4 (Uncommon) Habits for Better IT, part 2


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II – Use the Resources you have –

Damn, if I had a nickel for every organization that bleeds money on unimplemented technology and underutilized, or more accurately “inappropriately utilized” staff…

Companies, the world over, could save billions in IT, and operational costs, if they just used what they already have.  It doesn’t matter if you’re Unix based or windows based, it’s 99% likely that there’s something you could automate, today, in a few minutes, to chop out half an FTE or more of useless labor.  Most organizations are paying for hardware and software they don’t need, or don’t use… and most organizations have no process for assessing or innovating what they do, how they do it, or why.

There’s just no focus on operations in this day and age.  Everything’s gotten so filled with buzz words (like IT alignment, CRM, ERP, Web 2.0) that there’s no leadership in the area that actually provides the business its greatest cost savings (or losses)… Operations.  I have yet to see an organization that isn’t throwing away big money on senseless human labor, unnecessary software and hardware.  It’s just a fact (because I say so).

Start automating today, and then, instead of firing employees when you’ve freed up some FTEs, get them into a 50/50 training scheme, so the organization can become even more effective over time. 

Oh, but you don’t have anyone to do automation.  BULL.  Every single IT professional should be able to do basic administrative scripting.  Every single IT professional can be trained to automate enterprise level work.  Every single IT professional should be on the lookout for better techniques… and the organization should be prepared to make changes.

If this isn’t how it is in your organization, it’s a management issue, plain and simple.  The benefit of good operations is the currency upon which you get CRM and ERP projects to fly.  I’ve said it before, automation is the fundamental purpose of computers, so it simply has to be a primary task of the IT group.  Automate as much as possible… then spend the time savings on more education and bigger projects.

To sum it up:  Start using what you’ve got, and make it a priority to investigate and squeeze out unnecessary labor and costs wherever they can be found.  If someone has to do a process more than once, you should consider automating it.  Making computers do the work is the fundamental reason for having the computers!

I – Manage output.  Treat IT like IT, business like business –

I don’t know how many times I’ve heard this question/complaint in different organizations, “How do I get my IT people to come in 9-5… they take 2 hour lunches, etc.”  Now, to be fair, you can pretty much tell the state of the IT department when the question is asked… and it never seems to be asked by anyone with direct knowledge of the work… it’s always a Business manager, HR rep, or other type of manager. 

So this problem is not necessarily endemic to IT, but rather endemic to the integration of IT and other kinds of industries.  Also, the question itself has the unintended consequence of showing why outsourcing seldom works. 

In the ancient world, people showed up for work in the morning… they ate lunch for an hour, and later they went home to forget about work til the next day.  That was all that was possible…. and sure, there are still many jobs for which it’s a necessity.

Just as modern technology makes the world your office, more efficient management scenarios are also possible. Sure, if you have a help desk, the help desk has to be manned for certain hours, so a presence is a given – does that presence have to be in the office? Maybe not.  Your systems have to be up 24/7, and remote management is child’s play, so why would your systems admin be a 9-5 employee?  Development can happen anywhere, anytime… so why would you constrain your creative thinking developers to a tie, a water cooler, and a 1 hour lunch break?  

Turns out that good developers like to work in their underwear at 3 am, high on Mountain Dew. No one has dissected one to find out why… it’s just a fact (because I say so). 

I’m not saying the IT people are special and should be treated special.  I am saying that even if your IT group is part of a manufacturing company, running IT like an assembly line will ensure low productivity.  In fact, anything resembling micro-management is universally despised amongst IT professionals.  It’s not even a debate.

Of course this is about far more than a timeclock, it’s about the whole culture of work and finding ways for people to be more productive, less stressed, more responsible, more loyal, etc… not because you have to, but because it’s good for business.  Efficiently managing the 24/7 modern world is about placing expectations on the output, not monitoring the input.  Set goals for your IT teams and let them figure out what they need to do to be successful.  I’d certainly rather fire an unproductive 9-5er than a productive developer I only see on webcam.

Coincidentally, the root problem is the same in outsourcing failures.  If one can’t manage the output expectations of employees, one certainly can’t manage the output expectations of non-employees… which is all an outsourcing relationship is.  That, of course, comes back to having competent management.  They who set the goals need to know what the goals are… and more importantly, they need to have the respect of the IT team to achieve any of it.

To sum it up:  The 40 hour work week does not ensure results, managing results ensures results.  Explore working options with your IT staff.  Productivity increases by adapting to the nature of the work, and the nature of the worker. 

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