IT teams with summer downtime should take the opportunity to get organized and prepare for the coming months. Here are five things your team can do now to ensure future success.
Stop. Take a deep breath. It's summer, and for many IT departments that means there's finally a few free minutes.
Along with time to breathe comes the question of what to do to occupy said time. The last thing you want is an IT team just sitting around.
Time to lean is time to clean, my superiors in the Army used to say. There's a lot less mud to be cleaned off of servers (hopefully), but that doesn't mean there isn't a lot of "cleaning" to do.
Here are five things your IT team should prioritize this summer, or during any downtime you might have in your particular sector.
1. Clean up your asset management inventory
Old PCs, retired network switches, dead firewalls, and other internet-connected miscellany have a habit of gumming up any asset management platform over time. Machines of all types die unexpectedly, leaving only an expired IP lease and a MAC address behind in your inventory to prove they ever existed.
SEE: Hardware inventory policy (Tech Pro Research)
Unfortunately those records have to be deleted, and let's be realistic: It's low on the priority list, especially if getting a replacement up and running yesterday takes precedence.
SEE: Four attributes of a successful IT organization (TechRepublic)
Now is your chance to go through your asset management console to identify the missing, mislabeled, and retired hardware that's still in it and clean it up.
2. Review and update your documentation
Documentation is fundamental to smooth operation of an IT department. From the network architect down to the helpdesk tech, there are standards at every office that need to be followed. Good documentation exists so that no one employee is the repository for all essential information, but when is the last time you looked it over to be sure was current?
Both public-facing how-tos and internal wikis should be given a thorough look when you have time, and what better time than right now? Put someone on the task and tackle the most important changes first.
3. Revisit your disaster recovery plan
Backing up your systems is one of those things that's often set up and then forgotten about until the tape drives are full. Letting something as important as your disaster recovery plan go into maintenance mode is a bad idea, though.
Adnan Raja, VP of marketing at Atlantic.net, says IT teams should always take some downtime to audit backups and plans, as well as testing them to be sure they work. "Backups and the corresponding recovery plan should be tested thoroughly in disaster simulation exercises," Raja said.
SEE: Disaster Recovery and Business Continuity Plan (Tech Pro Research)
Raja also warned of the above-mentioned low priority of backup maintenance: "be wary of configuration drift. Backups get configured properly once, but ... the backup setup may not get adjusted, and the resulting backup is useless when the time comes and you actually need it."
He also says you should be sure to examine every possible system for its necessity in a backup scheme. VOIP systems, Raja said, are frequently forgotten about until it's too late.
4. Schedule some training
When I was in IT I was constantly learning—most of my training was on the job, and the moments where my teammates and I were able to have a teachable moment are some of the most memorable ones I have.
You can approach training in several ways: Take spare moments for mini lessons, get your techs enrolled in some online training through sites like TechRepublic Academy, or keep a list of weaknesses on your team and schedule some sessions to tackle them.
SEE: CompTIA IT Certification Bundle (TechRepublic Academy)
Tech professionals are curious, so take the time to teach them new things. It can go a long way to making them feel valued, and therefore more likely not to look for another job.
5. Reassess your vision
Patrick Mussell, information technologist and helpdesk lead at Michigan State University's National Superconducting Cyclotron Laboratory (NSCL) and a former coworker of mine, says that downtime is the perfect moment to take a look at your strategy and prioritize initiatives.
"[Slow periods are] a good time to refocus efforts on what initiatives are most important to the overall mission of the organization," he said. Mussell gave security as an example—the NSCL, a DOE-affiliated cyclotron laboratory, is particularly sensitive to the growth in security threats.
Mussell and his team have to constantly reevaluate their top priorities, especially after hectic times of the year. It's easy for mission-critical things to fall through the cracks for the sake of expediency, and now is the opportune time to recapture them.