Perhaps many IT professionals have made this question themselves, and indeed there are many answers that may seem correct. But let me provide more context to this question, and I will explain it with an example.

ITIL®, the most well-known source of best practices for IT Service Management around the world, has been widely present in the IT industry since the early 2000s with version 2, to later be almost universally adopted in 2007 when the revolutionary Service Lifecycle appeared as part of version 3.

Organizations have been adopting these practices since then, yet some businesses – i.e., the organizations served by IT departments – have not completely seen the benefits of it. Money, time and other resources have been invested, but the actual ROI has not been proven in many cases.

Some ITIL enthusiasts may say that having the processes in place is by itself the benefit organizations achieve from ITIL, but unfortunately the business would not share this perspective when they realize that these processes have costed several thousands of dollars, and business users many times don’t even know that some of these processes exist.

Redefining Success

Let me go back to the question in the headline of this post. What does it mean for IT to be successful? It doesn’t mean of course spending a lot of money for having the best-in-class technology, or providing the most secure infrastructure or technical environment in the world. An IT organization is successful when it helps the business it serves achieve its goals. (Of course good technology and security play an important role here, but this is not the ultimate goal.) In ITIL language, IT being successful means providing value to the business. Despite being so clear, many ITIL adopters commonly overlook this concept in practice.

Why has IT Lost the Path?

Many IT organizations have lost in the path when their strong focus on the processes they were implementing, distracted them from delivering value to the business through managing services with these processes, and making the management of the process itself their ultimate goal.

It is difficult, however, even for an IT manager to focus on the right direction to actually provide value to the business (aligning IT goals to business goals), if the business’ requirements are barely known.

The Lack of IT Governance

It is a reality that most average IT organizations lack of IT Governance. IT management should cooperate with business management to agree on the objectives and requirements of the business, and define together the IT goals that will directly support value creation. On its side, IT management should communicate internally so that all the areas in the chain are aware of what the priorities are, so that IT goals that are linked to these corporate goals are defined, and then these IT goals are supported (or enabled) by IT processes. But a very important aspect here is that IT top management needs to commit with this effort, and enforce the achievement of goals in IT, because this is what will help the business realize its objectives, especially in this digital era!

COBIT 5: Making IT Governance Work

COBIT 5 is a comprehensive framework that provides mechanisms that allow organizations to align their process goals to IT goals, and their IT goals to business goals. Moreover, it provides a series of controls to enforce the desired behavior, practices and culture, as well as a universal approach for improving IT processes by increasing their maturity—the degree in which IT processes meet the business’ requirements.

With IT Governance in place, IT will be the strategic business asset it is meant to be, and business managers will be clear on what is the value they are obtaining from their IT department.

Does your IT personnel know what the business goals are and how they are supporting them through their daily activities?