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IT Transparency, the intro!

Tomorrow SSC is scheduled to publish an article I wrote on IT Transparency which gives a first person account of one strategy I used to try to make it a little easier for the business to see where IT time/money was going. Debated over whether to publish it, not necessarily the best fit on a SQL Server centric site and it's an unusual strategy with a bit of a story to it. We shall see.

Since I wrote it some months ago I've had the chance to reflect further and as a business owner, I think there are two things that IT needs to show me that would really help me understand their efforts. One would be about the current backlog. All IT teams have backlogs, sometimes consisting of thousands of hours of items requested by customers, operations, even IT itself. Seeing that number published each week along with how many hours were applied to it in the past week would help any business see that progress was being made, or not. It's very common for priorities to get misshaped and misunderstood, so if I saw the backlog stay static that would indicate either that we needed more staff (not the favorite answer!) or that we need to focus harder on where IT spends it's time. Note that doesn't mean IT is doing something wrong, rather that they are being pushed and pulled towards immediate needs rather than tackling tasks that really would drive the business forward. The other thing a business needs to see is the tempo. Are IT people working 40 hrs a week or 60? The worst case would a backlog that is growing while we see IT averaging 50+ hours a week. That would indicate a slow steady slippage that could eventually spell doom; more hours, less effectiveness, the death spiral.

Remember, IT is a service, and an expensive one.

Let me offer a rough analogy. For those of you who use a lawn service or get their car washed, it's easy to monitor. It's a fixed cost and you can tell at a glance if the work they were supposed to do got done or not. To a large degree you can even see if they are doing it efficiently even though it's a cost based rather than time based transaction. Contrast that with bringing in a plumber to fix a problem, or hiring an attorney. Now you're looking at a time based transaction that has no real upper limit for cost and what's worse, you can't really understand a lot of what they are doing or why it takes so long! Which does IT resemble more? Can you blame an business for obsessing a little over IT costs and wanting to have some insight into how and why their money is spent?

I'll post again in the future about why IT tends to be opaque rather than transparent!


I'm Andy Warren, currently a SQL Server trainer with End to End Training. Over the past few years I've been a developer, DBA, and IT Director. I was one of the original founders of SQLServerCentral.com and helped grow that community from zero to about 300k members before deciding to move on to other ventures.


Posted by Bill Prehl on 29 January 2008


I've been trying to move into management in IT and it's been a struggle for the past 12 years because I see these exact behavioral issues with the service aspect of IT but could never pinpoint a solution.  Also, I never had formal education in business but I do have two degrees in electrical engineering.  

This method of being open I have found most useful in the past though some managers cringed when they found out I exposed a mistake I made.  What I could never piece together was a process for letting the "customers" or "users" decide amongst themselves how to best divide the time up for the work to be done.  

The burn-out in IT is truly because it's very difficult to peg the cost of a person's time based on their productivity.  How to measure productivity is a moving target every day.  You're option to provide a continuous list and forum provides everything for all parties.  I believe IT gets paralyzed because they are so overwhelmed.  I believe the user's don't understand the issue with getting their "small" request done quickly.  If both sides can see the work load and the progress of work as time goes on (with mistakes) then there's an appreciation factor.  IT appreciates the pat on the back when they do get something done and the user appreciates their request being completed.  Both sides knowing what each other is up against.

Thanks for putting this out there.

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