Just like any other department, IT is expected to illustrate its performance by providing measurements, scorecards and dashboards to its business sponsors. When creating IT-specific dashboards, IT managers can be tempted by the latest business intelligence, data warehouse and performance management tools at their fingertips.

As a senior director in an IT organization recently stated: “The knowledge of the tools that we as an IT department have can be dangerous. Managing multiterabyte warehouses with real-time analytics and advanced statistical functions often makes you wonder, why can’t we use this on our own scorecard? You have to sometimes step back and ask yourself, what does my business sponsor need for metrics to understand my organization, instead of, what tools and technology do I want to use to create a slick application for my metrics?

Temptation 1 - Picking the Wrong Metrics

Operational and data center management systems continue to advance and provide key operational metrics for IT management. Typically, though, the business is looking for metrics and measurements of IT that emphasize not only efficiency of the IT function, but also contribution to the business. IT alignment with the business is a critical success factor of selecting the right metrics.

There are two tools to help with selecting the right metrics. First, standards such as Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL), a framework of best practice approaches intended to facilitate the delivery of high quality IT services, can provide a data model to capture IT-specific metrics. Second, alignment with the business can be accomplished through a strategic alignment exercise, such as the methodology outlined by Dr. Jerry Luftman in his book Competing in the Information Age: Align in the Sand (Oxford University Press, 2003).

Temptation 2 - Picking Too Many Metrics

With access to the systems with the raw data, it can be tempting to build supersized dashboards for IT with hundreds of metrics. As is the case with business dashboards, fewer high-power metrics are preferred over many metrics. Getting from the hundreds of metrics to the dozen or so that end up on the dashboard can be a tough journey. Each part of the IT organization will want to have their positive metrics represented (while not emphasizing metrics that may show weaknesses).

With alignment and a standard model in hand, the IT leadership needs to go through a focusing exercise to determine which of the metrics at their disposal should end up on the dashboard or scorecard. During the exercise, IT senior management must think beyond their individual departments and concede to consensus on the dozen or so metrics that will show aligned performance.

Temptation 3 - Using Real Time Instead of Right Time

Access to operational metrics enables IT management to make critical decisions, particularly about data center operations, in real time. If there is a critical issue such as server capacity or network bandwidth, waiting too long can be disastrous for data center management. Conversely, IT performance dashboards do not need this real-time component. Like most executive management dashboards, latency measured in days or weeks will normally suffice. Even though technically possible, it is not economically responsible to waste the processing power of real time; a better practice is to pick the right time for latency.

Temptation 4 - Too Many Bells And Whistles

As an IT director in a pharmaceutical company in the late 90s, I remember sitting through a demo from a BI company showing how a report could be pushed to a sales executive’s PDA while they were on the golf course. The demo showed a report where sales were slumping and three buttons: Fire Sales Rep, Reorganize Department, Ignore. Great demo, but then I thought, “Who the heck would ever really use this functionality?” In building the scorecards and dashboards for IT, the temptation is always there to add the latest bells and whistles in the BI product. Step back and perform analysis to determine what is the best way to represent the aligned performance metrics to the business, and pass on the over-the-top bells and whistles.

Temptation 5 - Settling for Close Enough

Poor data quality will undermine the best aligned, right-time metrics efforts. IT management must pay the same attention to data quality in building their own scorecards and dashboards that they would in producing the financial reports of the company. True, it would probably be very hard for someone outside of IT to dispute the quality and correctness of the data on the dashboard, but just because the boss is not looking does not mean it is okay to slack off.

Whether you currently have an IT scorecard or dashboard or will soon be implementing one, avoiding these five temptations will greatly increase your chances of building a successful, right-time, aligned, quality application.

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