Benchmarking against one or two conveniently or attractively located peers may be the easiest path to secure volunteer assistance and the quickest way to obtain data. However, easy and quick don't often lead to quality. Objectively and deliberately analyzing the potential targets for benchmarking will produce results that will generate the best ROI or most gain for the pain.
In most instances companies are aware of who their peers are, often painfully so in the case of competitors . The key is to identify those peers that most closely reflect the same image the company profile projects in terms of vulnerabilities, concerns, and cultural issues. Of course, the company must offer the majority of the services that have been identified as being required to support the company's business activities and enable the accomplishment of the enterprise's mission.
IT operations and senior management, as well as the marketing/sales staff, are great sources for lists of potential benchmarking candidates.
There will be a natural tendency to gravitate toward peers in the same industry. Firms outside your industry that offer the same or similar IT services and generally fit your company profile may be an excellent source of innovative ideas that have been born in a totally different environment.
Vendors often have a vast amount of data and market intelligence that can be leveraged in the benchmarking process. In addition to assisting, discretely, in identifying firms to benchmark against, some vendors such as Sun Microsystems can serve as a benchmark since they operate a multifaceted, multinational, multibillion dollar corporation that is supported by an excellent internal IT organization.
If your vendor of choice also runs their enterprise on their equipment, generally fits the company profile, and offers similar services, a wealth of information can be available on an as-needed basis or provided via their professional services organization.
Showing up unannounced at a firm you wish to benchmark against will probably not generate much in the way of results, but will likely generate embarrassment and ill will. As in most endeavors, whether house painting or benchmarking, preparation and planning is the key to success.
Once the target firms have been identified as described above, coordinating and often negotiating data collection is next . The following steps can increase the probability of obtaining the necessary data relatively painlessly:
Initial contact should be at the highest level within IT as possible ” ideally , the CIO.
Contact should be made by a peer or at least a representative of a peer; "Mr. CIO of our firm asked me to contact you."
Once a contact has been made and an agreement to serve as a benchmark is reached, appropriate management/staff ”data center manager, IT controller, etc. ”should be identified and available to participate.
A questionnaire that covers all the services to be covered in the benchmarking effort should be developed and forwarded to the target company in advance.
When travel restrictions, scheduling conflicts, or other impediments stand in the way of a physical visit, a structured and facilitated teleconference can produce satisfactory, if not optimum, results.
Learn about the firm prior to the site visit. By doing so, the individuals that will participate in the meeting can use relevant industry data to increase their probability of securing the optimum amount of information.
When invited into the inner sanctum of an IT organization, you must always be sensitive to how you react if you are in a less than optimum environment. Regardless of how carefully and diligently target sites are selected, some may not be good fits in some or all areas. Remember that every experience serves a useful purpose, even if it is only to be an example of what not to do.
The most likely outcome of the site visits will be that the sum total of all the visits, not one or two sites alone, will provide the data and value desired.
In the case of vendors, a non-disclosure agreement may be the order of the day to mutually protect valuable information and intellectual properties. Such agreements probably are not appropriate or required if a good measure of common sense and corporate integrity are exercised.
A variation of the golden rule may be a good guide: Don't ask for or take any information from a benchmark site that you would not be willing to give out.