In the "continuing to beat the horse" department, I wanted to write another follow up to a couple of articles that I wrote here at TechRepublic. In the first article, I described to you six activities that I believe IT should stop doing and in a second article, listed four more, for a total of ten activities which, once ended, could dramatically change the IT department for the better and start freeing up some time for more value-add activities.
Some of the criticism of the ideas revolved around job security fears from IT pros who believe that their value to the organization is doing the very things that I suggested stopping. While I believe that a focus on bottom-line-driven initiatives makes far more sense, I also understand why, in the current economy, people would fear making change that could reduce their perception of value. In fact, I wrote about that very topic as well as why not every original idea makes sense for every single organization.
The next biggest source of criticism came from lack of specific guidance as to how to achieve some of the goals. I listed ideas, but not specific tools. Some commenters took this to mean that I simply Googled a bunch of ideas and threw them in a list since that's what tech authors do. Fortunately for you, I'm not just a tech author. I've spent 18 years in the field with 10 of them in the senior IT leader/CIO role. In addition, I've consulted for many different organizations and have implemented some of those very ideas for clients.
In this blog, I'm going to provide specific guidance as to how organizations of any size can get started on the list. Obviously, for every suggestion below, there are fifty more options out there, so if you don't like what I've suggested, look around a bit.
Running and making cables
I hear a lot of people talk about how quickly they can make cables, but once you factor in the parts cost, the labor cost and the oft-forgotten opportunity cost, 99.9% of the time, the organization would have been better off just buying the cables.
The opportunity cost is what is really important in these equations. What is the person not able to do because they're making or running cables?
Although there are any number of vendors of patch cables out there, in recent years, I've used ShowMeCables, located just outside St. Louis. They're very responsive, have fantastic pricing and I haven't had a bad cable yet.
For running new cables through buildings, contact a local contractor. Even in the small town in which I live, there are multiple very good options for this kind of service.
Creating accounts manually
When I used the phrase "identity management" in a previous article, a number of readers indicated that they're just too small for something like this to make sense. For very small companies, this is probably true. However, when it comes to medium and larger organizations, there are no end to the options available and getting creative means that you can get the job done at very little cost and with very little time.
In this article (Tips for synchronizing Exchange distribution lists with a database), which I wrote a few years ago, I mentioned a tool called ADBulkUsers. This tool allows you to automatically create Active Directory accounts, Exchange mailboxes and home directories using just a connection to a SQL database. With a little elbow grease, you can create a view on the SQL Server which contains the IDs of people who are in the Human Resources system but do not yet have Active Directory accounts. From there, ADBulkUsers works its magic.
For more enterprise-level needs that have more complexity, you can always consider such tools as Microsoft Forefront Identity Manager or Novell Identity Manager. I've either used or worked with both tools in my full-time or consulting life and both are more than capable of getting the job done.
Unless you have just one or two printers, I'm a believer in outsourcing the whole mess to a company that moves you to per-page pricing while they provide all of the supplies and repairs. In a previous article, Will a managed print service lower costs?, I dicussed the thought process I went through in one job to move to a managed print service. Here's another article I wrote more recently on the topic.
The provider that I used was located about 20 miles away, in Jefferson City, MO. However, there are nationwide providers, including IKON, Xerox and even HP, that can perform this service. Even if you're in a rural area, look around before you dismiss this idea! There are regional providers all over the country that can help you in this area.
Taking a "build first" approach
I'll admit that it's a bit tough to make specific recommendations for this idea since the direction will be so dependent on the need. However, if you've put thought into your overall information and service architecture, it will be easier.
For example, let's assume that you've decided to standardize on SharePoint for your portal/intranet. Now, you get a request for a new service. Do you need to build it or do you need to buy it?
The marketplace for third party SharePoint web parts-add ins that extend the functionality of SharePoint-is enormous and growing every day. Again, I'm suggesting this direction from experience. I've deployed SharePoint and relied upon that marketplace to meet real business needs. In many cases, I was able to get needs met without having to go through a huge build process.
Manually installing software
There are all kinds of automated software installation tools out there these days. Right now, I'm knee deep in creating a System Center 2012 Configuration Manager course, so it's a solution that's at the front of my mind. But, there are also a lot of other options out there, including Altiris, ZenWorks (I used to use this many years ago and it was very good), KACE (I've used KACE in my lab, but not in production) and many, many more.
To say that there are a number of tools out there for self-service password resets would be an understatement. Sometimes, the service is wrapped up with something else; for example, self-service password reset is included as a feature in Forefront Identity Manager. I've also deployed ManageEngine's ADSelfService Plus tool with good success.
Another tool I've heard good things about but haven't used personally is Nervepoint Access Manager.
Writing reports for users... to a point
For writing reports, there is significant dependency on needs, user knowledge and a lot more. That said, for those users that understand database tables, there are self-service reporting tools available for many systems. Further, even database vendors make some of this possible. For example, SQL Server ships with SQL Server Reporting Services, which includes a web-based Report Builder tool that can allow users to get access to basic information.
Of the items on this list, this one is probably the most difficult.
Deploying physical servers... to a point
You mean you haven't virtualized your data center yet? It's 2012! There are options abound and even small environments can enjoy the benefits. VMware ESXi is free. Microsoft Hyper-V is free, even the newly released 2012 edition. I've used both vSphere and Hyper-V (both Windows Server 2008 R2 and Windows Server 2012) and whichever option you choose will do the job nicely, although the 2008 R2 Hyper-V is the least capable of the bunch.
Web content changes
If you're still supporting web services that are based on raw HTML, it's time to get a content management system. There are no end to the free tools that are out there. I've used many, including Joomla, Drupal and even WordPress, with success. In a previous position, I've also used SharePoint with great success.
Once a CMS is deployed, users need to be trained, but then IT can get out of most of the content management business.
I hope that these specific examples can help you in your quest to streamline IT operations and recover some of the lost opportunity cost that continues to be poured into activities that can often be better handled in other ways.
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.