Virtualization

Four more things your IT department should consider not doing

Most organizations might not be ready to shift these activities, but here are four more items you might want to consider doing.

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.

Summary

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.

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...

20 comments
rg
rg

FOR 27 YEARS, I HAVE SEEN A COMPLETE CORPORATE/ORGANIZATIONAL DISCONNECT IN WIRELESS COSTS AND MANAGEMENT WHERE ARE THE DISCONNECTION POINTS? WHO GETS INVOLVED? INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY (IT) (CONNECTS) 1) KNOW MORE ABOUT THE TECHNICAL SIDE OF THE EQUIPMENT 2) HOW THE EQUIPMENT FITS WITHIN THE CORPORATE STRUCTURE 3) FUTURE CORPORATION PLANS AND NEEDS. 4) WHICH CARRIER, REGARDLESS OF PRICE, MATCHES COVERAGE BETTER, DOES EQIUPMENT MEET TECHNOLOGY DEMANDS?, ETC. (DISCONNECTS) 1) WIRELESS CONTRACT NEGOTIATION (EVERYBODY SPENDS TIME ON DISCOUNTS AND IGNORES THE OTHER 88 PAGES OF ???GOTTCHAS???) (DISCOUNTS ONLY APPLY TO SOME COSTS AND NET ABOUT 1 ?? % OUT OF 3%) 2) INVOICE AUDITS (LACK THE TIME, SOPHISTICATED TECHNOLOGY, RATE PLAN DATA BASE, AUDIT SKILLS, ETC) PURCHASING (DISCONNECTS) 1) TECHNICAL KNOWLEDGE (3G-4G) 2) DOES EQUIPMENT TRUE UP WITH ORG. NEEDS 3) WHILE THEY HAVE CONTRACT NEGOTIATION EXPERIENCE, WIRELESS CONTRACTS ARE 99% IN FAVOR OF CARRIERS. THEY DO NOT HAVE KNOWLEDGE OF THE ???GOTTCHAS??? AND SPEND MONTHS NEGOTIATING DISCOUNTS = ONLY 1%-2% OF SPEND. SALES (DISCONNECTS) 1) REQUEST EQUIPMENT W/O KNOWING NUANCES OF DIFFERENT FEATURES & SERVICES OFFERED BY VARIOUS CARRIERS. 2) OFTEN GIVE IN TO SALES PEOPLE THAT WANT ???NEWEST??? PHONES 3) CONTRACT RAMIFICATIONS LEGAL (DISCONNECTS) 1) CAN DOT THE ???I???s BUT DO NOT HAVE THE EXPERIENCE DEALING WITH THE WIRELESS CARRIERS. THE CARRIERS ONLY CONSIDERATION IS RETAINING RECURRING INCOME. 2) DO NOT HAVE EXPERIENCE TO SPOT THE ???GOTTCHAS??? AND EVEN IF THEY DID, CARRIERS ARE TOO GOOD AT THIS. (THEY HAVE HUNDREDS OF STASTICIANS, ATTORNEYS, ETC. ) DEPARTMENT, REGION MANAGERS (DISCONNECTS) 1) THEY HAVE NO ACCESS TO RAW DATA AND CONSEQUENTLY, CANNOT BEGIN TO AUDIT BILLS. THEY MAY LOOK FOR UNUSUAL CIRCUMSTANCES, BUT IF BILL TOTALS ARE SIMILAR TO PREVIOUS MONTHS, IT IS USUALLY SIGNED OFF ON AND SENT TO A/P. A/P (DISCONNECTS) 1) IF IT IS GOOD ENOUGH FOR MANAGEMENT, IT IS GOOD ENOUGH FOR A/P. 2) THE DO NOT HAVE THE CONTRACTS IN FRONT OF THEM AND EVEN IF THAY DID, THEY DO NOT HAVE THE RAW DATA, NOR DO THEY HAVE THE THOROUGH UNDERSTANDING OF THE MANY RATE PLANS, ETC. NOR DO THEY UNDERSTAND THE CONTRACT LANGUAGE 3) IF IT IS $65,000 THIS MONTH AND WAS $65,000 LAST MONTH, IT MUST BE RIGHT. MOST CORPORATIONS DO NOT HAVE THE TIME OR THE DATA, OR THE DATABASE OF EVERY RATE PLAN AVAILABLE TO PROPERLY OPTIMIZE EVERY LINE, EVERY MONTH OR QUARTER. NOR DO THEY UNDERSTAND THE CONTRACT THEY SIGNED. MOST OFTEN, CORPORATIONS PAY ???LATE CHARGES??? AS WELL.

minstrelmike
minstrelmike

Several years ago I convinced our team to not write special reports. Instead, we wrote report engines that gave you all the data might possibly want in various sections (with date range and other criteria of course). The output can come as a web page or as a spreadsheet. If you want something different or special, mess with the spreadsheet. The users love it and now we only have one or two extra-special reports we end up doing every year because of specific requirements for programs that actually bring money. If you want to analyze stuff, you can do it on your own with access to data.

info
info

I just read it the other day, and this would be another contributing factor. As easy as most of these tools are (to US) to use, a LOT of end-users don't find it so. When 'forced' to use them, they get petulant and, once again, hate IT... Their work becomes shoddy and not as 'professional' looking as before, and where do you think the blame gets laid when asked about this by their managers?

timrush-aero
timrush-aero

I don't have a problem creating reports. Software I've written doesn't have that much user flexibility for creating them anyway. However, the users can run them on their own. I'll take the time to train users in the programs and reports where necessary, but if they ask me to run a report, I go to their machine to do it and make them do the clicking. As for Web work, that is entirely within I.T. responsibility. Don't even know if anyone else in the builiding has the abilitiy/knowledge for it.

RMSx32767
RMSx32767

Writing reports, or running reports? Unless the app allows users to write their own reports it will remain up to IT. With that said I do agree that IT should not be running reports. More than once I offloaded that responsibility to the appropriate person.

bboschert
bboschert

Outsourcing communications billing adds another IT expense and costs more than the salary of the person doing it..............I do agree it would be nice to offload that task, however..........

sissy sue
sissy sue

The culture of some businesses has not evolved since the 80s and 90s, when the IT staff were considered magicians with keys to some hidden and mystical knowledge. Computerization has advanced well beyond that point now, and there is no reason in the world why the technical staff should do for business professionals what they should be doing for themselves. No one expects the non-techie to have the wherewithal to match the skills of the IT pro, but there is no excuse for a non-techie to refuse to learn how to do simple things such as create reports or update websites. Learning to use these tools is for the non-techies' own good, unless they want to see their careers stall as the rest of the business world moves on. Of course, it sometimes seems that this is only true for all business professionals except upper management.

jfuller05
jfuller05

Virtualization, especially hyper-v, is going to be a preferred method among IT guys from now on because like you said, the benefits outweigh the disadvantages. Hyper-V is a snap to setup and my preferred brand, but I haven't tried out VMWare or any other virtualization brand.

MyopicOne
MyopicOne

In the several organizations I have worked for over twenty plus years, the number of end users capable of writing a report involving more than two tables and a simple one-to-many relationship can be counted on two hands. Everything from new college grads to pilots to MDs/scientists to accountants to whatever. They all [i]want[/i] to be able to write their own reports but that only lasts until they find out what they have to do to actually [i]create[/i] the report - then it's too much work, and testing - well, that's right out. The reports [i]must[/i] be guaranteed to work right just as the user has written them; that's ITs job to ensure, not theirs. Since my policy is to avoid doing other people's jobs for them, lots of useful reports don't get written or never are productive.

msdamico
msdamico

Haven't dealt with reports in years, but the last time I did it was assisting in the creation of the report. I use physical servers where appropriate and virtual where apprpriate. If someone wants a test server it will be virtualized. My Exchange server will remain physical. Marketing comes to me for major changes to the web server, but they handle the web page themselves. I usually don't even know whern changes are made. I have an account for cell phones and one for desk phones. All I need to do is change service as necessary, ie new users or foreign travel. The bill payment is handled by accounting and they only come to me if something doesn't look right.

gabbynizri
gabbynizri

???Six things your IT department should stop doing today??? Thanks, Gabby

jeb.hoge
jeb.hoge

WARNING: Sarcastic quotation marks ahead... IT implemented an "end-user-oriented" web content maintenance solution that would allow different departments to "easily" update/maintain their own content areas on a public-facing site, and it included an approval workflow for managers and our PR department to prevent anything non-releasable hitting the public view. As I understand it, the business areas had been asking for an "easier" way to get content updates out, because it was taking a few days in many cases just for text changes using our existing work request procedures. (What they really wanted was a streamlined skip-the-approvals process.) Somebody thought this new system would solve our problems. Someone else signed off on it. No one got around to telling the end users until they arrived for one of the multiple three-hour training sessions that I was assigned to deliver. After the first session, I started asking in the first minute of class "Who knows why they're here?" and the YES ratio was usually one in seven or worse. Epic, utter failure, and two years or so later, I'm pretty sure that 95% of our content changes go through the same workflow that this new system was intended to replace.

jheisler1
jheisler1

I disagree with you on the web work. I think for building, coding and creating, yes IT is involved. However, for the day to day running no. Marketing / Communications and other key people need to be able to manage the content. It would be such a drag on the IT resources to be posting products, announcements, white papers, etc. Content should be done by other departments, not IT. There is no reason not to build a solid content editor into a website or train users on how to use software such as Dreamweaver to manage the content.

info
info

Yep. Chevy is my preferred car. They're great! The best! Of course, I've never owned or driven any OTHER brand of car out there... ;) I went with VMWare ESXi 4.1 on the advice of a consultant I've been working with. Seemed a bit better for my smaller shop, Boots and works from an internal SD card, freeing up more resources for the actual server operations. HyperV doesn't seem much worse, except for needing the install of Windows necessary to run the VMs, along with MS's arcane licensing and rapidly increasing costs once they've 'locked you in'. You'll find fanboys for both, but they each have their own pros and cons.

LoveMyWife4x
LoveMyWife4x

If the user don't know their data, you can bet they will (and always do) find a way to do a do the classical star join on a non-indexed fields of a table. Then watch the system slow to a crawl. Then they blame IT. Either you should have prevented it or why can you do it!!! Report engines are nice -- if you understand them and the data. The problem is that most users don't -- they just want an answer when they press a button.

jfuller05
jfuller05

I went with hyper-v because it was there. If I was looking for a machine to specifically run virtualized machines then I would definitely shop around and weigh the pros and cons of each brand. The server was already there, as a second DC, so I decided to install the hyper-v role and play around with it. It has actually helped us out with our operations, so we've kept it running.

Scott Lowe
Scott Lowe

There will always be exceptions. Moving IT to handle more of these kinds of exceptions and fewer routine things that belong in userland may create issues from time to time.