IT Benchmarking

Is IT benchmarking total garbage?

IT is often benchmarked – on cost, performance, strategy, all kinds of stuff – but why?  Ostensibly, it is to know where IT stacks up, justify a budget, increase a budget or cut a budget. You can benchmark almost anything. But what underlies the urge to benchmark?  Here are some thoughts on the subject, gleaned largely from the ideas of members of a CIO Forum that I have moderated for the past eight years in the Bay Area.

Business leaders have external pressures – mostly exerted by market forces. They have to deliver a decent product/service at a competitive price or they simply won’t “find” or “keep” customers (see Blog Archive: Driving the Bottom Line posted 5/30/13).  Their feet are regularly toasted at the fire of stiff competition.

When benchmarking comes up at the request of business leaders it is usually their attempt to hold IT’s feet to the fire.  They want a lever that will drive IT, something like the market levers they experience. Benchmarking is an easy sell, and the IT consulting firms play to this by hyping what benchmarking can do.  Well, the truth is, benchmarking will do whatever you want it to do – or whatever the person paying for the benchmarking wants it to do.  No two companies or industries are alike, so you are never going to get apples with apples. Cynical, but reality!  IT shops that are in exactly the same industry, but have different legacy systems, can be at totally different places when it comes to business initiatives.  One can be in SOA heaven, the other in the land of Lilliput – where Gulliver was held down by a million tiny wires.

And what’s more, if you look at IT’s performance/value per dollar invested, it typically far exceeds the value from investments in other parts of the business.  Consider this, does Marketing or Manufacturing have ROIs like IT, or can they cut costs and improve performance like IT?  Not often.  If you have business customers who are demanding a benchmark – there is probably something else going on.

So, before your organization embarks on a pointless, costly, in-fight producing, overly broad or irrelevantly narrow, inaccurate, and immaterial benchmarking activity, take a step back and try to figure out what is really driving the “urge to benchmark”.

The Answer:

  • Figure out what levers you can give your business partners so they feel they have some control. (More on this in a later Blog – Consumerization or “I want” IT is already in the front room).
  • Be more strategic – lead the charge. See Blog Archive: Driving the Bottom Line posted 5/30/13.
  • Report your historic performance.
  • Keep your own benchmarks, so you can trot those out regularly.
  • Be totally transparent.