Printers

10 tasks IT should consider handing off to someone else

Many IT departments are mired in routine activities that someone else could be handling. See if you can shift a few of these items from your IT portfolio.

As I've traveled in recent months, I've had an opportunity to see a lot of IT departments in action. One thing I discovered is that many groups that have grown up organically still cling to activities they should consider moving off to other people. Here are 10 things I've seen IT departments handling that I think should be handled by others or through different means. Some of these tasks may be fairly easy to shift from your IT portfolio -- others may not be feasible for everyone, but they're worth considering.

Note: This list is based on entries in our IT Leadership blog.

1: Running and making cables

When I started my first IT job in 1994, I was placed on a project that involved running category 5 state-of-the-art (at the time) cabling through K-12 schools and terminating it to a patch panel or by crimping an RJ45 connector on the end. Because Cat5 was so new, it was still pretty expensive, so my organization opted to make many of our own network cables.

Today, this is an activity better left to people who specialize in cabling installations. It's likely to cost more to make than to buy when you consider time and materials, and there's no guarantee that it will work. I remember spending quite some time learning how to terminate both Cat5 and thin coax. Today, I'm thrilled to see organizations bring in people who have the technical knowledge and testing tools necessary to install cabling that conforms to requirements for ever-more-sensitive networking electronics and standards.

While having someone come in and install cabling will cost a bit of money, consider the opportunity-cost side of the equation. Is there an activity your IT department could be doing that has a more substantial impact on the bottom line? Start doing that and stop doing this.

2: Creating accounts manually

This one can be hard to do, but it's worth it in the end. How much time does your staff spend managing accounts and dealing with exceptions? Don't forget all the ancillary tasks that come along with creating an account, such as provisioning a mailbox and creating a home directory. As you add more systems to the mix, this job becomes more and more onerous.

Here's the rub: User accounts, for the most part, can be completely driven from other systems, most notably the human resources system. Implement identity management tools that can be programmed to take the hassle out of this activity by mostly automating the process. From there, IT has only to handle exceptions and any specialty accounts that may need to be created, such as service accounts.

3: Servicing printers

Quick poll: How many of you hate supporting printers? If you're a typical CIO, printers are the bane of your existence. They cost a lot, they're finicky, and users prize them and scream when they aren't working right.

Here's what I did.

I made it someone else's problem by moving to a managed printing service. The company I selected assumed full responsibility for all our existing equipment and provided both repair services and toner replacement. In return, we paid the company per page printed each month.

Believe it or not, we saved a lot of money. The company could get parts more quickly and easily than we could, and their bulk buying capability got them toner at prices we would never have been able to touch on our own. Best of all, it freed up scarce help desk staff time to focus on other needs.

4: Taking a "build first" approach

Building software used to be the only way to get something done for the business. Of course, organizations have always performed a build vs. buy analysis. But today, with the rise of cloud services, organizations should be leaning toward the "buy" side of the equation. I say "leaning" because a buy approach will not work for everyone in every situation. But it makes sense to see whether your business problem has already been solved by someone else before you start coding.

5: Manually installing software

Microsoft will be releasing a new version of Office in the coming months. How will your organization do the upgrade? Will IT staff run around and install the upgrade from a central network location or will you push the software out using an automated software installation tool, such as the one included in System Center Configuration Manager?

As is the case with some of the other repetitive, non-value add activities discussed in this article, routine software installation should be handled as a part of an overall imaging process coupled with a reasonably robust software distribution platform.

6: Resetting passwords

Statistics show that password issues are a healthy percentage of help desk calls -- but in an unhealthy way! When users have a password issue, they can't do their work, and the IT staffer is taken away from what could be more important work to handle what could be a self-service task.

Self-service password reset tools can be had for really cheap these days and can be implemented, literally, in a day or two for smaller organizations. It might take a bit more time in larger organizations, but it's still not rocket science. I recently implemented self-service password reset at one of my client sites. The tool was relatively low cost and even had a way to integrate with the Windows login screen so that users could reset their password even if they were sitting in front of their PC at midnight on a Saturday.

7: Writing reports for users... to a point

I've seen organizations that rely on IT for every report to be run. Let me be clear: The end users simply did not run reports. The IT help desk was contacted and a request submitted, even for an existing report to be executed. This is a waste of time for both the end user, who now has to wait for someone to run the report, and for IT, who now has to simply execute the report.

The situation may be different for an end user who is requesting the creation of a new report. A number of self-service report creation tools are available on the market, but some reports are particularly challenging and require additional technical analysis to complete. So the creation of the new report may wind up as a collaborative venture between IT and the end user in question.

Note that I suggested this should be a joint venture. It's still not a case where IT will go it alone. The expectation should be that end users know what they want and can articulate that need in a reasonable way. It may take a few iterations to drill down to the perfect solution, but ultimately, end users have to know what they're asking for.

Many of you will respond to this item with, "Yeah... that'll never happen." And you're probably right for one of two reasons: 1) Your organizational culture is one in which the IT department is simply a bunch of order takers; 2) Your own thinking is getting in the way. The worst you can do is to try to get users to a point where they are asserting some level of ownership over the informational activities their jobs require. If your culture rejects the attempt, so be it -- but don't give up before giving it a shot.

8: Deploying physical servers... to a point

These days, with a modern infrastructure, the underlying components necessary to deploy a new application can be provisioned in mere hours -- or even minutes -- as opposed to the days, weeks, or months it would have taken in an all-physical world.

Yet some IT organizations remain steadfastly opposed to virtualization, labeling it as a "flash in the pan" that will go away. It's not going to go away and the advantages are simply too great to ignore, even for smaller organizations.

Deploying a physical server is a lot of effort and requires racking, cabling, cooling, and plenty of human intervention. Although virtual environments still rely on these efforts, once they're deployed, managing them is much easier and new service deployment is a snap.

With the benefits that come from Microsoft's virtualization rights associated with Windows Server Enterprise and Data Center, the licensing cost break-even to go virtual is around seven virtual machines.

9: Making Web content changes

This one used to frustrate me to no end. Simple Web site content changes required a high level IT staff person to execute. Although Web content lies squarely in marketing's lap, it requires that the marketing people be trained on the use of the content management system software and that they have the willingness to learn how to use it.

In general, IT staffers will maintain the underlying Web infrastructure and may work at a high level on content when there is a need for sophistication beyond the normal. However, if an IT staff person is constantly doing small content updates, those activities should be housed in the marketing area, freeing up that IT staff person to add features and functionality instead.

However, this one isn't the slam dunk I believe some other suggestions to be. It's more political and, in many organizations, the IT department is in charge of the Web site. In these cases, it makes sense for IT staff to be doing Web work.

10: Managing finances for communications services

I learned this one the hard way. Working on monthly phone bills carries with it absolutely zero value add to the organization beyond being able to charge every department for its 37-cent phone calls. There are a lot of ways that this activity can be made someone else's problem:

  • Outsource the management of the communications billing. There are many, many companies out there that specialize in telecommunications invoice and service handling that would be more than happy to take this task of your hands.
  • Move to a flat rate service. For local and long distance wired service, this is what I did in a previous position. I moved to services that included enough minutes that we never had an overage. In one position, this meant a move to SIP trunks. In both cases, the organization saved thousands of dollars per year and at the same time, the phone bill became easy to manage.

Summary

Some of these ideas will be easier to implement than others, so don't think that this article is telling you to simply quit doing all of the above. However, it is worth a quick analysis to determine the feasibility of eliminating these services from your IT portfolio either by empowering end users with tools and training or by strategically outsourcing certain activities.

Additional reading

About

Since 1994, Scott Lowe has been providing technology solutions to a variety of organizations. After spending 10 years in multiple CIO roles, Scott is now an independent consultant, blogger, author, owner of The 1610 Group, and a Senior IT Executive w...

10 comments
annetteg
annetteg

As an end user - I like to be able to manipulate and explore the data. And I don't have the time or the knowledge to write the code to create my report. Just as IT doesn't have time to see if green and blue bars better emphasize my point than red and yellow bars. We need a report writer that I can competently use and IT can set up without reinventing the wheel. Enter Windward - we keep things simple (full disclosure - I work for Windward). Based on MS Office so end users can create reports, works on Java and.NET, connects to DB2, Oracle and pretty much any data source and finally, can work in the programming language preferred by IT. These options keep IT support for report writing to a minimum and harness the MS Office skill set that almost all businesses require of end users. Great list! Annette with Windward.net

dovelewis
dovelewis

Great point on the printers. I completed my three-fold approach this year by combining all my print services under one contract. First, I eliminated as many desktop printers as I could get away with. It doesn't work for the CEO, HR and the CFO but everyone else can hump it to the copiers. Next, I started a maintence and supplies contract for all printers but timed it to expire at the same time of my copier contract. Lastly, when these contracts came up for renewal, I negotiated the price of combining "all print services". I looked at multiple copier companies (and made sure they knew they it). Great things happen with competition. If you do this, be sure to get "managed inventory" so toner cartridges are arriving automatically without having to call it in. I reduced all my expenses by very nearly 50% with steps 2 and 3. Moreover, I got all new copiers (3) and two new mfp, heavy-duty printers. But be aware of this: you'll be exchanging nickel and dime expenses for monthly maintenance bills that can sometimes be challenging for CEO's to understand. But no matter how I look at it, I'm hands-down saving money across the printing spectrum, I have new (and old)equipment AND I'm completely hands free. In my case, it's a one man show for IT and Facilities in a 24/7/365 operation with 100+ users on 87 machines. Contract your print services and put your feet up...

minstrelmike
minstrelmike

In the old system, there are over 250 different reports. When we converted, we ended up with 6 reports with several options. Our goal was to get out of the special report-writing business. Each of the reports had options to get lots of data and even better, you could dump output into a spreadsheet automatically and choose the data you wanted and write whatever sort of header you wanted. During the first 6 months, we spent a lot of time showing users how to get the data they wanted and sent several to Excel training but now managers have a lot better insight into the data we have (for a lot less money and time).

ivan
ivan

Very interesting, Scott. Re. your point on Servicing printers - do you have any feel for the sort of minimum numbers which makes that cost-effective? How many did you have? Thanks.

raybug2006
raybug2006

I am an IT Manager for a company with 13 branches. What you have just stated above makes a lot of sense and I will be looking to implement a few immediately starting with outsourcing printer servicing. Can you point me in the direction of a piece of software to allow the resetting of passwords by the user? The creation of accounts by anyone outside the company will take a lot of convincing as security issues are involved. May I ask for an elaboration on this issue ?

Dyalect
Dyalect

Leaves more time to work on your resume for grass cutting. Keep IT roles alive and well.

Scott Lowe
Scott Lowe

We had 60 or so devices, but I expect that there would be at least some benefit starting at the dozen or so mark. That's totally off the wall, but it's always worth a conversation with a provider. Scott

info
info

I have a meeting with a provider in 5 minutes for just this sort of thing. I'm skeptical, but we already have 'semi-managed' services with a number of larger MFPs and only a few printers that were distributed 'as-required'. It's very low maintenance for me, although this company is promising the World... All of the research I've done just shows it as being another snazzy sales pitch to get them extra dollars through 'nickel and diming', making costs hard to track.

info
info

What he was referring to was an integrated system through a service like Active Directory, probably tied into another piece of software. When someone in HR or Accounting, etc. enters the name of the new hire into the system, the user account and associated services, like profile and mailbox, are automatically created and then can be tweaked later.

Editor's Picks