Thinking in terms of “Internal Customers” calcifies IT organizations

pizzeria2My high school age son has a job at a local pizza place. One thing he and his friends agree upon is that “no-one likes customers”. This is because when a customer comes in, work needs to be done and who wants to spend their time doing that? Nevertheless, all recognize that this is why they are there and all work together to produce the requested goods. One key advantage they have over most of my corporate clients in IT is that they actually get to see the customers and hear directly from the customers what they want.

I was thinking about this in the context of the now very well entrenched practice of thinking in terms of “Internal Customers”, “running IT like a business”, and OLAs/SLAs etc.  Presumably, this is to improve performance of IT, increase job satisfaction, and ultimately increase overall company performance.  Because, isn’t it true that the ultimate customer sits at the end of a chain of internal customers? Hence, if all internal transactions are optimized, the end-result must be a good one. Is it?

In reality everyone is familiar with the drawbacks of this thinking. Particularly in IT, business/IT alignment has been a long standing issue with IT producing results for their “business customer” that are often frowned upon even if they meet SLAs or OLAs. At best, if everyone is busy meeting their SLAs and OLAs, the organization typically calcifies around yesterday’s customer needs. At worst, they stop caring about the end-customer and make sure they “cannot be blamed” for bad results: they were just doing their jobs, and didn’t the business “customers” sign off on the requirements that were just “delivered”? Most people in the organization have no trouble to point out what is not working when asked: There is too little cross-departmental collaboration, too much focus on internal process.

There are developments that point to new thinking away from the “internal customer”. Agile is one. The business is embedded in the project team so that the voice of the actual customer is constantly represented. Micro-sourcing in lieu of grand outsourcing is another one. In micro-sourcing smaller functions of IT are sourced to providers, leaving more flexibility to the IT organization to respond to changing needs. Regardless, what is required is increased awareness from IT of the actual customers and working as a partner with the business solving business problems, instead of optimizing IT metrics and SLAs.

Kasper de Boer

About

Kasper de Boer is a Vice President in Sogeti US, where he is currently responsible for the Infrastructure Practice. Kasper has 25 years experience in IT Consulting and is particularly interested in IT organizations and how to make these more efficient and effective. He advises clients on how to reduce the on-going maintenance burden of IT systems and technology, achieve better alignment between IT capabilities and business needs, increase speed-to-market of IT solutions, and increase the overall responsiveness of IT.

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