Monday, July 09, 2012

IT productivity improvement

Earlier in the month I was invited to a session by a senior well-known IT Research Associate who advises many global CIOs on tactical and strategic agenda. He is a good story teller and had the audience of 20 odd CIOs spellbound with his anecdotes, examples and occasional taunts which most took sportingly or sheepishly depending on how you interpret the expressions on their faces. His consistent grouse was that while CIOs have done a lot for enterprise productivity, they have neglected IT productivity improvements.

Tracing through history he illustrated the role IT has played in enterprise process reengineering and productivity improvements driven by automation, new tools and technologies, mobile enabling the enterprise, and providing time sensitive information in the hands of the decision makers. However during this era the IT team has not demonstrated commensurate improvements; solutions still take as long if not longer than what they did many decades back. He postulated despite progress across the industry, the in-house IT team has lagged behind by a big margin with no major visible improvements.

He went on to compare internal IT teams with the work being done at start-up and tech innovation companies globally. Across comparison parameters on innovation, time, productivity, quality, or sheer volume of work done, IT departments lag behind. He blamed this on mind set, archaic beliefs focused on process compliance to whatever framework the IT team had adopted. ITIL, COBIT, PMI, CMMi were boon in the past; they are the bane now. Agile development methodologies find rare favour with IT.

He did not offer any empirical data or prescription, but no one from the audience disagreed. They sat there silently reflecting on their own realities. Post the hour, I sat ruminating over the discourse trying to figure out if this was indeed universal truth; if it was so evident, how is it that no one has thus far talked about it because everyone loves beating up IT and if it was so evident a simplistic comparison, it would have been well searched and figuring in the top 5 priorities of the CIO and every vendor !

How do we measure IT productivity ? Lines of code per day ? That no longer seems relevant with the shift from procedural to new way of creating programs. How about number of people to support per 100 compute or network assets, or servers; even that is now irrelevant with virtualization and clouds taking over. Maybe number of locations, or solutions in the IT portfolio, time to respond or time to repair; most of these activities are anyway outsourced with SLAs.

The baseline has been shifting and IT has adapted well to the change. In linear motion it is easy to measure a shift; in the real world it is a little difficult to quantify. So what efficiency parameters should the CIO use to demonstrate improvements if at all ? The CIO dashboard and reports have evolved from technology availability to business value. Productivity gain is not specific any more but interconnected and interdependent. People do not measure activity but outcomes.

IT influenced results are business agility, competitive differentiators, low cost of operation (Business and IT), growing revenue faster than market. If the CIO is indeed driving these and well accepted and recognized by the enterprise, does it really matter if the lines of code generated by the IT team is lower than the industry benchmark ? 


  1. Outsourcing is turning internal IT teams as co-ordinators or follow up specialists. Their technical skills are diminishing, as we adopt more and more so called 'best of the breed' technologies for small requirements we are just chasing big IT companies to somehow implement these technologies and make them function. In the whole process internal IT teams are forgetting innovation, losing skills, and becoming follow-up specialists.

  2. I would agree. If an organization is growing the top line, the assumption by senior management is that they are doing things right. This may be far from truth. Similarly, I have seen IT organizations running out -dated practices and processes which result in a poor technology environment for the company.