“IT is complicated” is a famous expression that we hear all the time, but what does it really mean and when did it get so complicated? In order to really understand that, we need to look at the history of our industry. Putting things in perspective is important here. To do that, realize that our industry is relatively young.
Some interesting and fun facts that can help us understand how quickly things have changed and evolved are outlined below:
There are so many other landmark dates that we could discuss such as the advent of Microsoft Windows ® and the emergence of LAN/WAN Connectivity. Then there is the start of businesses taking PC-based apps and databases seriously to replace legacy mainframe apps and databases. The point is that there has been such significant change in the past 27 years since the “World Wide Web” became a thing and while 27 years is a long time (it’s more than half of my lifetime); there are still some industries that have remained largely the same for the past 50-60 years. The reality is that there is probably nothing that an IT Executive deals with today that has any similarity to what that same executive dealt with 15 or even maybe 10 years ago. We are in a rapidly changing industry and the speed of change is exponential so the next 10 to 15 years will be even more dramatic. Let’s outline where we are today and what makes it so complicated, but also very exciting.
CURRENT STATE OF AFFAIRS
I remember a day not all that long ago where I was involved in one of these planning meetings where we looked at staffing, projects and overall IT responsibilities. This was done as an attempt to build our IT organization to meet the needs of the business. We broke it down into three simple areas:
My roots were really in development, as I started my IT career as a coder, but I also had an interest in infrastructure. I considered myself more of a people person than a back-office developer so I naturally had an interest in support as well. I was able to really support any aspect of IT in my organization. This was not because I was so smart but because it was just much simpler then and if you were inclined to help people and you had some development and infrastructure in your background, you could succeed at being an IT Manager.
Roll the tape forward and it reminds me of the old expression “The more things change the more they stay the same.” If you just change the headings somewhat (and add a few) I would make the argument that you can still break IT down to four or five main headings. The challenge is that there is SO MUCH MORE underneath each heading. Every organization is different and this is by no means a one size fits all scenario, but most IT Departments are broken down into a similar structure to this:
While this is not meant to be an all-inclusive list and certain organizations break it down differently (for example, in some organizations part of the security functions may exist under Infrastructure); it is clear to see from the above breakdown that each sub-heading could be a whole department with multiple people in it.
So, there you have it, the answer to the question of what is so complicated about IT nowadays. We went from three main areas to four or five and many, many sub-specialty areas underneath. Gone are the days where we can be a jack of all trades. We MUST have a team of people that are Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) in their own area and while we may understand the technology aspects of each area, we rely on the SMEs fully for their expertise.
Understanding what you have in front of you can now help you deal with issues when they arise. Let’s explore the approach next.
What keeps you up at night and how to get some sleep!
This is the question that is almost always asked when senior IT Managers are surveyed and while the answers vary, they are almost always centered around some dramatic event happening that brings their IT systems to its knees. The past few months have helped us understand this a little better as the COVID-19 global pandemic has forced all of us in some way, shape or form, to deal with our users differently. It also taught us a lot about the difference between IT organizations that had all the right boxes checked and documents written but they were not able to actually execute. For many Senior IT Managers, the emergence of COVID-19 was exactly what kept them up at night!
In trying to manage through the issues and stress caused by them, I like to use a four step process which is outlined below:
One of the best pieces of advice that I have received in my career on dealing with things like this came from my boss (Thank You Kevin!) who has been heard saying quite often “Control the Controllable.” It seems like such a simple concept, yet it is often missed in IT.
As an example, in our organization, when we deployed everyone to work from home during the COVID-19 global pandemic, we of course had users that were limited in their ability to be productive because of bandwidth and performance issues caused by their local Internet Service Provider (ISP). When you apply Kevin’s theory to this issue, you come to the realization that maybe we can shift the person’s hours, maybe we can provide them an alternate location to work from or even an alternate method of connectivity (HotSpot, MiFi, etc) but we will unlikely be able to fix the issue with their ISP. We controlled the controllable. It is a simple, yet marvel concept, try it!
Our jobs are complicated, and everything is interconnected. Today’s businesses have come to just expect that technology will function properly, emails will flow, documents will move accordingly, and systems will run and support the business and hopefully play a key role in the growth of the business. When we have issues that prevent this expectation from happening, it can be an awfully stressful time. To help us manage through these inevitable times, I make the following suggestions for you to do in advance of a situation:
Of course, all of the planning in the world is not going to prevent an issue from occurring, so when they do occur and you are in the thick of it, remember the following:
It is always easier to give advice than to take it and I know that I have not always done a perfect job in managing my own stress and issues. However, when the going gets tough, I always try to remember the four steps and plan a logical approach, communicate it, implement it and review it. The process has never failed me yet! It will work for you too. I wish you all the best success with it.k