My current life in IT revolves around data. As a sales consultant, I am striving to ensure that people can better see and understand their data. Oftentimes this involves presenting people with easy, efficient ways to analyze and gain new insights from their data. Once those insights are discovered, there are obviously more questions, which is what we want—speed to insight is very important in visual analytics. But as analytics mature in businesses, the payoffs of these insights—increasing throughput, decreasing waste, speeding up time-to-market, etc.—are only one piece of the puzzle. Like the last stages in the hero’s journey, the real return is when you use these insights to not only improve your processes, but when you communicate with them to establish trust and better enable your business relationships.
When I was still working in IT engineering and began implementing better analytics within our ITSM department (and, later, our IT operations department at large), one of the best payoffs was the ability to ask and answer our own questions from the data no matter how complex. In fact, I’ve written about this in a previous HDI article. But this was only one part of the story. Yes, we were able to find areas of improvement, gain better insight into our processes, stabilize our WIP, etc. But outside of delivering a better product to the business, these were improvements for us.
As we all know IT is constantly being asked to do more with less, justify budgets, and there’s always the question of, ”What have you done for me lately?” You can improve your processes and delivery all you want, but unless you can show the business that payoff, in real data, and use that to establish better relationships, it will always be a most recent zero-sum game. To that end, if you are using analytics to improve your processes and ITSM departments, but not being both transparent and effectively communicating that data out (there is a difference), you’re losing half the battle.
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Let me give you an example from personal experience. Hiring new employees is a huge investment for companies. Some studies say 6–9 months of the starting salary of the position being replaced is the cost to find, hire, and train new talent. Having an effective onboarding process and giving new hires the proper training, assets, and culture exposure early on is really important.
At a previous employer, we had a process whereby a questionnaire went out to hiring managers to get information about things we couldn’t know about from our HRIS system (things like laptop request, where they’re sitting, special application requests, etc.). Many times, and this is not to point a finger—it’s just what the data showed—managers were filling this out later than our process required, or not at all. As a result, numerous cases came in about new hires not having the right access, hardware, etc. Luckily, all of these steps were tracked in various tables (new hire start date, new hire ticket submission, new hire request form filled out, what was requested, etc.), so after implementing our custom analytics solutions, we were able to figure out where the bottlenecks were (I’m looking at you sales manager that hires someone on a Friday afternoon at 4:50 PM for a Monday start date...in a remote office).
But, so what? Even though we had good data, and our managers knew that it was not “our fault,” were we being as effective with this data as we really could be? No, we could do better, and so we did.
After we were able to certify that the data was correct, we started sending reports to managers and, where appropriate, their managers, of their answer trends. Did this change things overnight? Of course not. Effective data communication is as much a skill as developing the infrastructure to glean those insights to begin with. The point of this communication was not to point fingers; it was to establish trust in the data and the process. Once that was secured, a better business relationship between ITSM and other departments could be built; they knew our data was good, they trusted we were in it together, and everybody benefitted.
They knew our data was good, they trusted we were in it together, and everybody benefitted.
So what are some of the ways you can effectively use the insights you’re (hopefully) getting from your data to communicate out? Here are a few ways of communicating data that I’ve found effective:
Create a portal page where by users can log in to see their own ticketing trends (# of tickets, time to resolve, by type, priority, etc.). Since your ticketing system already has user info in there, use that information to filter for your portal. Using row-level security in the resulting database tables, when a user accesses this portal, they will only be able to see information about their tickets.
Break critical business processes down into steps that can be tracked in tables. If your new hire process includes several steps or hand-offs, instead of tracking the process en masse in a single service request, break major stages down into lower individual tasks that can be tracked in their own right in tables. This will better show where your bottlenecks are.
Certify your data sources. This can be a technical process, a governance process, or both. If you have separate environments, create a governance process (perhaps a monthly review meeting) to move potentially new data-sources over from dev to prod. Questions you may ask are, “What’s the business function?” / “Who will be the owner?” / “Does this already exist elsewhere?” Once data-sources are certified, it will become much easier to have conversations about the data contained within (and, drawn out and expressed in visualizations) because there will be trust in the data.
Enable self-service analytics. If you certify your data sources and agree upon general terms (What does “resolved” really mean?), then enable your users to ask and answer their own questions. This will alleviate constant requests for new reporting on your departments and perhaps leads to insights you didn’t think of.
Figure out what works best in your business to communicate in your own environment. Does a portal page work? A burst email? Monthly review meetings? A very visual TV monitor where everyone can see status? So far, these are methods of transparency (i.e., transmission of the data). But in order to be effective communication (i.e., understanding of the data), you need to do some due diligence to see what people in your business respond to (method, cadence, etc.).
When writing about the state of ITSM in the market, I’m constantly reminded about the parallels to IT more broadly with respects to “the business.” Over the last few years, we’ve heard two phrases over and over: “Data is the new oil” and “IT is the business.” To me, these are two sides to the same coin. Both have to do with getting the business what it needs (data) in as efficient and effective ways possible (what IT is for). Utilizing the wealth of data you have to not only improve your processes, but also the trust of others (the business) in your processes is increasingly important. In order to have a healthy state of the union, or a union to begin with, you must have trust in each other. To do that, you need not only the data to back you, but ways to effectively communicate it out so that everyone involved can grow and learn as needed.
Adam Rauh has been working in IT since 2005. Currently in the business intelligence and analytics space at Tableau, he spent over a decade working in IT operations focusing on ITSM, leadership, and infrastructure support. He is passionate about data analytics, security, and process frameworks and methodologies. He has spoken at, contributed to, or authored articles for a number of conferences, seminars, and user-groups across the US on a variety of subjects related to IT, data analytics, and public policy. He currently lives in Georgia. Connect with Adam on LinkedIn.