IT Operational Management is one of the toughest positions to fulfil (in my opinion) – it’s also one of the most challenging environments within which to effectively apply changes that result in improvements. You’re always in the middle of support issues, usually all hours of the day. You have to deal with constant escalations: stakeholders and representatives of these stakeholders just keep calling to offload their frustrations on you. You have to manage problems, facilitate resources to assist and provide feedback to those impacted. Then you’re still expected to endorse and keep an eye on the projects within your area… and – worst of all – you have to try and manage your calendar, that looks like it can be split amongst four people, easily.
It’s often difficult to see the light when the days/weeks/months are dark. Many support teams get so caught up in fighting fires that they cannot focus on building a really effective operational support team. Many organisations face this challenge in multiple areas at times. From the outside looking in, it’s easy to see, which is probably why so many people have so many opinions about how bad the services are… But when you’re caught up in that hurricane of issues upon issues, it feels like you’re only way out is your next job offer!
Fortunately, there are plenty ways to effectively improve support operations. In my opinion, the specific ideas to ensure improvement and plans on how to implement them has to come from the team facing the challenges. Contracting a consultant or process engineer only adds more load to the same team because that team now has to focus some time to get the newbies on board, which – generally – nobody is really interested in (especially if they fail to understand that they are there to help). It can work, but it’s mostly not ideal.
These are lessons taken from my experience:
Go and re-look at and re-study the concepts of what governance frameworks are trying to teach you. Find a way to map out the processes that are applicable and important to your operations. Audit yourself and your team/s against those processes, making sure that the process exists, is understood and being followed. You should also identify who “owns” (is responsible for) specific outputs or processes – some might be outsourced, and if so, it’s crucial to identify what the outputs are and to manage that (outsourced) relationship.
Once you start doing this, it should give you a clear picture of what should be on your staff KPIs (if not there already). You should also be able document the gaps and, importantly, feedback this to your executive team or business. Some might wonder: why would you purposefully admit to where you are failing? It’s simple: this clearly showcases the areas where you require more resources (budget, staff, etc) to improve the efficiencies of your operational team.
Keep a risk register as part of your monthly feedback to executives or business. This comprises a list of the risks that have been identified, the probability and impact of that risk as well as plans to mitigate the risk (now and in future).
Why? Because, “cover your arse” & “I told you so”
Here’s a good example:
Steve’s team just do not have the time to audit the QoS setup monthly, to ensure that it’s up to date and is effectively applied across all elements.
Risk: No assurance on QoS resulting in irrelevant/incorrect/outdated QoS configurations
Probability = Medium
Impact = High
Mitigating action: None, Need a full time Audit/Assurance engineer.
Notes: As per Exco, 2020-08-01. No budget to address this year.
Business applications and server IPs are changed all the time and whatever slips past the change control process needs to be caught by assurance services. So, when investigations of slow responses eventually point toward the network and someone figures out that the QoS configurations are no longer relevant, you can look back at the risk register and highlight that the issue could have been proactively rectified. This stops everyone from asking the obvious questions about what processes need to be in place to avoid this next time.
It’s already been identified, hence, “I told you so.”
Billing & Recharge Structures
If you’re part of the IT support team, it’s more than likely that the costs to employ you are seen as just an operational expense to the business. Make sure that your costs are proportionately and effectively charged to internal departments, i.e. departments need to pay for what they are using. Splitting costs equally is not fair and not easy to justify, if you’re asked to. Know and understand the numbers. It will earn you respect with the business structures and also allow you to benchmark your costs against the market when you need to justify your costs.
Build the correct structures to support the business
Some businesses have departments that are more important than others and it’s usually based on the amount revenue or profit made by that department. These departments will almost always be prepared to invest in a little more for redundancy or better support. Engage to understand their needs and pitch costs that could make their infrastructure and support more robust.
Develop and gauge your staff skills
I always find that IT techs hold 3 keys skills when working in a corporate environment. The first is their subject knowledge, for example a Microsoft engineer’s formal qualifications and acumen required to build, support and maintain Microsoft infrastructure. The second is their business acumen: the individuals understanding of the business, its operations, its priorities and its people. The third is their soft skills: skills such as communicating, negotiating, showing empathy, etc.
It’s important to assess your team and ensure that you know what their strengths and weaknesses are – and have development plans in place to keep building the skills within your team.
The above is by no means a complete list, but it’s a helpful list to review and re-focus to improve operational efficiency.
“Progress isn’t made by early risers. It’s made by lazy men trying to find easier ways to do something.” ~ Robert Heinlein
Emile Biagio – CTO Sintrex