Customer-Defined Quality in a Networked World
Linda M. Doherty
Quality in the information technology (IT) world may be defined by customers in the following terms:
* Understand strategic objectives. The IT service provider should deliver support consistent with the strategic intent of the organization. Internal organizational needs should be included in the overall strategic plan in order to plan for meeting business requirements. Specifying strategic objectives focuses the IT provider on delivering appropriate resources and services, enabling the organization to meet its objectives.
* Meet customer expectations. An internal shared computer network’s IT goals are often driven by cost-performance. The IT provider sees server loading, routes and switches configuration, applications, and the ability to support data transfer between users. Efficiency, capacity, and output of the network are measured against technology and cost standards. However, customers want access to and transfer of information in a collaborative work environment that supports the aim of the organization–effectiveness or outcomes. They want rapid data access, fast processing, capable help desk staff, and adequate data storage space measured against a personal standard that supports their work. The IT provider could satisfy their performance objectives for bandwidth, processing time, service availability, etc., and still not satisfy the organization/customer needs.
* Develop measurement systems. Measurement can help the implementation of strategic goals, assess progress toward desired goals, and provide comparisons regarding levels of performance. Methods used to obtain useful measures from network users include informal exchanges, formal feedback mechanisms (e.g., web-based surveys), customer service representatives, help desk data, and user group meetings. Quality characteristics for a positive user experience and the criteria for network success are then developed.
* Link metrics to customer feedback. Those quality characteristics must be translated into clearly understood definitions, tied directly to network performance measures, and validated against customer feedback. Cause and effect relationships between IT system measures and customer experiences are then determined by observing a positive correlation between the two.
* Use information to make improvement/investment decisions. System performance measures provide information (statistical) for taking action on the causal system to improve future performance from the customer’s perspective. Measures taken that are control-oriented or compliance-driven, provide no real information, or are inappropriate for decision making, are not useful in a customer-focused organization.
Process, output (efficiency), and outcome (effectiveness) measures need to be collected because without all three, there is no way to understand how the system is working, if it is in fact achieving its intended purpose, or how it can be improved. Using the power of the tools available to meet the requirements of the Government Performance and Results Act makes good business sense, and is essential in the 21st century “learning organization.”
Linda M. Doherty, is the director, strategic planning and analysis, Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Navy (firstname.lastname@example.org). Captain James F. White is the director, information program office, Department of the Navy (email@example.com).
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