Its that time again to make resolutions for the new year, and with the growing interest in adopting best IT practices, many IT shops are looking in 2008 to move beyond the firefighting mode theyve struggled with in past years.
As adoption of ITIL (IT Infrastructure Library) best practices ramps up, some experts see an opportunity to employ Six Sigma techniques to improve the quality of IT service delivery.
"IT shops can practice Six Sigma for their own benefits as a quality improvement approach," said Kenneth Brant, vice president and research director for manufacturing at Gartner in Raleigh, NC. "Thats increasingly something we see in the marketplace, where IT wants to tighten their service levels or perform [better] to service level agreements and reduce errors in processes. So they adopt parts of Six Sigma as a way of improving IT operations."
Linh Ho, co-author of the IT Service Management Forums Six Sigma for IT Management, offered up Six Sigma Resolutions for IT Service Management in 2008.
Although Six Sigma was initially adopted in the 1980s for improving manufacturing processes, IT shops such as those at Sun Microsystems, GE and Motorola have embraced Six Sigma as a complement to ITIL best practices. It is a methodology aimed at eliminating defects in any type or process, whether its a product development, manufacturing or service process.
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"ITIL helps you establish consistent processes in IT shops, and Six Sigma helps improve on those and the quality thats being delivered to the business," said Ho. "Six Sigma tells you the how to do ITILs what. It can help IT be more business focused and integrate IT with the business."
With that in mind, Hos first Six Sigma resolution is to listen to the business/customers. But for IT that may be easier said than done. "IT is too often busy fighting fires and doesnt have the right resources to do the job. Six Sigma and ITIL suggest ways to do that and improve the value IT brings to the business and understand the priorities to really capture whats important to the client," she said.
While Ho emphasizes establishing better communications with line of business managers in her first resolution, Brant believes its more important for IT to get a sense of whats important to customers, and do that on a regular basis.
"Unless you go back to the customers, [rather than relying on existing data], youre going to be missing some of the value of Six Sigma. The most successful companies with the most mature practice have a sense of their customer," Brant said.
Focus on the Critical
The second resolution is to focus on what is critical to quality. "So often I see IT shops that have little understanding of whats really important to the business and they dont prioritize which problems are most critical to address first," Ho said.
"Six Sigma helps IT really understand whats more client and revenue impacting," she added.
The third resolution is to pay attention to quality improvement. "Too often operations management focuses on current infrastructure performance. If you improve the quality of service, essentially the business that depends on those services sees a bottom line improvement," Ho said.
Measure and Report
The fourth resolution, measure and report, goes back to the old adage that you cant improve what you dont measure.
But many IT shops have no mechanism to measure and report on service quality. Others use Excel spreadsheets.
"Some are measuring it, but theyre not gathering the right metrics or metrics that are relevant to the business," Ho said. "IT this year could put that kind of mechanism in place if they dont have it, and if they do, they could think about what the business relevant measurements really are."
Initiate an Improvement
The fifth resolution, to initiative an improvement project, is on a lot of CIOs to do lists for 2008. But such projects should not be a one-off type of effort, but rather a continual cycle or continual service improvement effort, as proscribed by ITIL Version 3, released last year.
Six Sigma techniques such as DMAIC (Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve and Control) can help with such efforts, which should start small, suggested Ho.
Gartners Brant agreed that continual service improvement programs are key. "I would say that Six Sigma is for most successful companies we talk to. The project mentality is something thats important, but its not enough," he said.
The sixth resolution emphasizes creating SLAs (service level agreements) that are relevant to the business stakeholders.
"The SLAs being defined need to be more client-focused and less infrastructure component focused," Ho said. "You have to involve your business counterparts to set these SLAs to insure the services you are delivering are relevant to the business and to customer needs."
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