Broadband

Six things your IT department should stop doing today

Scott Lowe identifies six activities that he thinks should be handled by others or through different means.

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.

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 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.

Resetting passwords

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.

Summary

By need, some IT groups will have to do some of these activities, but as the business starts to expect more from IT, it's time to consider shedding some routine, mundane 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...

44 comments
ghantoby
ghantoby

There is lot of information and they are very innovative and informative. I have read the article very well and it seems to me awesome. agen judi bola, agen sbobet, agen ibcbet

coffeeshop
coffeeshop

Making/running cables...UGH!!! Agreed; we'd much rather buy a patch cord or shorter cable for a buck or two (max) each then spend the time to make one. We're shifting some of our systems to a wireless infrastructure which (a) eases the burden on our switches and patch panels, also keeps our IT closets neater, and (b) solves the problem of users wanting to move their systems or saying, "Hey can you run a drop over her instead / activate this port / shift these ports to this network segment / etc?" While wireless is NOT a one-size-fits-all solution for several reasons (security, bandwidth, and RFI among them) we can install and configure a new access point in less time than it takes to make a handful of patch cables and the access points pay for themselves in flexibility and in the cost of time that we don't have to spend dealing with all of the above.

jenifferhomes
jenifferhomes

While this solution may be off the direct topic, it has helped me with users who do not log on to a domain and as a result, miss the password expiry notifications resulting in an expired password while out of office, and the predictable Exchange log on failures in Outlookc thanks r.p [url=http://www.cyberworldltd.co.uk/cases-for-htc-model-one-x.htm]HTC One X Cases[/url]

Worth2Cents
Worth2Cents

We had a CIO, who litterally started at the bottom of the totem pole. She started as admin and rose to the number 3 position of the enterprise. So she knew what it was like to be in the trenches...and she carried that with her, all the way to the top. And when she got to the top, she made it her mission to get things changed. In the executives' eyes, IT was an expense to be managed--a necessary evil. Well, she took great offense to that notion: "Someone has to answer the phones and make coffee." She researched IT's accomplishments and the strategic value we brought to the company's bottom line, and she put it in the other execs' faces. She made it crystal clear, that despite reducing IT budgets and other market strains on profits, IT was actually augmenting revenues via cost-savings. She made IT a stragetic partner--No project gets green-lighted without IT involvement, from executive planning, all the way down to end-user support. As a result, full-time IT now has better training, better equipment, bigger budgets, and earned respect. We've implemented all these suggestions, or more correctly, our clients had us implement all these suggestions, because we didn't have time to build cables and replace mices. "We need someone from IT to attend the next project kick-off meeting," they said. I started out, here, running cables, managing user rights, and loading CDs to build individual machines for users. Now I give "expert testimony" to people who make more in an hour, than I do all day. And the coolest part: They are actually listening!!

mail2ri
mail2ri

While I understand that the brief list of activities mentioned in the article is meant to highlight what "traditional" IT tasks other functions can do, the ground realities are quite different. Having risen to being an IT Manager in a large corporate now, after about two decades in the field (doing most of the listed tasks), I feel most of the 6 tasks are still done by IT staff. This is partly because of resistance from other functions to take up these responsibilities, besides the inherent weaknesses within the IT Dept. Have noted that in most corporate setups, the CIOs love to go out of their way to please their stakeholders (never mind if others don't reciprocate this generous gesture !). Hence, IT staff remain saddled with such mundane tasks even today, though some of these are outsourced to vendor staff. But, having said that, I feel some tasks (such as, installing s/w, resetting pwds) are best left for trained IT staff to handle, to prevent situations of escalations (unintentional or otherwise).

y2ktoou
y2ktoou

I wish 2 Hell my coworkers had learned how to construct CAT5 network drop/patch cables!!! For that matter, it would have been nice if they'd at least moved to CAT5E much sooner than just a couple of years ago. In the process of upgrading the network which will include deploying VOIP and it's going to require more than a little rewiring simply because nobody saw that the CAT5 cable that was going in just a little while ago would not work with new and existing technology even though the info was out there had anyone bothered to read up on it. Just today I had to move a tower PC that was sitting on a tiled floor so I could attach a cable to the back of the machine. The computer got moved about 25 degrees to the left of where I was kneeling and then I attached the cable and swung the machine back to its original position under the counter top. That small motion loosened the individual cable conductors inside the RJ-45 connector that was plugged into the NIC. You guessed it, the PC lost network connectivity. So I just got hold of the network drop cable and gave it a small tug. Viola~, service was restored. Sadly, I run into this sort of thing WAY to much which leaves me wondering, who taught my coworkers how to make a network patch cable???

datadorklv
datadorklv

Yes, need more info on the self-service PW reset tools. That would be an excellent addition.

HextWO
HextWO

This is one of my favorite parts of IT. I get out of the office and get to do somthing physical.

y2ktoou
y2ktoou

if like me your position is subject to union rules and regulations. there are things I could do that you mention but because another person is in the position that typically handles these functions, I'm not allowed to do them. 30+ years in the DP/IT Profession and because of some stupid-ass union work rule I can't touch some work that at times would make what I'm doing a lot easier. What a crock!!!!!!!!!!!

blarman
blarman

If your company can afford the cost of automating or outsourcing all these practices, great. Most of us - especially in this economic climate - don't have the budget for it.

Scott Lowe
Scott Lowe

All, I'm the author of the article... here are a couple of tools to consider: * Password reset: AD Self Service Password Reset (http://www.manageengine.com/products/self-service-password/index.html) * AD Bulk Users (http://www.dovestones.com/products/Active_Directory_User_Import.asp): VERY easy to automate most of the account creation process and very inexpensive tool. Just need a person with decent SQL skills (moderate skills) and this can be going very quickly. This tool creates the AD account, provisions the Exchange mailbox and creates a home directory all based on a delta SQL view that is a piece of cake to create. With tools like these, I don't see why even smallish organizations shouldn't at least consider eliminating these tasks from their dockets. Sure, there comes a point when small = 5 people and it may not make sense. Scott

sys-eng
sys-eng

There are advantages to making and running your own cables in data centers. If project scheduling allows time, the technicians can make and run these cables during their idle time. Testing the cables is simple so that should never be a reason for outsourcing. Custom made-onsite cables are preferred because they are the correct length and there will not be 30 feet or more of excess cable coiled up causing congestion. Premade cables should be used only for occassional runs and those cases involving definite known run lengths.

douglas.gernat
douglas.gernat

Stop having every one of the engineers having rights to administer the internal network. SO many problems come of it!

jonathan.mathet
jonathan.mathet

You could use SSRPM to allow users to reset their password, great product, AD compliant.

nick
nick

I agree with a number of people up above. For small companies and those with low turnover it does not make sense. It is too expensive. However it is a little bit more than just creating user accounts. If installed properly it carefully tracks a user through their company life. Change jobs? - The HR system is updated and your privileges change also, with no IT intervention. Change Departments? - Same deal. Cease to work there? - Your accounts get closed. If it is done properly it is smooth and easy and can save considerable effort. As far as password resets go I have never understood why this is still an IT function. In mid-large organisations the IT Help Desk staff cannot know everyone. Thus it is often taken on trust that the voice on the phone is the true owner of the account. And yet in the MS environment, Active Directory has had provision, since its first release, to delegate password resets, and other functionality, to more appropriate staff - such as a nominated person in the department who does know the individual concerned. This all seems too hard to implement for System Admins and IT managers.

emedinae
emedinae

Wow! I think here in my company we don't do just the number one "Running and making cables" I think we need more valuable activities!

MikeRigsby
MikeRigsby

As far as some Active Directory based tools that people are asking about, check out both Jiji Technologies and Admin Arsenal. Both of these guys make some really sweet Admin tools that are really functional at the freeware level and pretty affordable for the full versions. I'm not being paid to shill anyone's software, these are just useful tools that I use a lot. Jiji Active Directory Reports and PDQ Inventory and PDQ Deploy are really handy especially. JiJi also makes a Password Reset tool but I haven't personally used it. http://www.jijitechnologies.com/ http://www.adminarsenal.com/

RMSx32767
RMSx32767

I agree with the folks who don't believe these suggestions are always the "best practice" (and I cringed to use that phrase) for every company. That said, I would like to suggest that IT does NOT need to run reports for users; I've seen too many situations where a programmer, or other technical resource, spent time each week feeding input to a program that generated a report. When that happened to me (because the programmer who had been running the report left the company) I trained the user and let her run the report herself.

m6khoza
m6khoza

While this element might be true in some parts of world, there are tendecies by service providers of overcharging which may beat the whole purpose of serving. The response time would also be a problem because of low numbers of technicians as well as lack of economic power. As a result, the efficiency of the institution seeking these services may be compromised. but probably i would be looking at doing routine maintenance rather than waiting for the equipment to be down completely. For an office with a minimum printing requirement of 35000 per quarter, and considering a minimu charge of 90 centsPrinting a page may attract about 1$ and with an average number of 35000 pages in three months, then the cost for printing would be pegged at $35,000 which is far more than the cost of toner which at $4,000 in 3 months. Unless we advocate the concept of going green where printing is minimised. So i would probably suggest that b4 making a decision on which way to follow, a proper cost benefit analysis be done. I like the resetting password tool please do share!!!!

tom.marsh
tom.marsh

But many of these are just ridiculously pie-in-the-sky. For example, automated account creation is a pointless waste of money for most companies that aren't enormous, flush with cash, and experiencing enormous turnover. And the problem they purport to solve ("manual" account creation) largely doesn't exist in the first place anyway, since most admins have templates for their types of users and simply clone them, filling in the blanks. Nobody that I know outside of a classroom setting is manually creating a user, adding groups and attributes one at a time... Most clone from templates and only "manually" create the custom stuff like the user's name and contact information. The amount of effort and expense required to integrate an HR system to your account creation process means the exercise will produce zero ROI unless you're churning so many users that account creation is taking up multiple FTEs time on a continuous basis. ...And even if you are, unless your business processes are defined PERFECTLY in a manner that fits the integration model between your HR app and AAA infrastructure PERFECTLY, an admin will have to intervene, and probably a lot more often than the sales-people told you they'd have to. Probably only practical for extremely large (bureaucratic) organizations.

Alpha_Dog
Alpha_Dog

In all cases, the issues and solutions shown work very well for businesses or locations with 25+ employees. On the other hand, as you begin to move toward the lower end of the spectrum, the suggestions make less sense. A small business can loose a ton of money by acting big, either by trying to appear larger, or by making decisions based upon a volume or model that doesn't scale down. Consider: In a rural office with 15 employees where there are 15 workstations, one server, 3 desktop printers (all inkjets) and one network printer, does it make sense to handle user accounts and passwords with automated tools or hire a managed print company? Not so much. My point? Your suggestions were spot on for an urban medium to large business (kudos!), but one size does not fit all.

marie.kennedy
marie.kennedy

Like some others here, I would be interested in the cheap "Self-service password reset tools" that you would recommend, Toni. Marie

MikeRigsby
MikeRigsby

5 out of 6 of those I do on an almost daily basis. The 6th "build first" one I don't do only because I'm not a developer. We do have a developer who does nothing but support and advance the custom manufacturing application that he designed & developered specifically for us though. So 6 out of 6 of those are done here on a regular basis. These kinds of lists are great, in a massive budget, huge IT staff of compartmentalized specialists like 'Exchange Admins' or 'Switch Admins' Fantasy world. The problem is actual reality IT Geeks, like myself, are spread so thin we're see though. We support everything from cabiling to printers to switches to resetting passwords or unlocking AD account of idiots who can't turn off their CAPS Lock. We spend our entire day fighting small fires to keep them from becoming big ones, fixing systems by any means necessary while the Corporate President breathes down our neck. When you work in a company that is just managing to survive, sadly understaffed, that has a process of needing purchase order approvals for everything from a single keyboard on up, these lists on this site are laughable. Nice article though. Just not how IT is in the real world.

Dr. Frumious Bandersnatch
Dr. Frumious Bandersnatch

While I see your point, I don't totally agree with you. For years now, business has been in the process of downsizing IT departments and contracting out their duties. While I certainly don't condone "busy work" or making up stuff to do, so you look that way, I also don't believe in giving away the things that drive your paycheck. IT needs to maintain these core competencies, not give them up to another company that will soon be competing for your budget, and your job. The more we give away, the less we are needed. Consider that long and hard before you call that contractor. What I DO believe in is streamlining your departments and automating things that take away from more important uses of your tech's time. So, what do we get those password tools?

lhAdmin
lhAdmin

Nice article! Yes please provide some names of the Password Reset tools & also software deployment (in addition to Microsoft's). For small businesses (and non-profits) the problem with some of these tools can be the cost (not just to purchase but to maintain as well) but if it saves time for IT that provides some cost benefit. Thanks.

coaldigger67
coaldigger67

If you don't believe that you can have a competitive advantage with an in-house, business unique application, then off-the-shelf should work. Just remember, if it isn't, the competitive edge has to come from product uniqueness, installation or support services.

clongcor
clongcor

Toni, great article! Thanks for posting! Any chance you could save your Tech Republic readers a lot of Googling and share with us the name of the Password Reset tools you mentioned near the end of the article? Sounds like its worth looking into.... Thanks! :-)

Scott Lowe
Scott Lowe

Worth2Cents - THIS is what I'm talking about! For all that believe that by outsourcing the mundane, they're putting themselves out of a job, they need only to look at the example you provided. The outcomes you described should be sought after by EVERY IT department out there. Thank you for sharing! Scott

Fairbs
Fairbs

If a business is so strapped for cash, I can understand this sentiment. No one would implement any of these ideas if the ROI was less than 0. I see these ideas as working smarter not harder. If you're spending a lot of your time doing pw resets, then you're not providing much value to the company (assuming you could have an automated solution). Spending a lot of time on administrative tasks take away from focusing on providing IT services for the core competencies of the business.

blarman
blarman

My company has 1800 employees, but we don't use AD, which these tools seem to rely on. Got anything else?

tom.marsh
tom.marsh

So lets walk through the job-change scenario to understand why this doesn't do what you think it does. First, when does that permission change happen? On first day of his new role? Before? After? What if he's still supporting his old team during transition? How does automation deal with that? Further, why would you trust your HR staff with setting permissions? Really? Even through an automation solution, you're still relying on your HR people to be a bottleneck for the process. The most useless, bureaucratic department in your company? That seems unwise, even with best automation tool imaginable, it is hard for me to conceive of this "saving time" in too many scenarios.

sys-eng
sys-eng

At my former company, the DBA's created report templates for users to run. We had a few hundred report templates and this worked great. This became the standard after a few users crashed or locked databases and servers with their own reports.

Scott Lowe
Scott Lowe

Account management... I agree. For that small an office, probably not an issue. But, printers suck. I don't think it matters how small you are, making that someone else's problem while still saving money is a win/win in my book. Scott

hptorres
hptorres

Very interested in this solution...I think it can be a great time saver for most companies.

Scott Lowe
Scott Lowe

I'm a pretty small shop guy... these are truly achievable and don't have to cost a lot of money. For organizations that are barely surviving, I have to believe that there could be much more important activities that IT staff could be doing than the items on this list. I've been massively understaffed, underbudgeted, etc... these things ARE possible. Scott

biancaluna
biancaluna

And I think you just proved Toni's points to a degree. Here is what I see on a day to day basis - IT "geeks" who are so busy with the commodity support activities you mention that they have not spent time working with the business on Fleet Management, Asset Management and automated deployment for both hardware and software. I am working with a client at the moment where this has caused an almost impossible chasm - and it means they take 2 days to reimage a workstation with Windows 7 and Office 2010, they take it off the desk. Times 1000 workstations that is 2000 lost days of productivity, heck, you could fund automated deployment for the dollars that will cost an organisation. You know, it may not always be completely achievable for every site, or every business, but that does not mean that the list itself should end up in the pie in the sky basket. I've worked with some smaller clients who bundled their resources, some of the smaller universities in Europe started doing that - and achieved some real wins for their users and students. Without massive budgets, but with smarts and willingness to collaborate. I know folks who do that for small GP and dental practices quite successfully. Here is the thing - we are about supporting the business and if that means that we need to start looking at a bigger picture perspective, as Toni suggests, I think that is not a bad thing to do. What can be done, instead of we cannot do that. For a lot of companies, this is the way IT is in the real world - technical folk who have a myopic view that they do the business a disservice, look at the top 5 activities that keep you from doing the non urgent but important stuff and see what you can put in place to do it better. 7 habits of effective people style.

hptorres
hptorres

"We support everything from cabiling to printers to switches to resetting passwords or unlocking AD account of idiots who can't turn off their CAPS Lock." You just about described our day in my IT dept. I think one of the down sides of being the "jack of all trades" is not becoming an "expert" on a single technology, at least that's my personal experience. I've worked with servers, routers, switches, AD, Exchange etc...yet I don't feel "experienced enough" to handle anything that comes my way from an Admin perspective..anyone else feels this way?

tbmay
tbmay

....we need a better argument than self preservation. I mean I can't tell my small business customers they should pay me to install a mail server in their building instead of using Google Apps because I need the money. ;) Times are changing whether we want them too or not. I really won't comment on the list because whether you do them or not is a matter for you to decide. There are economies of scale to consider in all things. But I can promise you, if something can be done cheaper by someone else, somebody is going to find out.

JonathanEveritt
JonathanEveritt

While this solution may be off the direct topic, it has helped me with users who do not log on to a domain and as a result, miss the password expiry notifications resulting in an expired password while out of office, and the predictable Exchange log on failures in Outlook. I know this is not applicable to businesses who do not have Exchange, but for those who do, it may help. It allows users to help themselves by logging into Outlook Web Access and changing their password themselves. http://www.howexchangeworks.com/2010/09/reset-password-in-exchange-2010-sp1.html

Scott Lowe
Scott Lowe

I've deployed it twice... once in my own organization and once for a client. Both times, the initial deployment was done in a day. There was some tweaking, of course, but it was worth it.

BradTD
BradTD

In today's world, you absolutely have to get out of certain mundane tasks. Cabling is a good example. My contractor group inherited a network with a horrible cable plant. We just had an outside group come in and verify the multitude of shortcomings. If a professional outside cabling group did the job in the first place, we wouldn't be in the bind where we are today. Printers is another no-brainer as far as I am concerned. Good article!

MikeRigsby
MikeRigsby

Pretty much the same here. It's tough to feel like you're really good at anything in IT when you're in the situation of having to be skilled in almost everything. My Manager, who thankfully started as a Desktop guy, handles most of the Server side stuff, we have one Developer, but I do literally everything else. I don't even consider myself an IT 'Professional' because I'm spread too thin to be an "expert" in anything.

clongcor
clongcor

Thanks, Scott!! I'll check it out...