For IT, showing you’re productive matters now more than ever

Many companies turned to productivity monitoring software during the pandemic to keep track of workers. The IT department won't escape a closer look either.

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The pandemic and its associated shift to remote work presented a challenge for IT, and prompted organizations of all types to turn to productivity and performance tracking to keep tabs on workers, whether remote or in the office.

The goal is simple: use these new tools to ensure workers are, in fact, working. This can involve simply using collaboration tools such as Microsoft Teams to ensure people are active and engaged throughout the day — or it can involve software suites that record keystrokes, mouse movements and even snap photos using a laptop’s camera to track staffers at their desks.

With this growing focus on productivity and performance, it was inevitable IT departments would come under similar scrutiny. And it’s happening with IT already under pressure, both from pandemic-related issues and digital transformation initiatives that have been piling up.

Justifying costs and headcounts aren’t new for IT. But the combination of increased productivity tracking and the changing ways technology is used, particularly outside the office, is beginning to cast a larger magnifying glass.

The question becomes: how do CIOs and IT leaders best demonstrate the productivity of their teams and justify the costs, resources, and personnel that requires?

Educate execs and managers

As in other areas — setting mobile strategy, designing cloud migrations, dealing with cybersecurity issues and shadow IT — demonstrating the value of IT begins with educating executives and managers. In this case, it’s about illustrating what IT actually does routinely and why those tasks and projects are crucial for business success. This can’t be a one-time lesson or lecture; it needs to be an ongoing dialog and requires data to back up the narrative.

To start, it’s important to understand how IT is viewed by non-tech professionals. In most situations, IT is seen mainly as the help desk and support. Beyond that, initiatives such as app development and PC/device upgrades are areas that get noticed on a regular basis. Less obvious are things like network management and maintenance, security, and day-to-day administrative tasks, all of which are crucial components of IT operations. Work in these areas is likely to go unnoticed in daily life.

With that in mind, let’s look at the most visible areas and then move on to more “keeping-the-lights-on” types of tasks.

Justify and detail your help desk operations

The help desk is easy for users to understand — something doesn’t work or there’s a problem, users report the issue and the help desk steps in to resolve it. It’s one area where metrics and data can be used to demonstrate performance.

Help desk systems already capture reams of useful data, including information about the number of calls, the time in which they’re answered, escalations (if needed), and time to resolution. These provide direct productivity information and demonstrate when support staffers are at their desks, the number of calls they take, how long each call takes (both individually and on average).

For situations that require a more-involved intervention — a technician sent to someone’s desk, a laptop or mobile device replacement, escalation to network or software-specific teams — there is an equal trove of statistics. All of these can be used to explain and justify help desk and support operations.

There are some issues, however. As companies embrace self-service options, there are fewer direct interactions with the help desk — and less visibility into what it takes to keep things running smoothly. And because self-service schemes can make it appear IT isn’t responding to tech issues at all, it’s important that problems and resolutions are logged and documented effectively.

Help desk software can also be used to track tasks and projects not directly related to support, such as deploying new devices and upgrading or replacing network equipment. This can be useful because it does track progress and ensures support staffers have visibility into these areas — particularly when they directly impact on users.

There are downsides, however. First, help desk systems may not be the best tool for tracking productivity; a more general IT tracking solution or even a general project management tool is likely a better fit. And second, tracking help desk projects could skew overall help desk metrics. If IT is replacing a switch or router, deploying dozens of new PCs, or rolling out changes to mobile management, you’re talking about tasks that are well removed from responding to user problems.  Simply pulling data across all open or recently closed help desk tickets, could imply that the overall efficiency or effectiveness of the support team is lower.

That problem can be mitigated somewhat by choosing which data to include when reports are run; many solutions have options to do this with built-in reporting. But it may be worth moving some of these tracking tasks to a separate, ideally integrated, system.

App development and software deployment matter, too

Providing solutions to users, particularly when they’re part of a mobile or digital transformation strategy, are a great way to showcase what an IT team can do. Projects in these areas can be significant wins for IT and are often noticed across the entire organization, from end users through the C-suite.

That said, there are a couple of challenges to watch out for.

These projects often require a lot of investment and effort, making it difficult to keep up a steady drumbeat of updates over time. They also can set a high bar, which leads to high expectations. And failure to meet those expectations can reflect poorly on IT.

Setting expectations is key to defining your capabilities and set a baseline for everyday operations. Of course, the IT department wants to shine, but it also has to walk a fine line; you don’t want any one project to be too far beyond the also-important day-to-day operations. If you can only do one stellar project or deployment a year, lead with the impression that it’s a big deal. But make sure such brilliant execution isn’t expected every month or week.

Related to this is the need to set a narrative about not just the benefits of an specific project or strategy but about the requirements and timeline. This is especially important at the beginning when establishing buy-in as well as during the development and execution.

Providing regular updates is another way to demonstrate performance and productivity. They allow IT leaders to maintain interest in technology initiatives before they’re finished and to show the work involved during development, deployment and execution.

Before issuing that first update, it’s important to establish meaningful metrics you can cite regularly — regardless of how often you report. This can include defining stages or timelines, the number of people involved, the capacity of their work, man-hours involved, efforts by individual team members, and costs that might not be obvious to non-IT stakeholders. The more you describe the actual process and each phase of a project, the better.

Even kinks that you work around can be useful if they provide an accurate example of the work being done. You want to look accomplished, but you also want to make sure that you’re accurately portraying what it takes to get the job done.

Show the value in security

These days, the importance of data protection and system and network security is generally understood. What it takes to maintain that security and respond to threats is less clear. And the technical details about actual threats and responses are rarely appreciated at all.

That makes justifying security operations a particular challenge. For most people, it’s just a box to check off — and trying to have an in-depth discussion can cause eyes to glaze over. This doesn’t mean corporate security shouldn’t be discussed, however. Letting security fall off the radar can come back to bite IT leadership should a breach occur.

Fortunately, you can use basic statistics to showcase your security posture and performance. Simplified data about the number of active attacks detected (and how they were mitigated) can easily demonstrate that security is important and being handled. Include everyday activities of the security team. And provide a summary of newly discovered threats and measures taken — like software updates/patches or adjustments to existing defenses — to show you’re being proactive.

It’d be nice to assume well-presented updates about security will affect not just the view of IT performance but also user behavior. But in most cases, IT is likely to demonstrate only that there are threats to be countered and its fending off attacks effectively.

Explain why regular maintenance matters

It’s hard to make regular network or other maintenance tasks seem important. To many, they fall into the same category as oil changes and teeth cleanings — they’re important, we all do them, things will get bad if we don’t. That’s actually a pretty accurate description of IT maintenance chores. The important thing to get across is that these are important and things will get bad if they’re not done.

And it’s important to illustrate that these tasks require time, manpower and other resources. Regularly reporting on routine maintenance helps to reiterate that they are an important part of IT performance and productivity.

This can be done with either a bird’s-eye view or more specialized reports, depending on the organization and audience. Certainly, a more detail and description than “performed regular maintenance across all systems” is useful. You don’t necessarily need to go into detail about each specific switch that may have received firmware updates in the past month. A simple number of switches with their worksite locations and the resources those updates required will typically suffice.

Even so, IT should be in the habit of recording as much detail as realistically possible. This is important to understand its requirements and serve as an accurate source for more general metrics. It’s also critical to be able to back up more generalized info with details if required. Beyond that, it’s also helpful to build a narrative around specific maintenance tasks so there is some color there about what might happen if they weren’t done.

Pulling it all together

Accurately describing the resources IT consumes — and why — is obviously important. The challenge, as IT teams are asked to do more and reshuffle resources and staff to keep a business in line with changing requirements and expectations, is to do so in a way that is compelling.

You are telling a story after all.

That story needs to include accurate information that describes your mission, what it takes to fulfill it, and how well you’re performing. This takes both data and a good narrative. Both need to be reviewed and disseminated regularly. The level of detail may vary, but regular reports with granular-but-digestible details and less-frequent updates will provide an executive overview of how the department and organization are faring.

There’s no one-size-fits-all answer to how you report and justify IT expenses, resources and staffing. And that’s a good thing; it allows IT leaders to come with multiple approaches and time frames, allowing each IT shop to tell its own tale in its own way.

Copyright © 2022 IDG Communications, Inc.

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