How to beat IT boredom

Infrastructure and getting maximum ROI on exisiting assets are two growth areas in IT management, says Bruce A Stewart

Admit it: The IT life isn’t usually a lot of fun these days.

We spend our days slowing down the pace of change; we no longer upgrade equipment just because it’s three years old; we avoid the next release and we worry about money all the time.

Meanwhile, our colleagues present us with the usual long lists of requests — but not a single exciting project. Inno­vation appears to be dead. Caution rules.

If you’re looking for something as big and challenging as when you installed your ERP package, the timing is wrong. But if you’re looking for the opportunity to make a difference, the timing is right.

Here are two ideas to make your IT life more interesting:

1. Infrastructure re-platforming is becoming more interesting. One of my clients is seriously looking at buying another mainframe to run Linux partitions to replace Unix servers that run SAP. Why? Business continuity. It costs this client four times as much to have its disaster recovery vendor provide servers as it would to provide mainframe capacity. An added benefit of installing another mainframe is that it will prevent a multimillion-dollar datacentre upgrade.

This counter-intuitive move (wasn’t the mainframe supposed to have died by now?) also allows this client to break the back of its prioritisation process, which was based on application projects automatically outweighing infrastructure moves. The company’s justification was simple: “Not only can we save money in the budget and increase our flexibility by doing this but the return on investment is guaranteed as well. Sure, we may offer only a single-digit return but there’s no doubt it will be delivered.” This company now assesses the risk associated with getting a return — and the infrastructure area is getting a lot more money as a result.

Thinking of financial risks and returns or acting as business consultants opens business leaders’ eyes to
the knowledge and skills IT professionals process

2. Increasing utilisation of existing applications is also a growing trend. Vivaldi Odyssey and Advisory Service has discovered that real usage is often a fraction of what the business case intended, making the real ROI far less than expected. Six months after installation, it’s not uncommon to find that, for example, 15% of all users utilise 40% or more of the functions installed, while 20% use less than 5% of the new capabilities. Low-use situations can see 60% or more of users not using the new facility at all.

So where’s the problem? Was the system over-designed? Was it mis-designed? Is it an issue of management discipline in seeing to it that the system gets used? Would training help? Finding and solving the real problem will unlock the latent value in what has been delivered. When the solution delivered just doesn’t solve users’ problems, they won’t use it. I recall one case where a major system was introduced that just didn’t fit the way work was done. Even though the justification was staff reduction — and the reductions had been made — users found was to avoid the new system.

What ties these two ideas together is adoption of a more businesslike approach. Thinking, and speaking, of financial risks and returns, or acting as business consultants, opens business leaders’ eyes to the knowledge and skills IT professionals. Convince them that you have more to offer than what you do inside IT and the interesting work will begin to flow.

Stewart is an executive advisor. He can be contacted at bruce@bastewart.com

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