Saturday, 5 January 2008

Task vs. Service

At my current client, a large health care organization, I needed to dispose of some old equipment that had personal health information about patients on it. I got directed to a front-line employee who operates a machine to degauss disk drives.

Knowing the organization, I knew that wasn't all I needed to do. And fortunately I knew how to track down the financial, inventory and other people who would be interested in reselling the machine if possible, and then getting rid of it all the way to the dump and removing it from the financial books. In total, I'll have to manage the disposal myself through three or four departments, and at least that many individuals.

What I really wanted was a single phone number I could call and say, "In April, get rid of this thing for me." and be done with it.

I think that's why we hear so much about "aligning IT with the business" these days. It's not just the big picture, find-a-way-to-put-your-business-on-the-web-and-make-yourself-rich alignment. It's also because we confuse an IT task with a business service. To the business there's value in an internal 1-800-got-junk number for information assets. There's very marginal value having someone in a room who can degauss disk drives (and who only gets called if someone is technologically savvy enough to know to call them anyway).

How can you tell if something is an IT task or a business service? Start by really getting into the head of the person who would use your service. Like ask them. If you can't sell the service, or at least get someone excited in about five minutes, then you better re-think your service.

By the way, my remarks about tasks shouldn't be taken as disparaging the people who do the real work. The internal 1-800-got-junk model needs someone to run the degausser, and their work is critical to making the whole model work. IT is sufficiently complicated that in medium to large organizations almost any business service will require multiple tasks carried out by multiple individuals. The shift to service thinking has to happen at the management level. The people doing the tasks are usually doing the right thing.