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The Effective Syndicate Blog 

Introducing Continuous Improvement IT

Beau Groover

In a previous blog post, we discussed how IT should enable and support the objectives of their business which is ultimately to delight the business's customers – you know, the ones who actually pay for the goods and services the business provides. Traditional IT focuses internally on software, infrastructure, and even on what is commonly referred to as the 'internal customer' or business users’ productivity. But does this inward focus translate into increased revenue? Increased reach to more customers? Making the firm easier to do business with? Lower costs and increased profits? Better cash flow? Speed to market? Better products and services which gives a competitive edge?

That's where Continuous Improvement IT (CIIT) comes in. CIIT is philosophy which focuses IT away from the internal and towards the external customer. It is a culture shift whereby technology professionals understand the key business drivers first, and then apply technology to meet those drivers.

CIIT aims to continuously eliminate waste and deliver customer value by applying the following Lean Manufacturing principles to IT:

·         Value. What does the end customer value from the company? How can IT enable and influence the delivery of this value? Some examples might include customer specific analytics, linking of systems to make business transactions easier, application delivery that directly supports the customer.

·         Value Stream. How does IT assist in the delivery of the product to the customer? Through faster information delivery? Technology-aided productivity improvement, which increases speed of product delivery and reduced costs? Is the IT department organized in such a way to better deliver this value quickly with better quality?

·         Flow. What wastes are in the value stream that can be removed by technology?  It is a faster, more accurate report? Removal of manual steps such as work center logs and paper forms? Better inventory tracking through RFID? Better communication flow between workers? Minimizing business disruptions due to server downtime? Does the IT department have proper standard work in place (and in use!) that facilitates rapid turnaround of process?

·         Pull. How can IT deliver applications, information, and other technology services to their business and business customers when they want it? How can IT help the business deliver the products the customer wants when they want it? How does IT go from a department of "no" to a department of “when do you need it?”

·         Perfection. How can IT mistake-proof processes so we do things right the first time? How can IT look at both business and IT processes with a critical eye and an aim towards continually making them better in order to better serve the customer? How do we measure our progress towards perfection in a way that makes sense to our business?

The proper application of these CIIT principles to the customer should result in an IT department staffed with what we like to call ‘business people who understand technology.’ In other words, technologists start to understand how their business works: what makes customers happy, what drives revenues, how working capital affects their business.  Business-savvy technologists who understand their business can then begin to apply technology in direct support of these business drivers. They begin to see wastes within both IT and business processes and proactively work with their business partners to drive continuous improvement. Only then can they begin to deliver the value that CEOs actually want out of IT.