Many IT departments started out with just one or two people who had to become jacks of all trades and get their organizations slowly up to speed with the rapidly changing face of information technology. As times have changed, the nature of the work has changed, too. Many of these IT groups of old are now much larger and handling mission critical systems that keep the business running. While there are still some of these one man shows out there, even they have to make sure that they're focusing on activities that run the business and not on items better handled by others.
As I've traveled in recent months, I've had the great opportunity to see a lot of different IT departments in action. Many that have "grown up" organically still cling to some activities that they should consider moving off to other people. In this article, I'm identifying six activities that I've seen in action in IT departments in recent months that I think should be handled by others or through different means.
Running and making cables
When I started my very first IT job back in 1994, one of the first projects I was placed on involved running category 5-state of the art at the time-cabling through K-12 schools and terminating that cable to either 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, too.
Today, this is an activity better left to people who specialize in cabling installations. The value-add to the organization for making a network cable is, most likely, negative (as in, it costs 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 and, today, am thrilled to see organizations that bring people in that 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 that your IT department could be doing that has a more substantial impact on the bottom line? Start doing that and stop doing this.
Creating accounts manually
First of all, this one can be hard to do, but it's so worth it in the end. How much time does your staff spend managing accounts and dealing with exceptions? Don't forget all of the ancillary tasks that come along with creating an account, such as provisioning a mailbox and creating a home directory, among other things. 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.
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 selected assumed full responsibility for all of 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 that 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.
Taking a "build first" approach
There was a day when building software was 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 to the "buy" side of th equation. I say "leaning" because a buy approach will not work for everyone in every situation, but it makes sense to see if your business problem has already been solved by someone else before you start coding.
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 very 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.
Statistics show that password issues are a healthy percentage of help desk calls... but in an unhealthy way! When a user has 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 Windows login screen so that the user could reset his password even if he was sitting in front of his PC at midnight on a Saturday.
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.