note that monitoring comes into play before the incident occurs. In well instrumented applications and systems there are often signs well in advance of pending issues. However, even with the best instrumentation and monitoring, incidents will occur, and monitoring has a role to play here as well, in particular with Detection. So, how do you know something has happened?  If it takes an end user to call the help desk to make you aware of most issues, odds are you are not doing a good job of monitoring

Reducing the  time it takes to detect issues will lead to quicker diagnosis and faster recovery, but again if you don’t know how much time you spend on incidents, how will you measure progress?

Proactive services such as workshops and risk assessments play a big role in diagnosis and repair stages by equipping your staff with the knowledge to determine the cause and repair the issue. Investing in skills of your IT staff has very tangible but sometimes hard to quantify benefits.

So how can your organization do a better job of service management?

You should create a Continuous Service Improvement Program that is SMART  (i.e. Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time-bound) and focus on the following 7 steps:

  1. Measure performance based on the end-to-end experience that includes the end-user and not just components you or your team are responsible for.
  2. Foster a corporate culture and business processes oriented around client satisfaction, measure the client satisfaction and promote processes to drive for better results.
  3. Proactively monitor and fulfill business requirements instead of waiting for breakages or outages to occur by investing in services and systems that allow your organization to deliver value to your business.
  4. Support all critical stakeholders’ visibility of current and accurate data by defining what data is useful and how it can be produced in accurate, timely and automated fashion. 
  5. Increase collaboration among internal stakeholders around common goals and objectives
  6. Automate and synchronize as many field service processes as possible
  7. Eliminate paper- and spreadsheet-based processes and consider LOB, web, e-mail, and mobile technology solutions.

This approach will help evolve your IT organization from being viewed as a reactive cost-center to a proactive driver of your core business’  success.  A win-win for both your business and your business’ IT organization.