5 June 2016

One man as an IT department

The challenges for small businesses

What are the 10 most frequent issues affecting the solely working IT specialist?

1.      No one to bounce ideas off of.
It sometimes helps to think out loud, to speak, and get some feedback from someone who actually understands what you are doing. Without someone like that around, IT guys might start talking to themselves! The business risk is suppliers often are collocutors for the IT specialist, however they are in between the two roles – trusted advisor and sales force. They will provide the best advice, for sure, but the question is - who would it be best for. It is a little ambiguous – the company that the IT
specialist is working for, the IT specialist himself or the supplier. Obviously suppliers have to push their sales.

2.      No time for R&D
If the IT specialist is overwhelmed with support requests and new implementations, it is highly unlikely that he will have the time to research on a new technology to develop better tools for you.

3.      Slow response to business change demand
The market is extremely dynamic and business is pushed to react, adapt and proactively move forward. Implementation of new technologies is not as quick as the management would like it to be. New projects require additional resources from the only one existing IT specialist.

4.      No replacement for the IT specialist during days off
What about being sick off or on annual leave? Should he do remoting from the bed whilst ill? Or just try to picture yourself in his family’s shoes during that dreamed vacation! Needless to mention “quick calls” during the weekend for consultancy and help.

5.      Company knowledge is in IT specialist’ head
What would happen if the IT specialist leaves the company? It is stressful due to poor to nil level of knowledge transfer and handover. “Business as usual” operations do not leave room for maintaining up-to-date documentation. It is extremely difficult and in most cases impossible for an overwhelmed IT specialist to help himself by moving from firefighting to proactive approach, since he has no time to do it.

6.      Keeping high ROI in the IT left IT specialist behind his fellows   
The business has expectation to get maximised return on investments made in technologies. Usually the technology vendors provide 3 years warranty and support contracts, expandable to 5 years as an option. The small business uses one technology 7 to 8 years on average. However every next generation of the same technology is introduced to the market on every 2 to 3 years. How one internal IT specialist could possibly be up-to-date with all this new information, if there are no changes for this period? If he is made redundant for any reason, how could he be competitive against other jobseekers? Probably he would be, if the new employer still uses the same old technologies. But then, the same question comes up again - what would happen if he loses his job again…? Do not be surprised if salary raise is not enough to keep him!

7.      Being on call at any time and any case
It’s hardly doable in case of incidents that impact big groups of users. The Hamlet’s question – “Do I have to answer all the users’ calls explaining one by one what happened and when I anticipate to fix it, or to start immediately fixing the problem and to reduce the time and negative impact on the business?” raise every time.  
What about 20 calls, most of them sparkling of emotions? Sending an e-mail just raises a new storm of questions. When IT maintenance require one or more services to be temporarily unavailable (or at least with decreased performance), businesses demand this have to be performed out of business hours.
At the other hand new technologies allow business hours to be stretched due to remote access. Some employees can finalise the PowerPoint presentation or to catch-up with the analysis during the weekend. Time windows left for maintenance are constantly squeezing and pushed to small hours.
IT maintenance and help desk 24/7 by only one IT specialist?
I would leave aside the questions about labour law and humanity, but what about the performance and the mood of your poor IT guy?

8.      Wide profile IT specialist. Really?
How anyone could state he is an expert in a certain technology, if he implements it by skipping three to four generations? On average every two to three years a new generation of the same technology appears. Sometimes during a major incident everything should be implemented from scratch before restoring the data. IT specialists reveal that they struggle to recon how exactly they did it last time, since it’s been a few years ago. What about not only one, but multiple technologies? Even if he is positive and eager to learn, he can be good at only few of them in theory and not in practice.

9.      Blending IT expertise with understanding business model and processes?
It might take the IT specialist 5 to 10 years to understand in depth the business he is working for. He can play a reactive and support role till then as it takes time and depends on the business’s complexity. The added value rarely includes proactively enable entering to new markets, increase of the current market share or completely new competitive advantages.

10.   IT specialists with plain English are required
Unless the business is not an IT itself, both users and managers are not IT specialists and all of them require simple business and jargon free language. This is a significant challenge and effort requirement for the IT specialist, bearing in mind the overbooked calendar, while his phone is constantly ringing. To be polite, he thoroughly explains every step or process undertaken with obvious examples for comparison, leaving him failing to accomplish most urgent tasks as he has no time.
All the examples above are not pretending to be the exhaustive list, just fragments from the whole picture. However only the mentioned ones are self-sufficient to raise passive behaviour or worse – “burn-out” of the IT specialist. It is not acceptable for any business to have an IT specialist who shrugs his shoulders or wildly expresses his emotions which sometimes ends up with him leaving the company, denial to perform knowledge transfer, handover or even to provide credentials.
The IT service value is based on fit to purpose (utility) and fit to use (warranty). The first factor means capability of the IT specialist – knowledge, skills and experience. Second, but not least factor, means reliability – IT users to have access to the IT specialist when they need it. Both hypothesis – largely capable, but not reliable (i.e. cannot be found when required), or always responding, but not capable of doing the job are simply not acceptable.
What business management should do?

I will leave the discussion open and would appreciate comments and proposals from all parties – IT specialists, IT users and their managers. If you are totally agree or you do not have an opinion you are still welcomed to share the post so it can reach more of your colleagues, friends and contacts.
It will be beneficial to collect more opinions.
Thank you in advance!

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