Sustainable Information Technology Series – The
Why is it so difficult to run
Information Technology (IT) with little or no issues? To create an
IT environment that is revered for its innovation rather than for
its ability to recover from failure?
Many IT Departments and many of the
people who work and manage them qualify as workaholics. They’re
working just to work. For a workaholic, a large part of the recovery
process is to recognize the issue and to work smarter not harder.
One thing that can be an “enabler” is the illusion of dedication. In
reality, often those appear to be very dedicated are not actually so
much dedicated to getting things done as to being at work, appearing
to be responsible for and accomplishing highly important things.
This can be fueled by what could be
called the “hero syndrome.” With the hero syndrome, it may appear
that the IT person saved the day, when in reality they were the ones
who created the problem in the first place; perhaps even
unconsciously manipulating the situation to become the hero. This
can be due to many factors: a lack of knowledge or experience,
overlooking key facts or details, a lack of planning, a failure to
recognize dependencies, or failure to work efficiently, in a
streamlined manner that achieves success with the minimum number of
steps or man-hours. There will inevitably be real failures where an
unanticipated event – for example an untested change in a product,
a hardware failure, a system failure or even a natural disaster –
can create a situation from which it is difficult to recover, but
these should be exceptions rather than the rule.
It is rather boring to have nothing
unpredictable happen in IT, but like a safety record – less is more.
In an IT group, the real heroes are those who create a cost savings
or profitable practice for the business, and those who plan well and
test everything before implementing.
Often the rush to completion creates
short cuts to failure. Therefore, taking the time to really
understand the situation and the goal is critical. Many times the
recovery takes significantly more time and is much more costly than
it would have to plan properly. There’s an old saying that says if
you have time to do it over, you have time to do it right the first
Planning to have a successful end
goal is a good first step. So is creating exit points in the
strategy. A plan that can be stopped and reversed allows for limited
setbacks, avoiding an absolute failure, with the associated
extraordinary effort then necessary to recover.
Structure can help as well. If the environment is set up in a very
structured and defined way, then the likelihood of mistakes is
decreased. Capturing details and documenting processes and results
is essential to effective IT support. Answering the question “what
was done and why?” can refresh everyone’s memory of the process and
procedures that were followed to achieve success previously. A good
IT group will document everything possible. The documentation then
becomes the knowledge base on which to build future success.
Here at TNS, we find the 80/20 rule
to be a good rule of thumb. This rule says that 80% of IT tasks
should be the same across all environments and businesses, while 20%
should distinguish the uniqueness of the business, including
industry relevance. By highly standardizing the 80% to a “tested
set of solutions,” maintenance becomes minimal, and the highly
competitive, relevant 20% can be given proper focus, since here is
where most of the monetary gain is achieved. In some cases, we can
even find ourselves spending 20% of our client-focused time doing
maintenance and 80% of our time doing business-distinguishing profit
retention or conducting IT operations that result in greater
On a personal note, creating a
balanced life is also a part of recovery. IT is known for being
staffed by pale-skinned geeks who live in dark rooms doing very
left-brain intensive stuff that non-IT people find very mysterious
and hard to understand. This is understandable in some ways due to
the level of expertise needed of IT staff and the number of changes
they need to keep current on. But it would probably surprise many
non-IT people to know how many IT people actually leave very
balanced lives. Most can and do have interests outside of IT. Some
of these interests may still have technical elements, for example
shortwave radio operation, flying, and operating radio-controlled
vehicles. But I have also known IT people who were into
non-technical, competitive pursuits such as cycling, trekking, paint
ball, yachting and even pole vaulting.
IT is not so different from any
other well managed part of an organization to have a group of well
rounded staff who has plans for how to reduce failure and increase
success. The real heroes are the ones who seem to always anticipate
the possible failure and who have already formulated a plan of
action to address it.
Another old saying goes like this: If you fail to plan, you plan to
fail. This is real way to hero status in an IT world.
Jerome Ware Biography
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