Monday, January 07, 2008

What Are The Top Challenges In IT Infrastructure Management?

When considering what the top challenges are for an IT Manager (sic CIO) the truth may surprise you.

Following is an eye opening insight from Robin Felix of Felix.org

Contrary to what some may initially believe the reality is that the top challenges are far less about technology than about the intracompany services being provided. In short, technical problems are easy, but social problems are hard. The CIO, like Janus, looks in two directions: up-and-out, and down-and-in. Both views provide top challenges, though of very different types.

Looking up-and-out, the CIO is the interpreter of needs, translating business requirements into services within cost constraints. The key to success is the ability to abstract the business problem, framing it technically for implementers and conceptually for peers or superiors, then crafting an acceptable compromise solution.

The role of CIO requires one to be a mediator to frame a viable business answer to answer competing requirements, though one must possess sufficient technical competence to choose a robust and survivable technical approach among the many technologies and vendors clamoring for attention. One must also have enough business savvy to appreciate the tradeoffs between technical constraints and financial constraints.

An example need often faced is the integration of business development activities over acquired companies, uneasy new allies still stretching to become a cohesive whole. The business developers are familiar with personal visits, phone calls, faxes, and email. Their development approach generally involved power through control of information and contacts, and information sharing was not comfortable for them.

Thus, the business problem can be nominally framed as a legal requirement for preventing organizational conflict of interest, although the underlying goal is to have these cowboys work together for the greater good. The technical requirement is to create a solution that would enforce data sharing in a way that would be useful and easy to avoid it withering away through disuse. Finally, the financial constraint is significant, as the budget allocated to attack the problem is usually slim to none. Once framed this way, various answers became apparent, but the definitional process is key to the solution.

Looking down and in, the CIO's daily challenges include service levels, configuration, throughput, security, et al. However, the top challenge is creating and maintaining a service-oriented IT organization. The MIS and IT support organization is a business enabler; it generates no revenue and is generally noticed within the organization only when system failures occur, or when internal "customer service" becomes so bad that general managers start complaining. Compounding this challenge is the personality type typical of engineers and technicians. Stereotypically, they do not go into a technical field to provide customer service, but rather to solve problems, create solutions, and explore new technologies.

The CIO's top down-and-in challenges, then, are threefold. The first consists of traditional IT/MIS problems, ensuring adequate communications and processing capacity with appropriate security. The second is creating and selling a metrics-based customer service focus as the highest goal of the IT/MIS shops, using carrots and sticks, logic and emotion. The third is ensuring that the results of the first two challenges are measured and recorded, providing ammunition to educate management concerning the achievements and needs of IT and MIS as contributors to business success within the organization.

All the above, other than the day-to-day leadership of the IT/MIS troops, is applicable to outsourced IT/MIS services also. It is useful to constantly compare the costs and benefits of an internal organization to outsourced services. This provides the wily CIO with external ammunition to persuade management when expanding or outsourcing and internal ammunition to convince subordinates of the seriousness of customer service.

Overall every CIO must recognize that the challenges they're likely to face will not fit nicely into some neat little box.....with clean labels for what and when. To the contrary they'll require a grasp of the flexibility to maneuver between technical, personel, and business related issues. Not always individually and often simultaneously.

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1 Comments:

Blogger Robin said...

Thanks for the plug -- I'll take eye-opening over soporific any day. The original essay is at http://www.felix.org/node/35413.

Robin Felix

11:07 PM  

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