IT infrastructure is not given enough importance across organizations although it provides the foundation for service support and delivery, according to the IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL) which provides industry-standard best practices for aligning IT services with business needs. According to Ben Booth, IT director of market research group Mori, IT infrastructure is key to connectivity and security. All businesses tend to provide more focus on roles that are directly involved in revenue and profit generation such as business development, CEO, COO and pre-sales. There are other roles that provide vital, if indirect support to revenue generation and IT infrastructure is one of them. While IT infrastructure is generally an overlooked department, there are skills within this domain that organizations would do well to pull out of the low-priority list because if harnessed well, these skills can potentially redefine how business is done. This article discusses five such roles and their potential.
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What is IT infrastructure?
IT infrastructure can be defined as a collection of physical and virtual resources that supports the IT environment in an organization. IT infrastructure provides ways to move data between locations such as storage devices and servers, client or server or external devices such as external hard drives or pen drives.
IT infrastructure can connect to its users in various ways. For example, it can be hosted in one or more data centers and connected to multiple users in different environments through intelligent or dumb access devices. Or, IT infrastructure may be hosted in the cloud and can adjust dynamically based on user requirements. IT infrastructure provides a suitable platform for all necessary IT applications and functions in an organization. IT infrastructure is being redefined with the advent of the Internet of Things (IoT) as more devices are getting connected.
Why the infrastructure skills are important?
In a study, IBM Institute for Business Value and Oxford Economics observed that 7 out of 10 organizations believe IT infrastructure enables competitive advantage and optimizes business performance. When an organization is at the start-up stage or is relatively small in size, it can afford to employ a basic IT infrastructure. Employees can have desktops or laptops, a simple phones and a router for reliable Internet connection. Delivering services and communication with employees, vendors and clients is typically accomplished through cloud applications that allow you to share files over the Internet, such as Evernote, Dropbox, and Google Apps for Business. However, as the company grows in size and operations, complexities increase and it can no longer rely on basic infrastructure or the basic cloud services for communication and delivery. The main issues are growing size of operations and information security and so are system interruptions due to inability of existing system to take loads. Data shows that since 2012, attacks on smaller firms are up by 300% because of weak security policies and technology. So, it is important that companies should proactively envision the issues and topics that might arise in the future and plan for upgrading IT infrastructure. According to IBM Institute for Business Value and Oxford Economics, “Less than 10% of companies report that their IT infrastructure is fully prepared to meet the demands of cloud, mobile, social and analytics.”
IT infrastructure skills – often overlooked
This section discusses the roles that have not been getting as much importance as they should by the organizations. Note that there are no fixed rules governing setting of designations based on the roles. Companies could create separate designations for each role or mandate a designation to perform multiple roles. In real-life situations, the latter happens more often.
Change Advisory Board (CAB)
CAB advises the change manager on changes required in the IT infrastructure. The changes are usually big enough to align with changes in the business and have financial implications. For example, CAB could advise to buy subscriptions of cloud-based servers and decommission physical servers. CAB comprises members drawn from different IT infrastructure and support roles.
In companies, CAB either does not exist or comprises members unqualified to fulfill the responsibilities. Organizations tend to put off creating a CAB because they do not have a budget and there is this idea that regular IT support roles can do the job just fine.
The Process Manager is responsible for planning and execution of all IT infrastructure and support-related processes and also makes sure that the processes support the business goals of the organization.
In companies, there is usually no dedicated process manager role and the IT support t processes are generally planned by the business roles and executed by the IT support.
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The compliance manager is responsible for ensuring that the IT infrastructure and support policies are compliant with all types of standard guidelines and legal regulations. The role is extremely important considering the financial and legal implications behind non-compliance.
However, empirical evidence points to organizations’ reluctance to have someone with deep process and legal knowledge on board. No wonder some organizations get into legal issues or avoidable financial commitments because of non-compliance.
The problem manager is responsible for maintaining deep knowledge about issue lifecycles and planning to prevent recurrence of issues and fixing issues.
Many organizations confuse the capabilities of the problem manager with the regular troubleshooting capabilities of regular IT support personnel which is an inadequate assessment of the role of the problem manager. The problem manager, unlike the IT support personnel, maintains deep issue lifecycle knowledge, gathers data about issues and workaround and plans for prevention and troubleshooting of issues. Organizations do not tend to have a specialized role of a problem manager and instead make do with IT support personnel. However, the IT support people are unable to accurately predict and prevent recurring issues which impacts an organization’s budget and productivity.
Continual Service Improvement (CSI) Manager
The CSI manager is responsible for continual improvements in the different IT infrastructure roles and responsibilities aimed at continual contributions to the organization’s goals. This is a specialized role but organizations tend to assess the IT support roles with the same parameters as other roles in the organization such as developers and QA.
What are the corrective actions?
Organizations need to review how they view the aforementioned roles. While it is understandable that part of the organization’s attitude towards these roles is driven by budgetary and financial considerations, it is worthwhile to seriously assess the long-term benefits such roles can bring to the organization. For example, fixing recurring issues impacts productivity, delivery quality and time. Plan to permanently address such issues can improve productivity, delivery quality and time.
Budgetary and other financial considerations play an important role in not appointing the above specialized roles. Also, organizations tend to empower existing, unqualified personnel to fulfill such specialized responsibilities. As a result, organizations face unnecessary financial, customer satisfaction and productivity issues. IT infrastructure is a support role and it seems that because of its nature, it is taken for granted. Organizations react only when issues or escalations occur. Specialized roles should not be confused with other roles and organizations need to think long term when they are drafting IT policies for their organizations. Investments in IT infrastructure can enable organizations achieve greater productivity and quality services.