How to maximise the value of IT

02 Feb 2016 Voices

Rowenna Fielding explains why IT business analysts can be critical to the smooth running of a charity IT department. 

If the road network were managed in the same way as IT departments, we would be asking the Highways Agency to plan our journeys for us, tell us which model of car to buy, monitor our driving techniques, place speed restrictions on our cars and provide driving instruction for novices, all in addition to the full-time job of building and maintaining the roads themselves. There would be little contingency for extreme weather or traffic incidents and road users would be forced to buy fuel from approved suppliers.

The result of this approach is often that the IT function is taken up with firefighting, leaving little time or energy for anticipating and analysing the organisation’s future technology capacity. When a need for a product or technology does arise, it ends up being selected reactively; either from the pushiest vendor sales representative or the topmost Google search results – neither of which are a reliable indicator of the suitability or cost-effectiveness of the chosen product.

Driving lessons

As technology changes, risks evolve and organisations grow, IT staff need to be able to keep up-to-date with the skills and knowledge needed to support the working environment. The training budget is often a popular target for cuts when money is tight, but this could prove to be a false economy as it is not unknown for misconfiguration or incorrect installation of products to cause costly IT outages.

Raising the standard of IT literacy among the workforce reduces the amount of time spent on computer problems and can also lower helpdesk costs. According to a study by European Computer Driving Licence, up to 8 per cent of working hours may be wasted due to poor digital skills and IT problems.

Be aware of hazards

IT departments are asked to choose security products, set restrictions and design policies which in the absence of a mature organisational risk management programme, they must do in a vacuum. Little wonder then, that they opt for the most restrictive and conservative approach; the more security, the better, right?

However, overzealous restrictions usually result in the proliferation of “shadow IT” (the use of unauthorised and unmanaged technologies and services) and the routine circumvention of security controls…at which point it’s only a matter of time before a breach occurs. When the breach occurs, an emergency solution is put into place in response to that particular incident and the cycle continues…

Some 28 per cent of IT security spending ends up wasted – products chosen on the basis of flashy sales pitches or in a knee-jerk reaction to specific incidents have a high risk of ending up as shelfware (a product which is bought but never used). Conversely, an organisation with a mature risk management programme, in which all departments are engaged, will be able to identify acceptable and unacceptable degrees of risk and allow the IT department to evaluate products, policies and controls which deliver the appropriate level of protection.

Diversion: Roadworks

Many IT projects are hampered by vague or misleading requirements and changes to specifications partway through the implementation process. Sometimes this is due to a failure to engage with the right stakeholders in the beginning, or to manage stakeholders’ expectations appropriately; other times it is the natural result of a gap between users’ understanding of technology and IT workers’ understanding of business requirements.

This is where the IT business analyst is critical. A good IT business analyst acts as a bridge between the users of technology and the providers, negotiating and setting reasonable expectations, translating user requirements into technological terms and untangling the business’s desired operational outcomes from tangential or unrealistic feature requests from end users.

Roads and IT – when all is working perfectly, everyone takes them for granted. When things go wrong, the impact can be far-reaching and costly. In both cases, strategy, policy, planning and investment can make all the difference between comfortable progress and frustrating gridlock.

Rowenna Fielding is an information governance and privacy professional.

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