Good for Business, Good for IT

Truth, accountability, and a dose of its own good medicine will help IT get fit for many challenges ahead.

Treat IT like a business: The phrase has become a cliche, as easy to tune out as all the other well-intentioned commandments about eating vegetables and sitting up straight. Deep in the whirl of supporting exponential increases in users, data and complex applications, tech pros can be forgiven for nodding politely and going back to what seems urgent. Just pass the cola and chocolate bars and let's get going.

But the time has come to pay attention. As Michael Voelker discusses in "Business Makes the Rules," advances in business rules and process management have IT on the threshold of putting control of the brains inside applications in the hands of users. Calls for "actionable" intelligence mean that IT has to stand behind the data it provides to the front lines. And not just the data itself but what people do with it: IT is crucial to regulatory compliance and keeping the organization alert to fraud or other criminal activities.

In other words, there's too much at stake for IT to pay lip service to how the function might avoid blundering into a catastrophic failure. The remedy is "IT governance," or more plainly the application of data intelligence, performance management and best practices to IT management. That's right: dashboards, single views of the truth, process intelligence and frameworks — all the stuff that the IT community has been pushing to deliver to the business side. If it is to continue serving business needs, IT must take its own medicine and internalize the elixir of shared information, enterprise planning and standard, reusable processes.

Good businesses are able to look daunting, complex challenges in the eye and apply analytic skills and forecasting to determine how to overcome them without breaking the bank. IT professionals know the secret: improve the information flow, and you reduce overhead and free up collaborative innovation. Why not apply that wisdom to IT itself? Fortunately, as our cover story describes, leading product and portfolio management (PPM) tools now supply features that help organizations move beyond the limits of desktop reporting and project management tools and attain the benefits of enterprise collaboration.

PPM tools could become the focal point for information integration and analysis that enables IT do what successful businesses do: Let the data speak. The timing is good. Important new data sources will tell IT a great deal about whether project goals are being met. Web services will unveil sophisticated, information-rich applications that could push back to IT behavioral data and patterns that managers could evaluate against project metrics. Thus, even as it revamps development and testing (see "A Holistic Prescription for SOA Management," by Mark Betz), IT must ensure that it can draw good data from Web services.

Steering committees are an increasingly popular way to bring IT and business stakeholders together so they can map out funding and document goals for IT projects. While its customers soak in the sun, Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines' IT managers use PPM to keep close tabs on IT projects and keep the organization's Business Opportunity Council apprised. Projects that don't make it through a rigorous review process are cut. Computer Associates' Clarity PPM tools give Richard Shapiro, Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines' manager of IT program administration, the information he needs to make tough decisions and not waste resources.

The more application sophistication and data intelligence IT delivers to business units and customers, the more IT needs those very things to run itself, lest rising costs and chaos spin the IT function out of control. Listen up: It's time to run IT like a business.

David Stodder is the editorial director and editor in chief of Intelligent Enterprise. Write to him at [email protected].