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4/8/2015
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Stop Bashing IT Operations

Without great ops, you have no credibility for innovation efforts.

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It has become almost fashionable to bash internal IT operations as the thing that must always get cut, as opposed to IT innovation efforts that must be nurtured. I'm a little worried about all the bashing. If all internal IT ops are lumped together and discarded, that's bad for business. Some discernment is needed.

Sometimes, IT operations bashing is deserved -- when organizations don't keep up with the times, aren't customer focused, or won't consider adopting new ways of working that are measurably better. But let's not throw the baby out with the bathwater.

I feel I can defend "traditional" IT ops, because I have played in both the innovation and operations spaces: everything from ops of public safety technology, where reliability is about 1,000 times more important than minor innovations, to innovation in cloud computing and open data.

I'll share a non-secret: Operational excellence is the underpinning of any successful internal innovation program. Without it, my IT organization wouldn't have the credibility to launch any of the cool things that we do. We would not have the time either. When things are always on fire, there is no time for innovation activities.

(Image: stevepb via Pixabay)

(Image: stevepb via Pixabay)

Let me be clear about whom I am defending. I am not talking about the "data center union," those who will not admit that there are better ways of doing things. These folks are so busy saying no that they won't take the time to evaluate new options, which today might include using infrastructure-as-a-service, or non-technology imperatives like collaborating more closely with marketing.

I have no time for those folks, and I'll be watching with a certain amount of head-shaking when they plummet off of a cliff of their own making.

I'm defending those practical people who are focused on the rhythmic, trouble-free fulfillment of IT's everyday details: making sure that we have enough capacity before we need it (people on the help desk, for example), ensuring that we responsibly plan before we execute (making sure that we don't cut over a new system before business stakeholders have tested out critical functions), and so on.

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These people are sometimes mistaken for the data center union because they ask difficult questions. But difficult questions are a very different thing from simply saying "no" for no's sake. Innovators: You avoid those difficult questions at your peril.

The most special operations folks are open and ready for change. They just want to make sure that customers will not be harmed after the change happens.

Perhaps a story will convey the reality of how operations folks prevent change-makers from crashing and burning during their perky change-making.

During budget season, when it became obvious that we were going to convert several systems to cloud-based disaster recovery, one of my ops folks pointed out that we really, really should continue on with traditional disaster recovery provisioning of a certain highly-important system. It was extraordinarily tempting to completely de-fund the traditional ways, since de-funding can be an effective strategy to ensure that the staff understands that failure is not an option. Burn your boats! I said.

But she pushed back at me, pointing out the high risks and low benefits of de-funding the traditional disaster recovery system. I relented. The amount of money to be saved simply wasn't worth the risk.

She proved right. The more innovative new cloud way of doing disaster recovery ran into the typical snags. Although we pushed several systems into cloud DR, we encountered delays in moving a highly risky, critical system onto the platform. Had we not funded the traditional way, we would have been without DR protection for a significant period of time. That possibility is totally unacceptable, no matter what the cost.

That's what someone who's good at operations but open to change can do for you. Value that person. Don't bash him or her.

Jonathan Feldman is Chief Information Officer for the City of Asheville, North Carolina, where his business background and work as an InformationWeek columnist have helped him to innovate in government through better practices in business technology, process, and human ... View Full Bio
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PeterF028
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PeterF028,
User Rank: Moderator
4/21/2015 | 1:04:30 PM
Very true!
If organizations want their IT departments to serve as innovation leaders, they need to put the support behind their efforts.  As the CSC Annual CIO Survey suggests, CIOs are aggressively driving the investments and initiatives necessary to lead digital transformation. Fully 64 percent of participants in the study report higher spending this year than in the year before, up from just 46 percent in 201. Peter Fretty, IDG blogger working on behalf of CSC
jfeldman
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jfeldman,
User Rank: Ninja
4/9/2015 | 11:39:17 AM
Re: Starts at the TOP
And, I've seen world class ops budgets executing ops incredibly poorly. It's all about priorities. :)
DDURBIN1
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DDURBIN1,
User Rank: Ninja
4/9/2015 | 11:11:27 AM
Re: Starts at the TOP
I can't tell you how many organizations I've worked where management's world class expections of IT was excuted with a budget many times less than world class.  
DDURBIN1
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DDURBIN1,
User Rank: Ninja
4/9/2015 | 11:05:13 AM
Starts at the TOP

The reason for IT bashing starts at the top of the organization, those in control of budgets.  There has always been a disconnect between those deciding the budget and those consuming IT operations.  As long as the money people are not the key consumer of the IT services, IT will be bashed as it is not given the resources to meet consuming departments' needs.

jfeldman
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jfeldman,
User Rank: Ninja
4/8/2015 | 6:12:19 PM
Re: poor IT
HELP ME HELP YOU, JERRY! Love it. :)
jagibbons
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jagibbons,
User Rank: Ninja
4/8/2015 | 2:27:19 PM
Re: poor IT
Couldn't agree more!
vnewman2
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vnewman2,
User Rank: Ninja
4/8/2015 | 2:07:41 PM
Re: poor IT
And not to get on a soapbox here, but I will, actually. Would you ever call and berate your doctor if you they told you that you had a cold when you really had the flu? Would you ever barge in on your doctor while he was with another patient? Or a lawyer while he's with another client because you're having a legal emergency? Or hold them responsible for the interworkings of the justice system of which they are a part? Or stop a lawyer in the bathroom asking for personal legal advice? Or expect them to know every tort law off the top of their head? Or tell your mechanic to fix your car but tell them you don't have time for them to look at it? We in IT go through these things EXACT things every day, just in a slightly different way. I often liken myself to a doctor or lawyer. I need to ask questions, I need to collect information, I need to focus, I need to rule out other things to make an accurate diagnosis. Most importantly - I need you to help me...help you. (Jerry Maguire quote intended).
jagibbons
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jagibbons,
User Rank: Ninja
4/8/2015 | 1:35:12 PM
Re: poor IT
Those are great questions. If we could answer them, the IT-business divide that I see in many companies really might go away.
vnewman2
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vnewman2,
User Rank: Ninja
4/8/2015 | 1:28:46 PM
Re: poor IT
The previous commenters make some great points.  I fell into IT by accident - I went to grad school for I/O Psychology and training in organizations was my favorite part of the curriculum.  It just so happened that the bulk of training has become IT training and not soft skills or processes/orientations.

So, IT Training turned into Support and Training and somehow, I've been part of an IT Dept for the last 15 years (before that I was an adjuct instructor of computers at a college).  Actually we are called IS now to emphasize the "services" part.  

Two things still amaze me.  How, even though I have an advanced degree, there is a lack of respect from the "Professionals" in the organization for this position and the department as a whole.  I feel that it is lack of understanding of what we actually do that contributes to that and they tend to focus on things that go wrong instead of being amazed that they don't have to draft documents with quill pens and send courier pigeons to deliver them.

Secondly. I'm in awe that people still don't think "knowing the computer" is part of their job in this "day and age."  How do you not know how to connect a monitor?  How do you not know how to add a printer?  How do you not understand if try to copy 8 Gigs to a network drive that 10000 people are working on that it will take several hours?

Deep thoughts by Jack Handy...
soozyg
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soozyg,
User Rank: Ninja
4/8/2015 | 1:28:33 PM
Re: poor IT
@jagibbons

Good comparison. IT is like basic utilities; it's expected to work and if it doesn't it throws everything off and everything stops. We only notice them when they're not working. Which is why I say poor IT.
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