Mimi Browning | IT metrics that don't go to waste

IT Strategy'commentary: Information technology metrics are an essential best practice, not just a measurement tool

Mimi Browning

Information technology metrics are often as popular as a Gulf Coast hurricane in September. In an example of metrics gone wild, one government agency issued a CD with more than 4,000 IT metrics. Thankfully, the CD quickly went out of circulation, though there was one sighting at an office picnic where it was featured in a game of 'Toss the CD into the Wastebasket.' The lines to play were long.

Another government agency provided its headquarters with a set of IT metrics so general that they were meaningless ' the equivalent of providing data on how many times the sun sets in a year.

However, metrics do play an important role in demonstrating the value of IT. They provide the means to measure progress, productivity and resource stewardship. Program managers are always asked to show a return on IT investments, so it is worth reviewing the key characteristics of proven metrics.

1. Mission focused. The alpha metrics of the IT world ' mission improvement and resource optimization ' are the framework for developing more specific measures. Metrics for cycle time reduction, product or service improvement, and customer satisfaction demonstrate progress toward mission improvement. Metrics demonstrating resource optimization include consolidation of facilities such as data centers and help desks, systems kills, and enterprise licenses for hardware and software.

2. Outcome-based and quantifiable. Metrics that monitor baseline conditions are important for charting progress and can also serve as change agents. System and network metrics ' such as network cyberattacks prevented or prompt customer-response times ' are important to understanding and responding to the daily IT operating environment. Metrics also can link outcomes to goals, such as a three-year adjustment of the ratio of legacy to new systems.

3. Essential few. A handful of metrics can help characterize any program. The best examples include: IT project management, cost, schedule and performance. For customer satisfaction, typical IT metrics include degree of stakeholder functionality, delivery timeliness, data quality and user friendliness. Sad to say, 4,000 IT metrics characterize only excessive staff work.

4. Customer driven. Metrics are best developed with customer participation and value in mind. Dashboards for the software program manager, network engineer and chief information officer necessarily will differ. In addition, metrics from existing databases or embedded processes, customer feedback and metrics training are essential elements of the process for assuring that IT metrics remain fresh and beneficial.

5. Come with a junkyard dog. Without enforcement mechanisms, the best metrics are all for naught. Ideally, a dedicated program manager will embed metrics enforcement into an organization's review and analysis process. Less ideal is a junkyard dog from Congress or an oversight agency.

IT metrics will never win any popularity contests, nor are they easy to develop and track. Nevertheless, as barometers of progress, trends and the achievement of mission goals, IT metrics are an essential best practice for every program manager.

Mimi Browning is a former Army senior executive who is now a principal at Booz Allen Hamilton. She can be reached at browning_miriam@bah.com.

About the Author

Browning is a former Army senior executives and former Booz Allen Hamilton principal who now leads Browning Consultants.

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