August 11th, 2015 by Eric Brackett
President of BTI Communications Group, Ltd.
A higher ambition that all technology managers share is to implement and run operational technology solutions for their businesses. I wrote previously on what the definition is of an operational network. For a network to be considered operational, it would, by necessity, need to work well without further unexpected assistance or attention.
Long-term operational systems equate to job security and quality of life in IT. A technology management job is already difficult even without unanticipated problems. Needing to balance a budget, business demands, user demands, staff demands, maintenance, and projects often requires outside help or layers of middle management and supervision. In any case, systems that fail the operational test are costly to IT and the business. Instability or insecurity impacts our jobs, our businesses, and our personal lives as well.
One of the questions I’m asked from time to time is what makes an IT person or department successful versus unsuccessful.
After all, I’ve seen the leanest teams you can imagine succeeding wildly and consistently. In other cases, I’ve seen the most expensive teams you can imagine failing almost 100% of the time. The irreducible minimum measurement available to differentiate between bad and good IT management is operational systems. Beyond that, there is effective project execution, budget, and a myriad of unseen factors. At its most basic level, however, the best teams I’ve worked with were all highly dedicated, laser-focused on their jobs and systems, and partnered up with the outside expertise that they didn’t have to fulfill in house.
Staffing the team and keeping it staffed over time is the biggest ongoing problem both for IT and HR. Some staff seems to win all the time while some seem to struggle all the time. How can one differentiate between the people who will contribute and those that won’t up front? All you can see on the surface in an interview is the expressed attitude of the applicant and where they used to work and go to school. What you need to see is their actual attitude, knowledge, and competence on the job, not their interviewing persona.
You definitely want someone who is inwardly passionate about the field. You would prefer good communication and social skills, the ability to maintain friendly relations, and good industry credentials, too. However, these are not the monitor of effectiveness in IT. The best indicators of future success are confirmed past successes. Finding out all about these should be 90% of the evaluation. The other 10% of the evaluation can be devoted to the person’s ability to study and willingness to practice in areas you will need them to stay abreast of to succeed.
One of the best IT executives I’ve ever met told me that in his experience, hobbyists were the best hires. “The first question I ask candidates is what kinds of systems they have at home. If they describe a matrix of switches, firewalls, servers, virtualized compute, desktops, and other devices, I figure they’ve got the passion. If they say they’ve got a home computer, I pass on them because they won’t last here.” If your department has a lot of project work, this type of person is key to your success. Pilot projects, test beds, and evaluations need to be thoroughly completed before having to deliver them to the business. Change control process must be followed. The overhead of new projects can be very high. A capable team of IT enthusiasts with a gung-ho attitude and love of the game will virtually ensure the effectiveness of any project. Having one antisocial slacker on the team is enough to distract and demoralize the whole team, however.
So ask yourself if they’ve done the job successfully before or not? You wouldn’t hire a quarterback for your NFL franchise because they’ve got a friendly personality. Your primary concern would be how many games they won, how many yards they gained, and their quarterback rating. Hiring in IT should be the same way, whether you’re hiring an employee or a vendor.
Successful project and maintenance experience in a comparable IT environment and business are the main indicators of someone’s likely success in a highly effective IT department. Successful management and training skills are great, too, if there is an opportunity to manage or train. However, I’ve also sometimes seen where people in pure management roles fall behind on the technology curve and skills needed. If you’re hiring a supervisory level technology professional, I recommend looking for a balance of technical and management success in their recent past as the first order of business.
Probably the single worst indicator of IT candidate success is long periods of unemployment or job hopping. Even if they’ve gone to trade school while unemployed, the problem is that they tend to be full of theory with little practice. They’ve learned how to pass tests, not make systems operational in a real data center or work environment where those systems handle the most vital communication and workflows in the business. My advice is let them apprentice somewhere else with a great training program and someone else’s supervision first or buckle down and get good at apprenticing people really well yourself.
Top IT management should periodically evaluate their team’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats and then plan and execute quickly. Technology is ever more valuable but also ever-changing and complex. Your competition in your business’ marketplace won’t allow you to either overspend or fall behind. Further, if you fall behind too much, it demoralizes your staff.
Successfully predicting the future, systems that are operational versus failing, and low staff turnover may be seen as luck to the untrained eye. My dad always said that to the trained eye, though, luck is just endless preparation, study, and practice meeting opportunity. Assessing the systems you have is where you start. BTI offers these assessments of systems free to our clients along with comparative assessments over time.
The products we deliver at BTI are telephony, networking, and security solutions that benefit our clients’ businesses with the foremost technical quality that can be delivered. The foremost technical quality is achieved by professional assessment, understanding our client’s stated needs, intelligently architecting solutions and support, and delivering them standardly.
We call the secret sauce that holds it all together with our GlobalView Support program. This program combines the top IT assessment tools, the top IT monitoring tools, and the top IT automation tools, with the most highly skilled engineers and business people in our industry behind those tools 24X7X365.
A lot of investment goes into delivering this as a service but at its irreducible minimum, what our IT clients can clearly identify as the main feature differentiation is the professional staff backing their staff up when needed, access to toolsets they couldn’t afford to operate on their own, and single pane of glass management of their systems with near flawless execution of tasks.
The things which can’t be seen or are not visible are the work that we put into staffing and training our people, the background tasks we perform day and night that prevent downtime, and the assessments and measurements we do to keep our clients operational. At BTI, we are very fortunate to work with hundreds of you as our clients including IT professionals, finance people, and line of business managers in our client companies. We appreciate the opportunity to serve you and are vigilantly preparing so that we can all continue to succeed together in the future.
Sometimes your budget doesn’t afford you the luxury of buying, maintaining, and operating highly sophisticated IT management toolsets. At other times, your staff is burdened with vital backlogged projects and little time to get them done much less worry about preventive maintenance. Sometimes the staff you depend on to keep systems operational lets you down during these times. What do you do to rectify this situation? One answer is to partner up with BTI for GlobalView support. We’ll take the critical maintenance and preventive work that keeps your infrastructure operational and your nights and weekends will be freer.
Finally, if you find yourself wanting to polish those hiring and interviewing skills, you will find the best selling business book, The Naked Interview Hiring Without Regret at Amazon and more material on the author's web site - David Jensen. Both the book and the website are packed with all the fundamentals you need to hire well and stay within your budget.