Top IT management challenges for 2011

My company recently conducted a survey covering IT management trends and challenges, with senior IT staff in over 500 UK companies and gained a real insight into the problems they face. Unlocking the resources needed to action new technology projects still remains the major issue, as staff are weighed down by daily management of operations.

We also uncovered the top IT challenges for 2011, which include motivating and training staff, data security & recovery, systems monitoring and sustainability. I have discussed these popular IT headaches below and attempt to provide some remedies to soothe the pain.

Keeping staff motivated and well trained

Ideally, IT departments should consist of motivated, hard working staff, focused on interesting, strategic projects that add value to the bottom line of a business. In reality, this is proving an almost impossible aim.

The need to cut costs has led to the cancellation of exciting technology transformation projects – the ones most IT staff want to work on. With resources also being reduced, the majority of staff members’ time is spent keeping systems up and running, which can be a real grind – involving constant fire fighting of system management issues.

Daily admin is always going to be a necessary evil and some aspects can quickly become repetitive, tedious and de-motivating. Over a period of time, staff boredom means they will seek a new challenge – either with their current employer, or they go to a new company. However, these daily admin tasks still have to be completed!

The key to solving this staff efficiency, retention and motivation problem is creativity. Encourage staff with a strong management understanding of a specific system to use this knowledge to further the goals of the company. Facilitate this simply, by ‘out tasking’ daily systems management to a third party specialist.

Out tasking, enables the repurposing of internal IT staff – whilst delivering major resource efficiencies and cost savings. Liberating staff from stressful admin, to work on more stimulating IT projects, also means they will be far happier, motivated and committed too!

Many IT departments tend to only possess specific in-house skills and knowledge which can leave them a little constrained. Because so much time is spent managing systems, these IT teams have little time to review new technologies and updates – and ultimately utilise them.

To address this issue, investing in staff training is one option but it doesn’t provide essential, real world, experience. Learning about a system in a “sterile” environment means staff can easily overlook elements of their system that are different from the lab environment. Training is good – but don’t be caught out letting someone loose on a project without some expert guidance.

Also, no one really benefits from the pain of learning on the job. Is it really worth the risk of spending months trying to get a system working in the test environment – using trial and error? You’d be amazed how many companies embark on projects with only limited understanding of the technology.

Thankfully, this can all be avoided. A better option is to collaborate with third party technology partners and benefit from knowledge transfer. By working together, IT staff can absorb the practical understanding and expertise they bring to the table.

However, avoid consultancies that keep their work secret, as they aren’t working in the best interests of their clients. The handover of knowledge is important – skill up key people, but don’t push them back into admin when they’ve had a taste of strategic projects. If someone has delivered on a project, wouldn’t you rather they continue to develop their skills? This is an ideal time to out-task the admin.

Achieving effective systems monitoring

To be successful, IT departments must optimise and protect their legacy IT investments with good management. In these tough times, IT departments are being pushed by vendors to buy IT monitoring software with the belief it will save them costs. Bear in mind that without significant investment, customisation and testing – a monitoring solution “out of the box” will never deliver great value.

Factor in the time and costs needed for tuning the software to properly manage the system. It may take ages to get this right and could end up being an expensive use of resources – without really delivering effective IT management. However, if a company has already invested in a monitoring platform, they should use it. It’s all about picking the right investment.

Another option is to find a specialist service partner offering world class, system monitoring and management. This means you don’t have the added cost and resource of reinventing the wheel. The best partners will also deliver more professional and ‘meaningful’ system reporting and analysis – covering health, performance and recommendations for improvement. The IT team can then pinpoint key issues, such as capacity problems and perform trend analysis to forecast the need for extra volume or other systems improvements.

Data security & disaster recovery

There is an almost unanimous agreement that data security, protection and recovery are now critical, and most companies appear to have a robust plan in place to ensure operational continuity. However, with organisations under pressure to adopt cloud offerings, the potential threats to business continuity could outstrip any initial cost gains.

Before engaging with a cloud provider, consider what provision there is for recovery from failure? If that provider folds, what happens to its clients’ data and how easy is it to move data to another? Few cloud companies openly disclose the technological complexities and associated costs of migrating client data to other platforms. Cloud is not tried and tested – therefore, plan for your exit strategy – just in case.

For an overwhelming majority of organisations, a considered, phased move to the cloud – with a mixture of hybrid or blended on/off -premise solutions, is likely to prove the best solution. The safest option is to start with moving non-critical systems to the cloud and then carefully evaluate before proceeding further.

Conclusion

It is becoming increasingly difficult to motivate, retain and build IT skills internally. IT departments need to embrace innovative approaches for the management and deployment of new, sustainable technology.

Outsourcing the management of IT systems, enables in-house IT to operate in an optimised environment – with more time to control strategy and focus on exciting new projects. Employing expert technology partners can also deliver valuable, practical, knowledge transfer to the IT team – exceeding anything provided by an IT training course.

Lastly, with the pressure to enter the cloud, organisations must assess their state of readiness, understand all potential data security risks and only then, proceed at their own pace.

Tim Grieveson is CIO at bluesource. He has over 15 Years of IT experience and is ITIL and Prince qualified. He has a very strong track record of success within B2B, B2C, outsourced services, utility services, technology, consultancy, SME, corporate and commercial markets.