An organizational hierarchy of IT needs

I’d like to propose an organizational hierarchy of IT needs, modeled after Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.

IT organizations often want to partner with their customers: the CIO wants to talk with the CFO about how to meet their long-term needs, for example. But these partnerships can’t happen if there isn’t trust in IT. To those ends, here’s my proposed hierarchy of IT needs:

  1. Reliable production environment
  2. Reliable IT operations
  3. Reliable IT plans
  4. Reliable IT advice

The idea is that if you aren’t delivering on one of these, you can’t engage on the ones below it. For example, if production is down then no one wants to talk about service levels, future projects, or what IT thinks should be done about the ERP tool.

1. Reliable production environment

“Production down” is usually the top-priority problem in an IT organization.

I’ve heard Google uses/used the terms “yellow alert” and “red alert,” which mean “imminent production issue” or “active production issue” respectively. If someone says one of these things, they’re instantly excused from all meetings. Production has priority.

If IT cannot deliver a reliable production environment, no one is going to want to talk with IT about anything else. People can’t get their jobs done.

The discipline of IT service management, especially Service Operations, is particularly helpful here.

2. Reliable IT operations

Sometimes production servers are (mostly) up but IT’s operational processes aren’t consistent.

For example, users may may submit a ticket and be told, “you’ll hear back from us soon.” The Service Desk may want to give the user a specific date, but they can’t: the date would be a guess, because IT can’t guarantee it will deliver consistently.

If IT can’t deliver a new printer or a standard report in a timely manner, no one is going to trust IT to deliver on new work.

Again, IT service management helps here, particularly the processes of incident management, service request management, access management, change management, and service level management.

3. Reliable IT plans

Sometimes production servers are up and IT can deliver on operational requests, but it isn’t consistently delivering on new work. Inconsistent delivery could take the form of late projects, projects running over budget, or an inability to commit to when future future projects will start.

The disciplines of project, program, and portfolio management help here. They help IT be able to plan and deliver on projects. With effective IT planning, if IT says something will take $1 million and six months, you can take that commitment to the bank and expect the project to be completed.

However, even with effective project management, IT will not be able to plan reliably without IT governance that ensures appropriate IT resource allocation. For example, new IT services usually require staff. If IT’s starting 10 new projects, will it be given the staff necessary to run those services? If not, IT will have fewer people and resources available for the next project.

4. Reliable IT advice

Finally, production is stable, IT can deliver on its operational/short-term promises, and IT can plan effectively for the future.

This is where most CIOs and IT leaders want to be. They want to be included in conversations about the future of the ERP. Being included early in the process means being able to shape 3-, 5-, or even 10-year planning.

Frankly, very few IT organizations are operating at this level. Effective IT planning is extremely difficult. That said, I’d imagine the challenges are mainly about IT providing bad advice, IT not being able to engage all its staff effectively in cooperatively-built strategy, or organizations focusing on IT solutions rather than what’s best for the institution.