Fostering IT Innovation: What CFOs Need to Know

To say that CFOs are pressured to spur growth in the midst of a slow and still uncertain economy would be an understatement. As organizations continue to look for ways to tighten their budgets, their technology investments are often one of the first areas to undergo intense scrutiny. As a result, CFOs must figure out how they can guide the innovation that enables the company to achieve sustainable growth and maintain a competitive advantage.

In a CFO Journal article, Frank Friedman, COO & CFO of Deloitte, addressed this issue head on, offering three tips to drive innovation and growth in a weak economy. From providing greater capital flexibility, leveraging more insight and transparency in decision making, and becoming more optimistic, Friedman asserts that the CFO can help their organizations overcome external challenges and adopt the strategies and best practices that will lead to success.

While these strategies are applicable to the role of the CFO as a whole, they can be applied more specifically to the IT function. After all, technology is often the main driver in enabling operational efficiency and facilitating innovation. Fortunately, there are several things CFOs can do to ensure their organization is primed for continued growth and innovation.

Despite lingering economic uncertainty, organizations must still make the right investments to ensure they can continue to operate strategically. Having the financial flexibility to invest in the solutions that can lead to improvement and deliver ROI is essential. But, in order to realize this state, the CFO must be able to identify the products and services that can bring the company to the next level and achieve technology optimization. With a flexible approach to technology spend, the CFO can proactively manage the business of IT, ensuring the company acquires the solutions necessary to bring greater efficiency across the enterprise.

Along the lines of increasing capital flexibility, the CFO must also gain insight into their company’s current spend and IT utilization. With real visibility into the costs of supplying IT products and services, and the ability to analyze how they are being used, the CFO is better positioned to make key decisions about the best solutions in which to invest. At the same time, the CFO will also be able to uncover underutilized technologies or instances of duplication, enabling them to be more strategic and avoid those situations. Equipped with the knowledge and clear line of sight into IT consumption, CFOs can act more strategically and ensure they make the right investments that can foster innovation.

Finally, to truly grow their companies, CFOs must look beyond the present situation in order to leverage the opportunities for improvement. As Friedman pointed out, CFOs “have to view the organization through a strategic, not just financial lens.” By moving beyond the “business as usual” approach to managing IT spend and utilization and thinking about how they can deliver the tools and processes that lead to an improved future state, the company can operate more effectively in today’s challenging business environment. As a result, they can better drive the innovation crucial to staying ahead of the competition.


*Updated on November 17, 2015

IT Financial Accountability: It’s Everyone’s Job

“I’m so done with alignment. It’s not even part of the conversation anymore. IT and the business are in this together. Period.”

We couldn’t have said it better ourselves. If you haven’t yet involved the full spectrum of stakeholders – from the CEO, CIO, and CFO to the IT leaders, business unit managers and even to the business partners – in revising behavior and attitude toward technology, now is the time to start. Increasing financial accountability and transparency so the entire organization understands how existing IT investments contribute to business value is imperative to success.

For one thing, many organizations are looking to cut the cost and complexity of delivering IT services by considering cloud alternatives. That requires accurate insight into IT expenses to compare the total cost of ownership of internal services with external providers. Another is that history repeats itself. While the economy seems to be in an upswing, businesses need to be prepared for another recession. They need visibility to understand where they can cut costs or make investments to maintain momentum or drive the business forward.

To do that, organizations need to establish the tools, technology, and processes that support a transparent approach to enable true IT financial management (ITFM). Many organizations have managed IT spending either through general ledger accounting platforms or by using disparate systems to track costs and expenses. A general ledger approach may reveal overall costs but fails to delve deep into the consumption details that comprise the total cost of ownership (TCO) of a given technology solution – a key metric in allocating and managing costs.

An IT financial management solution, on the other hand, provides organizations with a centralized line of sight into their own consumption and both macro and micro level details of actual consumption as well as total cost of technology. By presenting costs as a line item via a monthly invoice, for both internally provided services as well as external solutions, business users can begin to fully understand their technology consumption and its associated costs. They’ll have what they need to justify any cuts or additional spend.

Organizations also experience more productive dialog and organization-wide cost control as a result of increased visibility and accountability. This supports more dynamic forward-facing budgeting, forecasting and planning, enabling business users to make strategic and responsible decisions based on actual data. We see companies that have already started to do this and are reaping benefits from it.

An automated service cost modeling solution is critical for technology financial management processes because it ensures charges are allocated accurately, fairly and in a manner so business users understand what they are paying for. Common examples we hear about are the maintenance and support that go with managing a technology application. Insight into complete IT expenses, presented in business language, enables business managers to better distinguish value-added activities and costs from non-value-added activities and costs. By providing visibility into the costs of technology products and services through an automated approach to IT technology financial management, organizations can strengthen the dialogue between IT and its business partners and positively change the way enterprises use technology.

The quote at the beginning says it all. Business and IT are in this together. Period.

Are Your IT Budgeting Practices Stuck in a Time Warp?

The time of year when most departments, including IT, submit preliminary budget requests for 2016 is upon us. Are you prepared … or are your budgeting practices stuck in a time warp?

The IT budgeting process faces many pressing demands, ranging from IT consumerization to new technologies. According to InformationWeek’s most recent IT Budget Outlook, stagnant IT budgeting strategies hold many organizations back from taking a more strategic approach to IT spending. One reason is that many organizations with $100MM+ IT budgets still rely on general corporate budgeting and planning solutions, or gasp, manual budgeting processes.

According to the chart below, 50 percent of survey respondents use spreadsheets – yes, those old clunky Excel things – as a means to collect IT spending data. The 50 percent figure is up from only 47 percent last year. We’re definitely headed in the wrong direction on that trend.

Spreadsheets image

The means for IT budgeting is cause for unhappiness within IT. Satisfaction with IT budgeting processes dropped year-over-year. Those that were “very satisfied” with their IT budgeting process dropped from 14 percent in 2013 to 8 percent in 2014. These time warped budgeting processes are not only cause for this downward spiral in happiness among IT professionals but also make it difficult, if not impossible, to accurately forecast or prioritize IT spending.

With more businesses relying on technology as a competitive advantage, organizations cannot afford to remain with legacy budget processes and practices. Trends such as the consumerization of IT (BYOD), cloud computing and more marketing-initiated IT spending have also set the stage for more robust IT financial management. These trends result in business unit management taking greater responsibility and control of their own technology budgets. This trend has contributed to the emergence of shadow IT budgets, along with additional challenges for IT and corporate business leadership. 37 percent of respondents stated the rate of outside spending on IT was on the rise, up from 22 percent last year.

The bring-your-own-device trend and web services make it possible for non-IT personnel to provision their own technology, but they lack the specialized expertise to determine appropriate security, standards, support and services. According to the InformationWeek survey, 43 percent of respondents either don’t have an IT governance board, up from 39 percent last year, or if one does exist, it has little influence on IT spending. While business units may be able to bring in devices, the IT department needs to be able to handle the critical internal infrastructure, security, data integration and help desk services. InformationWeek stressed the importance of governance, “Governance isn’t bad. Maybe the word rubs IT buckaroos the wrong way, but strong IT leaders should want their non-IT colleagues to have a seat at the table, not for technical decision-making (gigabit or 10 Gig for core networking?) but for important business decisions (like figuring out the proper resource levels for IT). IT organizations can’t and shouldn’t be making those calls on their own.”

The InformationWeek survey also noted that centralized IT isn’t dying as 63 percent of survey respondents reported that they 70 percent of IT services are budgeted in central IT. But partial visibility into spending isn’t enough. Corporate budgeting and planning systems can help with cost containment, but they cannot provide the level of detail a focused IT financial and business management solution offers.

With old-school IT budget processes, businesses cannot manage change such as when an unexpected expense arise. Nor can they accurately forecast for future technology consumption. IT budgets are typically planned six to nine months in advance, yet tend to change significantly based on business and/or IT requirements even before being implemented. Less than half of survey respondents stated that their budgeting process is flexible enough to deal with such changes, while 16 percent said there is not wiggle room for change. The result is disconnection between IT forecast and actual spend, resulting in variances and worse, an inability to prioritize technology investments.

With 28 percent of respondents indicating they expect to see an increase of at least 5 percent in IT spending, it is time to put much greater rigor and financial discipline in their approach to technology deployment. A majority of respondents note that IT budget requests, approvals and tracking are too cumbersome with their current process. The result is an inability to set future direction for critical spending.

Conversely, with a state-of-the-art IT financial management (ITFM) software solution, organizations can now implement more effective IT governance. Using a data-driven approach, IT organizations, in concert with corporate business management, can prioritize IT funding and have the flexibility to respond to unanticipated projects and expenses. An ITFM solution helps CIOs assess the business of IT from different perspectives such as defining and understanding fixed verses variable IT products and services cost structures, benchmarking those costs/rates against peer groups, or comparing the cost of delivery against a third-party alternative like outsourcing or delivery via private, public or hybrid cloud infrastructure. It also increases overall transparency and creates a heightened sense of shared corporate responsibility with the CIO, IT leadership and line of business management, resulting in more accurate and dynamic technology budget process and practices.

Visible, accurate IT budgets that drive greater technology value and organization-wide technology ROI start with two things: deep, clear data about consumption and spending and a flexible process for allocating the costs across business units based on consumption – the right ITFM solution can deliver both.

As IT plays a greater role in your company’s success, isn’t it time you got your budgeting practices unstuck?


2014 Budget Outlook Blog

ITFM from the Movies v. 2.0

“The following case study has been approved for appropriate audiences by fans of information technology cost transparency” blared from the projector and set the stage for last week’s Impact 2015 “IT Financial Management (ITFM) from the Movies” presentation. Have no fear, the edited version of the Motion Pictures Association of America’s bright green famous screenshot was appropriate for all attendees.

ITFM Movies

The session’s speaker, Ted Townsend, knows IT cost transparency better than most, but even better than that, he displayed a sense of humor about ITFM. Ted utilized humor by showing a famous Jurassic Park clip synonymous with much of the large and unfocused data available today. Your IT customers will be like this if left with inaccurate and ineffective data. But don’t be scared though, until the next sequel, Jaws will not be a threat, and your credibility will not be threatened either. That’s where ITFM comes in. Put away your Harry Potter wand because ITFM isn’t magic. Everyone outside of IT wants more details on IT, which is fine and dandy, as long as you have the right ITFM solution in place.

Ted jumped into a case in point regarding SharePoint. One of his previous organizations (which shall remain nameless) started creating databases lumped into farms across SharePoint. Each database was then replicated on each type of environment. Without knowing it, said nameless organization accidentally created massive quantities of data structures, which spiraled out of control similar to this scene of multiplying Mogwai from Gremlins.

Ted’s team understood the then-existing process wouldn’t work for the long-run. At one point, Ted wanted to view costs as they related to each associate. In order to do this, the team had to drill down into costs at that level. After the initial allocation run, SharePoint showed up as the firm’s most expensive application – and SharePoint is not expensive. The problem: “a database is a database is a database” mentality. Ted’s team tried to put a price tag on their database – and accidentally created a monster. The team went back the database drawing board.

Enter ComSci. Increased governance, service rationalization, chargeback and improved cost allocations methodology resulted after Ted implemented ComSci. SharePoint requests were now automated with workflow approval. SharePoint sites also became a “pay to play” with rationalization of and awareness of cost by each internal technology consumer. The team also enhanced the database allocation methodology and forever banned the “a database is a database is a database” mentality. Ted encouraged the audience, “don’t architect beyond your data. Understand what it can do and its quality. That’s where most go wrong.” After digging through existing SharePoint sites, Ted and team quickly realized the massive quantities of often disorganized data existed. Through a thorough rationalization process, they turned SharePoint into a profit center – a big improvement from what was previously the most expensive application.

The Sorcerer’s Application (aka ComSci, thank you Harry Potter) worked its magic and enabled Ted and team to create more costs from SharePoint, have a more refined view of associated costs, see total cost of employee and understand unit/volume to help predict future costs. What a wonderful concoction by the data Sorcerer.

Bravo, Ted, at the outset of your presentation, I wondered how ITFM related to movies, but you waved your magic wand and provided the answer.

Measure What Matters | Impact 2015

Mastermind Albert Einstein shared some wise words with us many moons ago, “Not everything that counts can be counted and not everything that can be counted counts.” Say that ten times fast without messing up (go ahead, I dare you…).

After that tongue twister of a dare, start to think about the real meaning of the quote. Einstein’s words make a fantastic point that the value of some things in life cannot be measured (friendship or courage). They count, but, they are not quantifiable. The second part of the quote focuses on how some things (bonds, stocks and money) can be measured, but he questions whether they really count in life. Leave it to the man who developed the theory of relativity to give us some food for thought.

I assume you’re asking, well, what does this have to do with ComSci or IT financial management?  Ask yourself: if not everything that can be counted counts, how do you know what you’re counting really counts?  That is the beauty of ITFM. You ensure everything you count counts. At last week’s Impact 2015 User Conference, Brian Stedman of Team ComSci and Jean-Francois Boudreau of Canadian National Railway took the stage share their thoughts on reaching cost transparency and cost optimization. Their presentation revealed not only the journey specifics but also the solid partnership behind this dynamic duo–a trusting and dependable partnership.

Jean-Francois (JF) and Brian detailed the approach CN Rail has taken and continues to take to reach cost transparency. First, JF and team set up the foundation for success. There’s no good building without a good foundation.  His team defined the vision in terms of domains and metrics, the project team members and finally obtained C-level buy-in. Next came the alignment of financial information and accountability (timesheets, contracts, etc.). Then, he and his team established the product list (approximately 650 products included in all) and a configuration management database. After the team set the internal foundation, it was time to select the right ITFM solution – the “real enabler for IT cost transparency.” Manual processes weren’t sustainable in the long-run and the team wanted a partner in the process. An implementation-only partner wasn’t going to cut it in the long-run as JF shared, “this is not a quick implementation but a journey.”

Cost optimization will be the team’s next challenge. Cost optimization first requires the team to improve financial credibility (baseline, benefits, accuracy, and accountability). Next, they will need to focus on cost management optimization including internal and external benchmarking, cost per unit (utilization vs. total capacity) and application portfolio management. This step leads into prioritizing IT investments based on value, priorities and strategy.  JF’s on-going collaboration with us has enabled his team to reach their goals more quickly by facilitating the communication of IT value to business leaders, bringing business and IT into a collaborative planning and budgeting process and driving efficiencies to promote value optimization.

JF stressed a few key lessons learned throughout the process that helped drive his team’s success:

  • Get an executive sponsor
  • Communicate objectives and goals to executives and all IT employees
  • Do not underestimate the IT business process changes and effort required for the transformation
  • ITFM solutions are great enablers but long-term collaboration with the right partner like ComSci is critical as this is not a quick implementation but a journey

Did you pass the ten times fast dare?  Do you still agree that not everything that can be counted counts? ITFM is here to help make sure that everything counted does count. You’re busy and your team is busy. With ComSci, you’ll be able to manage and communicate the cost, quality and value of the IT services you deliver to the enterprise – and more importantly, you’ll have a partner worth partnering with.



The Right Way to do Chargeback

Guest Author: Brian Stedman, Upland Software


Do you need a better handle on your technology costs? Or do you want to better understand how technology products and services are consumed by internal business units in order to ensure they’re providing the most cost-effective and value-added services?  Better yet, do you want to transfer the accountability to those who are actually using those IT products and services?

If so, let’s talk of how to define Showback and Chargeback.

An effective Showback process enables you to obtain an accurate snapshot of the technology investments used by each department within your organization. Showback also empowers IT and its customers to not only track spending and consumption, but also to analyze how that technology is used both effectively and efficiently by business units, users and employees. As you can imagine, this information is invaluable. You’ll now be able to know whether or not IT products and services investments are advancing your strategic business goals.

Not every IT Financial Management or Technology Business Management provider views or defines Chargeback the same way though. Transferring the accountability can mean transferring the budget dollars, which requires an accounting acumen, rigor and precise process. Some technology business management vendors casually define the Chargeback process as simply the ability to send a file of allocations to one’s General Ledger system – and then HOPE it balances with the Showback reporting. Two questions additional questions should always be asked in order to gauge future success:

  1. At what level are these allocations?
  2. Does the input to the General Ledger match what’s in the reports pushed out to the departments?

These two questions are important because first, if the allocations are only high-level to the business areas and fail to attribute those allocations with a much-needed line item detail, this is a potentially disastrous attempt to Chargeback.  Showback reporting may then not equate to what customers are actually charged as well. Second, although it really goes without saying, data accuracy is a huge an issue. Imagine the frustration if the numbers from your ITFM application fail to match what’s in the General Ledger. Some ITFM vendors claim they do Chargeback in the right way when in reality you’ll be left with unfulfilled expectations – and reports that don’t match your General Ledger. When the data is not accurate, both you and the data will lose credibility, which is worse than providing the information in the first place. Finally, business units will be far from pleased if your ITFM inaccuracies negatively impact their bottom line.

There’s a better way though. With Upland’s ITFM application, ComSci, you’ll receive a fully hosted production chargeback system with accurate fact-driven transactional consumption information. You’ll have the ability to provide internal customers with insight regarding IT charges without wasting valuable time gathering that information. You can spend your time focusing on strategic, value-added activities instead. Don’t just take our word for it though. One of our current customers, Denise Vay of PPG Industries, boasted about ComSci’s Chargeback capabilities in a recent case study, “The accuracy of our data is now much greater, primarily because of the enhanced visibility provided within the ComSci solution. This allows each department to analyze its utilization of services and track its internal budget. Better visibility also enables managers to control demand, which has resulted in reduced overall spend.”

Give us a call anytime to learn more about the right way to do Chargeback.


Start 2015 by Focusing on What’s Important

A change happens in the last few days in December. Some sectors are in the middle of the busiest time of their year, many have just enjoyed a rare few days where the pace of business slackens or even stops, as we remind our families what our faces actually look like in the flesh. Even for the busy ones, the media have been putting out a constant stream of reviews of the best and worst of 2014. We have had a chance to reflect on the year just gone, and now we start gearing up for the year ahead.

I’ve an assortment of projects and planning ideas sketched out in my trusty OneNote notebook. I can also look through the meetings, planning sessions and customer visits already in my diary for January and see there’s plenty of other organizations in the process of settling important decisions that will impact their business for the next year or three.

What is important, though? This brief, annual pause in the business cycle is a perfect time to realize the truth behind Eisenhower’s old maxim: “What is important is seldom urgent and what is urgent is seldom important.” This is often represented as the perennial favorite below, the Eisenhower Matrix:



An Eisenhower Matrix for IT Financial Management

Your mileage may vary, but I think most will recognize something of their working environment in the way I’ve filled out the matrix from an IT Financial Management (ITFM) perspective. It explains a particular challenge: important work must get done, but urgent work gets in the way. Even in our personal lives, we’re familiar with how paying the bills and hunting for a good deal can distract us from reviewing longer term matters such as savings plans and pension arrangements.

There are three main lessons for ITFM that you can take from the matrix above. These revolve around the benefits of moving along the “Process Improvement” arrow I’ve laid over the grid:

  1. A good process will give you more time to focus on better, higher value decisions
  2. Don’t let your team get mired in trivia about specific devices or vendors
  3. Performance at critical moments depends on planning ahead, e.g. for negotiations

2015 will see a number of trends continue in enterprise technology. Lines of business and other corporate functions will continue to grow in confidence that they should own their own budget for technology. CEOs will continue to have rising expectations of what “digital business” means for their company. Pressure will not let up on government departments to be able to track their expenditure on major initiatives.

Just as the heads of other functions are focused on their strategic goals, IT and IT Finance likewise should ensure their team is focused on what is important. Your team’s real priorities aren’t necessarily what they are supposed to be. Based on the matrix, here’s a quick self-assessment you can perform of your organization’s real priorities:

  • How much time does your IT finance team spend on finding value opportunities, compared to simply keeping up with the paperwork for tracking and allocating costs?
  • How much of your relationship with other business units is spent on planning and delivering new capabilities, compared to explaining the details of cross-charges and procurement decisions?
  • When you sit down to review major contracts, re-orgs or the impact of M&A activity, do you feel comfortable that you have a good understanding of your cost structure?

What I often find at the start of an ITFM related initiative is that a financial process is in place, and running smoothly – but that the overall priorities, as measured by where the team spends their time, are as much about Excel maintenance as they are about business improvements.

The regular urgency to perform cost allocations and keep spreadsheets up to date can be a major distraction from actually getting things done. It is deadline-driven and urgent, but it is not important. It has to be done, but it does not have to be done by you.

That’s why at ComSci, we talk a lot about Business Process as a Service. For us, the day-to-day heavy lifting of running an effective, data-driven chargeback or showback process is important. It is our commercial purpose; it is our revenue stream. We work hard to make sure that our processes and technology are scalable. Our dedicated production team can handle significantly more systems and transactions, at lower cost and higher quality, than IT Finance teams that typically have cost allocation as a secondary responsibility.

Our customers enjoy more time to focus on what it is truly important to their company, while ITFM becomes a source of value rather than a sinkhole for time. Easy access to regular, reliable cost and billing information helps manage the challenges specific to their business: big ticket “one-offs”, such as major initiatives or negotiations, and the ongoing improvement of their service portfolio. And with good information being provided on a regular, colleagues are far less likely to start those conversations which devolve in to discussions about relatively trivial technology preferences.

Of course, every business has its own unique requirements. We’d love to help by easing your administrative load and revealing new information about your operations. When you look at the changes to come in your organization in 2015, what’s important to you?


Three’s a Charm: Implement Service Catalogs, Service Costing and Unit Cost Management Together

Guest Author: Brian Stedman, Product Management, ComSci by Upland

Three is referred to as the triad, the first prime number and “noblest” of all digits; therefore, it’s often considered a lucky number. Well, three in IT is special too. When IT implements the three activities which this blog is focused on, you’ll know that’s where the real IT magic happens. Each one requires commitment, strategy and collaboration to be done correctly. IT organizations that implement a demand management initiative around their service offerings experience almost twice the level of IT success than those that implement just one alone. When all three are implemented together, IT will center its priorities on cutting IT costs, managing IT spend and enabling cost transparency. Service-based IT maturity level correlates with success in the same way that “running IT like a business” is an attribute of IT leadership. It’s important to do all three activities in tandem for the greatest (and most magical) impact.three-amigos

When defining the service catalog, you can expect to hear one of the following opinions:

  • For some, it is basically a “shopping cart” for service requisition. It is an online application with a list of the IT services that allow users to request each one.  It may also have a capability for approval as well as reports on the status of each requisition. Some may then indeed call it a service request and fulfillment.
  • Others describe it as a way to document information about service performance and service levels. It is a digitized repository of SLAs for each service and tracks service performance against SLAs.  I may also measure the business impact of noncompliance. This is the service level management (SLM).
  • Finally for some, it is the tracking of IT finances. It includes a detailed cost model for each service, monitors consumption by LOB (line of business), offers some demand planning features and provides financial reporting.  This is often referred to as the IT Financial Management approach.

When implementing service costing, you can expect the following results:

  • Costs are aligned with consumption, enabling better user decisions (aka demand management) and business analysis such as product or business unit profitability.
  • Resources focused on activities valued by the business and wasted spend are eliminated through cost transparency and technical decision support.
  • Standardized solutions and economies of scale are improved as the true costs are identified
  • Processes and measurements assist in prioritizing activities, benchmarking, and managing and sustaining improvement activities.
  • The IT team’s contribution to overall business profitability are improved.
  • Continuous improvement programs enhance service quality and lower unit costs.

Unit Cost Management is a discipline focused on improved operational management. Service Managers can develop a more effective management role over their offering, managing both costs and revenues. There is clear visibility of redundancies and non-valued service. Greater efficiencies are seen in work management and problem resolution leading also to improved customer service. Identification of cost drivers that create a language for interaction between business and IT. Clear and efficient communication leads to improved planning and implementation of offerings aligned with business requirements.

Implementing a service catalog based on service cost modeled services with a disciplined cost management process can foster a clearer understanding within the business of value delivered by IT.  Charges (prices) are aligned to business controllable consumption, resulting in better decisions.

These types of activities provide a thorough examination of all services and functions being delivered. The IT services and functions are then reviewed by the internal consumers to validate the business value received. Non-value-added services are changed or eliminated. An IT Financial Management (ITFM) Program (including a service catalog, service costing, unit cost management and even chargeback, etc.) will offer the customers the opportunity to influence supply (the IT spend) by controlling the demand for the services. Corresponding cost transparency reduces the need for one-time cost reduction initiatives in the future and leads to continuous process.

Cost savings will be generated and available to invest in new projects or improvements and funds will be available for higher value projects and activities. By running IT more like a business, you’ll gain greater cost transparency, understanding, and business alignment to support operational improvements and corporate changes in the future.

Think of the number three today and how you can create your own magic with your IT activities.



Photo credit:


Customer Services Best Practices (Don’t overlook your most vital asset – your CUSTOMERS)

Guest Author: Robert Bracco, VP of Client Services for ComSci at Upland Software


What can I say about Customer Services Best Practices that has not been said before?  All of us have heard a hundred times how companies are customer focused, care about their customer base and go above and beyond to ensure a customer’s expectations are met.

Establishing Customer Service “Best Practices” is important to every organization. Today’s leaders must realize there is no magic bullet that will solve all of the customer problems / concerns. The key aspect in any good customer facing organization is your ability as a leader to listen to your employees and customers, understand what they are faced with day-in and day-out, and make the necessary adjustments to your operational guidelines to ensure your staff has every available tool to make the customer’s experience (and staff) the best.

All too often, I’ve seen Customer Service Leaders make the mistake of establishing a “one size fits all” Operational Guideline within their organization, assuming it will work for every scenario then turn a blind eye on making refinements to the process by not listening to their most valuable asset, the customer.

As leaders, we are always willing to make adjustments to our policies and procedures based upon market demand but more often than not, leaders make the mistake of not listening to their customers and making the necessary adjustments needed to empower their employees to achieve customer success.

Let’s face it, your customer is your single most important asset and as a leader, you must pay close attention to what they are saying.

Many leaders tend to overlook their Customer Service Teams and not engage with them to solicit input on what the customers are saying and looking to accomplish.  Your team has “heard it all and seen it all” so why wouldn’t you as a leader listen to their input /suggestions to take action, modify policy and procedures with the end goal of achieving customer success? Leaders who engage their teams on a regular basis, work to understand their customer interactions and immediately develop solutions to better aid their Customer Service Staff in achieving success, have a much higher customer satisfaction rate than those who do not.

Good Customer Service Leaders recognize the importance of establishing a solid operational foundation but at the same time remain hyper-focused on constant evolvement of their policies through direct input from customer interaction with the Customer Service Team.  As leaders, it is incumbent upon us to ensure the success of our Customer Service Team through continual communication, feedback and suggestions by the employees on how to improve Customer Service and our ability to provide each team member with the necessary “toolkit” needed to drive success in ever interaction with our customer base.

As a result, your team will not only feel that you as a leader understand their challenges, but they will also see firsthand how their input and suggestions make a difference. This becomes evident in every interaction your team has with your customer base and is ultimately what enhances your Customer Satisfaction moving forward.



Photo credit:

data journey

3 Conversations to Kick Start the Data Quality Journey

Guest Author: Jonathan Walls, Principal Consultant, Upland Software

One of the most common obstacles I encounter at the start of a cost transparency initiative is a concern about data quality. It’s an area with a lot of common misconceptions, and can stop IT from even getting started down the road to improved cost efficiency. The most common mistake I see is to think that it is a lack of data that causes the problem. Usually, the issues start with multiple data sources.

There’s an old saying that if you have a watch, you always know what time it is – but if you have two watches, you’re never quite sure. In my experience, large IT departments usually have a lot of watches. In other words, they have a number of systems of record, which don’t agree with each other all the time.

As a result, most managers have had bad experiences trying to pull together reports and spreadsheets in the past. They’ve sat in meetings where conflicting Excel information prevented a decision being made. Maybe they tried to build a chargeback process from scratch, but stopped after it was taking up too much of their time. It’s easy to just settle in to the belief that because the data isn’t good enough, a disciplined approach to strategic cost management isn’t possible.

As a result, a CIO or IT Finance Director can encounter heartfelt resistance to plans to make cost transparency a reality. There are two things to remember at this point. First, if you let the current state of your data be the problem, you’ll never get started. You need to plan forwards to what you can achieve as your data continually improves over time. Second, you should engage with the concerns that cause the resistance. Here’s are three meeting topics that should get the project moving:


  1. Explain WHY a healthy financial management process is important
  2. Show HOW their data contributes to the process
  3. Detail WHAT steps they need to take to improve data quality over time



Everybody understands that financial discipline is part of running a business. Somehow we often manage to forget this is the very moment our finance team asks us to devote some time to producing a report. For development or operational teams, requests from finance can appear to be a drain on resources. Therefore, it’s important to explain why a healthy financial management process is good for them, too.

There are two common outcomes from implementing an effective ITFM process:

Savings: A 5 – 10% reduction in costs is very achievable. Under-utilized servers; mis-aligned storage tiers; poorly negotiated telecoms bills; multiple overlapping applications – these all present savings opportunities that can be identified and driven home by a solid financial process. Savings can relieve the pressure of a tight budget, or be re-invested in new or improved IT services.

Agility : Most IT departments are not able to deliver the breadth and depth of services they would like. ITFM helps organizations move faster by making it easier to make good decisions – we often hear that after implementing Upland’s ComSci, we reduced the time to produce financial reports by weeks or even months. That is time that can be used to plan your next move instead.



Finance is often a black art to technologists. An enterprise architect might be able to design a data centre or plan an ERP upgrade, but struggle to build a solid business case. On one occasion, I saw an IT department engage an external boutique consultancy to assess cost savings from server consolidation, only for the analysis to be thrown out by the accounting team because the cost assumptions (based on price lists) didn’t match up to what was on the books (based on negotiated purchases and depreciation policies). These communications gaps between experts can carry a hard cost.

Understand your cost drivers

One of the great strengths of building a visual cost model is that it helps the technology experts collaborate with their finance counterparts to really understand the cost drivers in their organization. They can see how much a GB of Tier 1 storage impacts an application, how much it costs to give an employee a tablet with a wireless data subscription, or how much it costs to run a particular enterprise application in the data center. A set of clear reports and graphical model can reveal just how their own particular system relates to the corporate financials.

On several occasions it’s been a genuine pleasure to see people engage with their own data in a way they’ve never seen before. Without a good cost model, for instance, it is impossible to compare the fully loaded cost of running an application in the corporate server farm versus renting compute capacity from Amazon. This new understanding makes it much easier to identify savings opportunities, and to present new proposals with a strong financial business case.



Assuming everyone buys in to the potential of improved cost transparency – what practical steps can you take? There isn’t a quick and easy answer to this, of course. Data quality is something that improves over time.

The most common data issue we see at ComSci is incorrect Cost Center Assignment. For example, HR might say that Jonathan is in Cost Center 1234, but the CMDB has me listed under Cost Center 5678, while the Wireless Support Team puts me in Cost Center 91011. These data conflicts arise because as organizations grow, and implement or acquire new systems, moves and changes aren’t consistently applied across all the affected systems.

This presents an obvious challenge to billing my department correctly for the services I use. Similar data gaps will be found between a number of different data sources. Potentially, we could see some tension if this is allowed to become a source of organizational conflict, too.

Implement a unified process

Here at Upland, we’re proud that in addition to providing customers with software, we provide a full monthly service to run the IT financial process. This gives our customers the single most important solution to the data quality challenge: a unified process across all internal platforms. This ensures a single source system of record is identified for each domain, and that each system has the proper controls in place to consume, manage and identify gaps in that data.

The heart of this process is building in controls that call out the data anomalies for our client base. Reports easily call out data issues, which the IT department can use to address the discrepancies in their internal systems. To use the example above, for instance, the first incremental improvement might be to update the CMDB and the Wireless Billing system to use HR as the single source of truth for employee details.

Ultimately, the solution to improving your data quality lies in a better understanding of your current systems:  so start today, start with a unified process – and let the data guide you to an efficient, accurate outcome.




Photo credit: