Gartner Symposium/ITxpo Takeaways

I attended Gartner Symposium/ITxpo 2011 in Orlando last week for the world’s biggest industry conference focused on IT leaders with over 7,500 senior IT executives (including 2,000 CIOs). Here are some of my takeaways from the Gartner sessions at the event:

(1) CEOs continue to worry about business uncertainty. The four major risk areas of (1) government direction, (2) commodity prices, (3) financial stability, and (4) popular confidence are causing continued business uncertainty. Although many business leaders are publicly stating a bullish ‘Plan A’, they are privately considering a scaled back ‘Plan B’ if some of the risks materialize.

(2) IT budgets will be flat for 2012. Similar to the last 2 years, Gartner is predicting flat (<2% growth) in IT budgets for 2012. However, flat IT budgets do not mean that IT is perceived as not delivering strategic business value. In a recent survey, 52% of CEOs see IT providing innovation or growth opportunities for the business vs. the typical cost reduction, efficiency and effectiveness benefits. Other areas of the business are seeing budget cuts, so flat or slightly growing IT budgets should be viewed positively.

(3) IT needs to focus on creating measurable financial benefits for the enterprise. Gartner states that by 2016 that 50% of CIO new project spending should be directed towards measurably improving enterprise financial conditions. This reinforces the importance of PMO leaders to help drive this shift by providing CIOs with the right project intake process to pick investments that will align with this strategic imperative.

(3) SaaS PPM tools provide more “Bang for your Buck”.  In the Project and Portfolio Management Applications MarketScope presentation, Gartner highlighted that SaaS PPM tools are driving down cost of ownership and presenting more risk-averse options for customers. One of the criteria for MarketScope evaluation was the overall PPM risks of tools, including price, complexity, start-up, and adoption. It was great to see Daptiv was given the highest MarketScope rating this year of ‘Strong Positive’.

(4) Social business software is primarily focused on marketing and customer service functions.  Although there is a lot of hype about the new ‘social enterprise’, Gartner’s recent Social Media Survey found that ‘strengthening customer relationships’, ‘enhancing brand awareness’ and ‘creating interactive customer relationships’ were the main drivers for social software in the enterprise. Although this will likely change to include project management in the future, increasing ‘employee productivity’ and ‘decrease business costs’ were not yet a hot focus area for social business software.

(5) Discussion of “Project” and “Project Portfolio” gives way to “Program”, “Product”, “Application” and “Service”.Given the broadened use of PPM tools for managing businesses beyond projects, more organizations are now taking a holistic view of their business by using PPM tools to manage end-to-end service portfolios, product delivery, application lifecycle management, and change management programs.

Help! My IT Department is Overloaded!

Most CIOs struggle with a common problem: the insatiable demand for IT work from other departments. Most strategies for dealing with this involve work request intake processes and prioritization schemes. Some may take the extra step of allocating their resources, usually against projects. But if you simply look at the problem statement, the path to a solution becomes more obvious. To balance the load we must match the incoming demand for work against the supply of resources to perform it.

In many IT departments this work comes into the organization in an ungoverned fashion. Minimally, support work may come in through a help desk system, but sometimes not. When not flowing through a defined process, projects may come in via email, hallway conversations, or direct requests to technical staff. This subjects all staff to the dreaded “death by a thousand paper cuts” as work comes from all directions to just about anyone in IT.

There are several keys to successfully balancing IT’s often overwhelming workload:

1. Consider all of IT’s work and staff, not just projects and programmers. As everyone in IT may get involved in the various types of work IT does, narrowing in on just one aspect will not solve the problem.

2. Govern the workload by scale. Tickets are governed by help desk queues, enhancements by targeted percentage policies, and projects by a formal intake funnel. Each of these groupings is governed in a different fashion, each ideally comes through its own intake process, and therefore each needs to have resource allocations planned differently.

3. Plan capacity early. Like any other department that produces tangible product – in our case various technologies – a little planning is in order. Capacity planning is the science and art of aligning all incoming requests with the proper work teams and deciding which ones hit the floor when to make the most efficient use of available capacity. Just like in manufacturing, capacity planning must be done long before efforts like projects are launched. Done properly, this reduces the scramble for resources and minimizes conflicting priorities. It also allows more work to complete without interruption, reducing inefficiencies caused by churn.

4. Track all time. To truly understand the workload in IT, everyone from the CIO on down must log their time. It is simply not possible to segregate the work by one specific IT area or one type of work – no matter how the department is organized. At a minimum, they must log time to the different scales and types of work and to individual projects. Without this critical feedback, even the best planning process is just guesswork.

Above all, IT’s job is to provide information technology that supports and enables the achievement of business strategies and goals. Ensuring that all work is properly governed and planned helps IT stay in alignment and deliver to those goals efficiently and effectively.