A couple of weeks ago, I wrote an article entitled "Six things your IT department should stop doing today" and received quite a lot of feedback. The feedback ranged from "Right on!" to "If we do all of this, we won't have jobs!" While I don't agree with job preservation as a singular goal for IT staff, it's an understandable sentiment. That said, I continue to believe that IT organizations should do everything in their power to shed the mundane items outlined in the previous article in favor of activities that have a more substantial business outcome.
In addition, there are a few other items that IT departments should consider in their efforts to eradicate the mundane from the portfolios. This list, in my opinion, isn't quite the slam dunk that I consider the previous list to be. The items listed require careful consideration before making a major move and, for some, the business or the culture may simply not be ready and may need further preparation before the activity can be shifted.
With that said, here are a few more items that CIOs should consider removing from the IT portfolio.
Writing reports for users... to a point
I've seen organizations that rely on IT for each and 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 that is requesting the creation of a new report. While there are a number of self-service report creation tools available on the market, some reports are particularly challenging and require additional technical analysis in order to complete. As such, the creation of the new report may wind up as a collaborative venture between IT and the end user in question.
Note that I indicated that this should be a joint venture; this is still not a case where IT will go it alone. The expectation should be that the end user knows what he wants and can articulate that need in some reasonable way. It may take a few iterations to drill down to the perfect solution, but ultimately, the end user has to know what he's 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 that you can do is to try to get users to a point where they are asserting some level of ownership over the informational activities that they need to do their jobs. If your culture simply rejects the attempt, so be it, but don't give up before giving it a shot.
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 even months that it would have taken in an all physical world.
There remain IT organizations out there that 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 a lot 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.
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 lab, 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 the content management system software.
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 there is an IT staff person that 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.
This one isn't the slam dunk that I believe some other suggestions to be, however. 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.
Communications services financial management
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 their 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 while, at the same time, the phone bill became easy to manage.
As I mentioned before, some of these 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 the IT portfolio by either empowering end users with tools and training or by strategically outsourcing certain activities.
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.