My team has been short-staffed for a while now due to the departure of our database administrator and our web person leaving for a few weeks for maternity leave. Since these two positions backed each other up, having both people gone has been a real strain. Fortunately, our new database administrator started recently, so we’re getting him up to speed. During the time in which this position-and its backup-went unfilled were very eye opening events for me.

I’ve spent a few weeks now working multiple jobs-handling the critical issues that used to go to our database administrator, handling critical web site issues, and trying to stay on top of the “CIO work” that, in theory, needs to get done, too. Quite frankly, because of the time of the year-classes started at the end of August-the CIO work went to the bottom of the list in favor of a slew of very time-sensitive demands placed on the IT department as the result of major non-IT summer events that required huge assistance from the entire IT staff while also taxing our resources. This was all on top of losing multiple people from the department and training some other new people that joined the team over the summer. So, all in all, the last couple of months have been… insane.

Although things have been a bit out of control lately, I’ve learned a whole lot in recent weeks that will help me become a better CIO and to better frame our long-term priorities. First, I relearned what it’s like to man-not manage-a help desk. Sure, I did do some managing of the help desk as far as assigning tickets, but more often than not, I spent large swaths of time on handling trouble tickers that would have previously been sent to people in currently vacant positions. As a result, I have a much better view of the kinds of requests that are coming into these people. As I work with my team on developing a longer-term plan for technology, this kind of information really helps me to better target our efforts. For example, we’re working on a business process improvement project designed to help people across the Westminster College campus do their jobs more efficiently in order to reduce, or at least stabilize, burgeoning workloads. As a result of my deeper foray into daily operations, I have a much better view of our current situation. In short, some parts of it are a mess. Although I knew before my database person left that we had some data challenges to face, I’ve now discovered first-hand the sheer scope of the problem. More importantly, I have a better understanding of the root causes. While not an insurmountable problem, my new understanding of the scope helps me to better define a framework for future process changes so that we can avoid these kinds of problems later on. Beyond developing cool new stuff, we also need to fix the current quagmire, too.

On the web front, I’ve been handling a lot of the content work for our web site, although I did happily ship some off to a former employee that expressed an interest in some contract work. On this side of the house, I have been able to get a better look at exactly what kinds of tasks my web developer was doing. In addition to making enhancements to our web site in an effort to market ourselves better to prospective students, she has been handling all sorts of content update tasks for many, many people on campus. Again, I knew she was doing content updates for some people-for example, IT handles web content for our own group as well as for the Academic group-but a number of updates came into our support request system that really confused me. Why, for example, was IT posting jobs for HR on the web site? After some discussion with others on campus, I’ve learned a couple of things: 1) We need to do more training on managing content is SharePoint 2007; 2) Some web management tasks are simply too complex and need to be refined. One of our tasks in the short-term will be to provide more complete training for people on campus so that they can handle their own web updates. In fact, this morning, I spent 15 minutes showing our HR Director how to post jobs on our site using a nifty form that our web developer had created before her temporary departure. Now, people don’t need to wait on us to get jobs posted on the web. HR can do it immediately so there is little or no lag. An easy form took the complexity out of the equation. We need to extend this training and simplicity to many, many more people on campus. When we chose SharePoint 2007 for our new content management system, one of the deciding factors was the ability for anyone to make content changes for their own areas. As a result of my experience in the past few weeks, I’m more prepared than ever to make that goal a priority and free up the web developer to develop!

Data management and the web are critical components in almost every IT organization. I’ve been fortunate to have very good staff in these positions in my shop; people who did whatever it took to get the job done. While I had a general sense of the challenges faced by the people in these jobs, my appreciation for their efforts and for their challenges has risen to a whole new level. My level of understanding about the challenges we face as a campus with regard to these issues has also risen greatly. As I work on a campus-wide business process improvement effort, this understanding will play a valuable role in tempering expectations and making sure that the solutions we develop are truly sustainable.