Lean IT emerges as potential aid for CIO struggles
By Edwin Yapp August 22, 2014
- Age-old methodology evolves to help CIOs, enterprises become more strategic
- Doesn’t solve all challenges, but helps companies manage culture and change
A RELATIVELY nascent philosophy is taking hold in the enterprise information technology (IT) space, which could potentially aid chief information officers (CIOs) manage and implement IT in terms of value rather than in technical metrics.
Dubbed as ‘Lean IT,’ the original concept and methodology of Lean were adapted from the manufacturing industry first postulated by men like Kiichiro Toyoda and Taiichi Ohno of Toyota Motor Corporation.
The Lean concept practised by Toyota was aimed at developing a series of simple innovations that make it possible to provide continuity in process flow and a wide variety in product offerings, according to the Lean Enterprise Institute.
Today, Lean IT is an extension of the aforementioned methodology, and serves to maximise customer value while minimising waste.
At the same time, Lean IT also focuses on the continuous improvement of the processes that support both of these goals, according to management consultants Quint Wellington Redwood.
In short, it’s about creating more value with fewer resources, says Maurice Boon (pic) chief executive officer of Quint Wellington Redwood Group.
Speaking to Digital News Asia (DNA) in an exclusive interview, Boon says concepts such as the continuous improvement cycle, the Ishikawa (Fishbone) diagram are but some generic elements within the Lean concept that help define and realise customer value.
“IT nowadays is process driven and although the concept of Lean comes from manufacturing, Lean IT is about changing the terminology or a point of view to fit IT processes, as building a car is not the same as delivering IT as a service.
“But when building a car, people do not work alone, and IT is the same and must be viewed as a services unit,” he explains.
Boon says that today, with the advent of technologies such as cloud computing, IT is no longer about building a solution for a customer but about delivering a service or ‘utilisation’ to the customer.
Lean IT, he points out, is about applying all kinds of services provided by the likes of Google, Microsoft, IBM and HP, and helping customers build end-to-end business services that is useful for them.
CEOs’ demand of CIOs
According to Jeffrey Doss (pic), regional director for Asia, Quint Wellington Redwood Group, CIOs today are being pushed to align their company’s IT strategy with that of their business strategy.
He says many CIOs in Asia are still being bogged down with dealing with operational issues such as redundancy, reliability as well as technical details to do with networking, servers and storage.
“CIOs in western countries are already talking strategy because that’s what CEOs expect them to deliver,” he argues. “They are being ask to deliver better, more agile services and to do so more quickly and more efficiently.”
Doss says this is where Lean IT can help as the methodology is about making IT in an enterprise better, faster, more efficient.
“In fact Lean IT is more than a methodology; it’s about culture change – really looking at people and making sure they understand how they fit together to deliver services to customers in the most efficient manner.”
Besides the struggle faced by CIOs, Doss says another challenge facing enterprises in this region is respective ‘service catalogues’ remaining too technical and not sufficiently business focused.
A service catalogue, sometimes called an IT service portfolio, is a list of available technology resources and offerings within an organisation, which contains information about deliverables, prices, contact points and processes for requesting a service, according to TechTarget.
Doss says a typical IT organisation in South-East Asia is too fixated on having a service catalogue that just too technical- and infrastructure-based.
“They talk about uptime, network [parameters] while CEOs talk about business strategy,” he argues. “What Lean IT can do is to help IT professionals tailor their service catalogue to describe services in terms of how they can be aligned to meet the requirements of the business, and help the business grow.”
Asked what must be done by enterprises wanting to embrace such a mindset, Boon advises organisations to start with their own people and get them on board first.
“You have to change the [internal] mindset change first by involving your own people first. Ask them to support the changes you’re trying to make first – that is to build a strong basis for IT to deliver to customers.
“Then make sure your governance is in place as without proper governance, you will not be able to make the changes you want and need to make.”
Doss adds, “CIOs must realise that if they don’t shift over their mindset [from technical to strategic], they will become obsolete.”
According to Roger Ling (pic), associate research director of IDC Malaysia, Lean IT in today’s context is born out of the necessity to support business goals of eliminating wastage and inefficiencies and to ensure an IT organisation remains relevant.
Speaking to DNA via email, Ling says some examples that Lean IT addresses include IT integration supporting process automation in order to avoid manual entries, overlapping requirements, and high volumes of paperwork.
Another example of Lean IT is workflow management systems and enterprise mobile deployment that connect the workforce to enterprise systems for autonomous job routing and effective workload distribution to alleviate bottleneck and improve workforce productivity, he says.
That said, Ling cautions that Lean IT is not a ‘magic bullet,’ where it can be used as a method to solve every conceivable problem facing organisations as the focus on successfully implementing Lean practices cannot be done with a siloed mentality.
“Synergies between people, including culture change, process and technology must be the unifying agenda to drive out wastages and to drive productivity increases,” Ling argues. “The role of Lean IT would be to enforce the processes but without proper governance and change management it will likely fail."
Illustrating this point further, Ling said Lean IT must be viewed holistically and one of the key questions is to ask, “What would be essential to understand the context of where an organisation is currently at according to the dynamics of today’s technology platform?”
“Take the example of an end goal of eliminating redundant and inconsistent data that leads to inaccurate reporting and inefficient business processes and decisions. How lean is lean?
“Will the implementation of master data management solutions be a means to an end? Or will that project have to be tied in with big data and analytics to further support efficiencies and better decision-making?" he adds.
At the end of the day, Ling says the focus on Lean practices is increasingly linked to the use of IT as a major contributor to business productivity, and that any embracement of Lean IT must bear this in mind.
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