How do you know if your IT shop is successful; and if you answer "yes," how do you know if you are right?

Perhaps your production systems run well and your organisation delivers on project commitments. While this is a good start, what if it takes an average of 70 hours per person, per week to achieve these results? What if business partners like the results but don't like working with your organisation?

The best IT shops define a clear set of results that must be achieved in order for the organisation to be successful and then they compare their performance against these goals. And we are talking about results that are much broader than the achievement of operational and delivery goals. They also include being an organisation that is easy to work with, that carefully manages expenses, is a technology leader and is a great place to work.

At a minimum, the IT organisation must have a tangible record of achievement that impacts the bottom line. Production systems must be available and perform well while the organisation delivers efficient and scalable solutions to help the business achieve its objectives.

The IT organisation should be easy to work with - as viewed by both the business and other IT groups. When responding to requests, IT professionals should be responsive, think creatively and have a positive, "can do" attitude rather than listing all the reasons why something can't be done and shying away from taking intelligent risks. People should act in a way that encourages others to want to work with them as this will increase the number of interactions and lead to better results. Finally, the organisation should be business-oriented with a focus on solving business problems using a combination of technology and process improvements - a goal that can be enhanced by utilising business architects to align the business and technology strategies.

The organisation should spend money like it is their own. This not only applies to new expenses (travel, for example) but also includes a focus on identifying and executing strategic initiatives that reduce infrastructure costs (Linux or cloud computing) as well as tactical initiatives that address other recurring expenses (server consolidation).

Successful organisations are well versed in prudent leading-edge technologies and help the business determine how to exploit these technologies to improve the customer experience and/or reduce costs. Many companies move slowly to embrace emerging technologies providing early adopters with an advantage over their competitors while also creating an environment that engages their workforce.

The IT organisation should be a great place to work. People want a sense of accomplishment so the workloads need to be challenging but also attainable. Employee development plans should be created and should include training and mentoring. Opportunities need to exist for high achievers to advance professionally. The managers of the organisation need to recognise accomplishments, ensure all team members understand how their work fits into the bigger picture and make decisions that are understood and respected. Finally, work is just part of life and so, while employees need to have a strong commitment to getting the work done, they should also have time for their families, friends and hobbies.

Some results - such as a tangible record of achievement and expense management - are easy to measure with metrics but other results are far more subjective. Conducting surveys with business partners or the IT group can help determine whether these intangible goals are being met.

In short, it is important to have:

  • "Employees who are clear on what it means to be successful".
  • Managers who react quickly to inconsistent behaviours".
  • A CIO who sets a good example.

Of the three, it is the CIO who can have the largest impact. The technology group takes their cues from the CIO. If he or she doesn't care about production stability, project delays, being easy to work with, spending money prudently, exploiting technology or creating a work/life balance for employees, the organisation is likely to fall short. But, if the CIO "walks the walk" by embracing the tenets of success, the organisation will notice and act accordingly.