Trends have always driven IT, but these days, it seems like the trends and their associated buzzwords are becoming louder and even more critical to the business, who are often more aware than ever of the fact that technology can be used to improve their individual units.
Here are just a few trends that get a ton of headlines these days:
- Big data
- Consumerizaton of IT
- Software defined networking
And the list goes on and on. All of these trends come at the same time that IT continues to support normal operations, which consist of dozens of sometimes hundreds of different systems all working together to support the business. Further, users are mor demanding than ever and less tolerant of delays or poor service.
Frankly, the sheer number of disparate skill sets that are necessary in today's technology environment is daunting, particularly in smaller IT shops where fewer people need to be able to handle many baseline skills that are expected of all IT departments. As new expectations creep in and CIOs find it harder to simply hire additional staff, it becomes more and more difficult to simply keep forging ahead.
What's a CIO to do?
Fortunately, there are ways for the CIO to cope. But they all require deep partnerships with people both inside and outside the organization. Frankly, if you're a CIO, IT director or other person with executive level responsibility for IT and you're not forging partnerships of some kind, you're doing it wrong; IT requires deep partnerships in order to succeed.
Implement a governance structure
In many organizations seen as struggling with an overloaded, overworked IT department, I've often seen one root cause as a serious lack of real IT governance. In these places, IT is tasked with prioritizing, planning and implementing every technology project and request that comes into the department. In many cases, when IT attempts to push back, originating departments simply escalate the request until it becomes a priority for IT. As a result, IT has a lot of high priority requests all on the table at once and ends up with zero happy users and a negative reputation.
With the right representative governance structure, the chaos can be tamed. With the assistance from across the organization, technology requests can be debated, discussed and eventually prioritized so that IT staff can adequately function and have some semblance of direction in their tasks.
Governance of some kind is critical. If you just read this section and have decided that you really don't need governance in your organization, stop reading now as this is what I consider to be a building block for effective IT management. If you're working for someone that won't let you implement a governance model, start sending out resumes because your life will eventually become very, very difficult.
Implement good project management practices
Many IT organizations have implemented full project management offices (PMO) complete with certified project management staff. Many organizations simply can't afford to take project management to this level. However, every IT organization still needs basic project management skills. In smaller organizations, I highly recommend that, at a minimum, the CIO be trained on project portfolio management and reporting techniques and that any staff responsible for project management receive at least basic training.
These skills will help IT staff better learn who needs to be involved in project execution and ensure that the right internal partners are brought into discussions regarding project execution.
Rethink the data center
Want to do something radical? Repurpose some of your data center staff into business analysts. Yes, there are some prerequisites to making this happen. First off, you need to rethink how the data center is managed and, when the time is right, consider the implementation of all-in-one systems such as Dell's vStart series of products that is capable of replacing many individual data center elements. Obviously, you will still need data center staff that understand how it all works, but by partnering with a company like Dell, you may be able to reconsider some existing job responsibilities. Again, this won't work for everyone, but it's something to consider.
Consider deep partnerships outside the organization
Although IT departments are seeing a need to acquire new skills at an alarming rate, CIOs can control some of this through strategic partnerships with outside partners. One method I've used in the past was to decouple the deployment of a new service from the ongoing administration. For example, implementing an Exchange environment requires a vastly different skill set that managing one on an ongoing basis. Further, the implementation process is generally a one time ordeal whereas administration is ongoing. Consider outsourcing the deployment of new services and limiting training to administrative tasks. In this way, you can get a job done and may avoid overwhelming internal staff. Such endeavors may require that you have a contract with that outside group for occasional tasks that may arise, but it may still be more efficient than simply expecting internal staff to pick up the load, particularly if you can't hire new people.
Obviously, there are many ways that CIOs can build partnerships that can help handle the onslaught of expectations that hit the IT department every day. Once a governance structure is in place, the CIO should leverage that structure as well as new outside partnerships to ensure that critical business ventures can be completed without overwhelming internal staff.
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 with CampusWorks, Inc. Scott is available for consulting, writing, and speaking engagements and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.