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Sustainable Information Technology Series – The Philosophy

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 time.

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 revenue.

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.

By Jerry Ware, IT Solutions Fellow

Jerome Ware Biography

Jerome Ware, CNE, EMC Certified, MCP has over 20 years in the high tech and financial industries.  Some of the organizations he had served are Computer Associates, Desktop Products, EMC Corporation, Montgomery Securities, Robert Quinn and Associates.  Mr. Ware has a B.A. degree in Fine Art from San Jose State University.

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