Does your IT team have the competencies it’ll need to survive the remainder of this decade?
We’re entering an era where, especially regarding Microsoft, things will change a lot more, and much faster. Some of those changes will be massive, mind-altering and disruptive — and you’ll need to be ready. Take this short quiz, adding up your scores, to see where your team lands.
When asked to rate your “comfort level,” be honest and consider the technical abilities of your team, their experience levels at these tasks and their ability to quickly learn new technologies. Remember, this isn’t meant to rate how “good” or “bad” your team is. Rather, it’s meant to help highlight areas they may need to skill-up in order to meet the changing demands of IT.
If your company determined that the new version of Windows offered compelling new business features, how long would it take you to deploy it to all of your server and client computers (assuming no incompatibilities existed)? Don’t consider business-level questions like whether you’d want to deploy a version; think only about how long it’d take, given your current people and systems.
- One month or less
- 1 to 6 months
- 6 months to 1 year
- More than 1 year
If you identified a major technology need within your organization, how long would it take your team to assemble a short list of possible solutions suitable for a pilot or deeper evaluation? Think specifically about your team’s ability to research previously unknown solutions, identify business criteria and engage with potential vendors to develop a fuller picture of a solution’s capabilities.
- One week
- Up to a month
- More than a month, less than 6 months
- 6 months or longer
Your comfort level in efficiently managing an IT organization that includes different versions of Windows and non-Windows OSes is…
- Very comfortable
- Somewhat comfortable
- Somewhat uncomfortable
- Very uncomfortable
Assuming a cloud solution could meet your legal and industry requirements for security and privacy, how comfortable are you that your team could effectively manage an IT environment that included cloud-based components? Don’t think too much about whether your organization would use cloud solutions; assume you’ve identified one that would be of use and rate your comfort level in actually managing it.
- Very comfortable
- Somewhat comfortable
- Somewhat uncomfortable
- Very uncomfortable
If everyone on your IT team — including administrators — were asked to learn a new programming language that would be beneficial to their job, how much resistance do you think you’d encounter? Consider your team’s personal willingness to tackle new languages, particularly administrators’ willingness to learn programming.
- No resistance
- Some resistance
- A lot of resistance
- It would never happen for the whole team
Now, score yourself:
- 20 points per “1” answer
- 10 points for each “2” answer
- 5 points for each “3” answer
- 0 points per “4” answer
A score of 100 means you’re an agile, flexible team ready to tackle whatever comes your way. A score of zero means you’re seriously lacking in key competencies that will be crucial in keeping the organization balanced over the next few years. Most are likely in between. Lacking in some competencies isn’t necessarily a negative thing; after all, some of these things are brand-new to IT in general. But as you’ve probably guessed, a lot of this scorecard is more about your team’s attitude, and the ability of your internal processes to accommodate rapid change. That doesn’t even mean rapid change is always good, but the idea here is to assess overall readiness, not to make a value statement.
Reviewing Your IT Competency Scorecard
If your company determined the new version of Windows offered compelling new business features, how long would it take you to deploy it to all of your server and client computers (assuming no incompatibilities existed)?
There are various reasons why organizations hold off on upgrading. Many are financially driven and others are decided by an assessment of users’ comfort levels with a given version. But many times, organizations hold off on new versions of Windows because they know their IT team can’t assess the accompanying risks, mitigate them and pull off the rollout without significant impact. Simply put, the ability of the IT team and its processes is one factor in making the decision to upgrade. But IT should never be a bottleneck. We need to gain the capacity to quickly assess compatibility (often through automated evaluation tooling), and quickly deploy new OS versions. We can’t treat OS upgrades like a big project; it has to be more like the way we’re used to rolling out service packs. That’s because the pace of change is increasing drastically.
If you identified a major technology need within your organization, how long would it take your team to assemble a short list of possible solutions that were suitable for a pilot or deeper evaluation?
Too many IT teams — and this is mainly the fault of management — place 100 percent of their focus on fighting day-to-day fires. We should be focused on removing day-to-day fires, and devoting a little time to “pure research.” That research should enable IT pros to maintain a broad sense of what’s going on in the market and what solutions are available for various problems. They don’t need to be deeply educated on these things — they simply should be aware of what’s happening and available. So when a problem arises, they can generate a short list much more quickly, and engage with the best vendors and tools.
Your comfort level in efficiently managing an IT organization including different versions of Windows and non-Windows OSes is…
The dream of the homogenous datacenter is dead and it’s becoming pointless to fight it. We need to fully embrace “the right tool for the right job.” The benefits will offset the added cost. This will require more flexible brains in IT, but most hard-core IT people welcome the challenge of staying proficient in multiple technologies.
Assuming a cloud solution could meet your legal and industry requirements for security and privacy, how comfortable are you that your team could effectively manage an IT environment that included cloud-based components?
You’re going to do some cloud. Probably not all cloud, but you’re going to do some. Whether it’s just some outsourced single sign-on directory, or some outsourced VMs, or whatever, it’s going to happen. And you need to know how to manage them. As with the first question, don’t ever let IT’s inability to manage a solution prevent the business from adopting that solution if it’s truly the right thing to do.
If everyone on your IT team — including administrators — were asked to learn a new programming language that would be beneficial to their job, how much resistance do you think you would encounter?
The days of being an admin and not needing any programming skills were awesome. It was easier to hire admins and made it easier to be one. Those days are ending. Vendors such as Microsoft simply can’t ship the situation-specific, deeply complex tools that businesses are demanding, so you’re going to have to build some of them yourself. That’s just the way the industry has moved. A team that’s unwilling to adapt — and I know those folks are out there — can’t survive. Even if the team can survive, it certainly can’t thrive. You know if you work for an organization like that. The name of the game these days is flexibility, and woe to the business that doesn’t have plenty of it in the IT department.
Skilling Up the IT Team
While your IT staff may be technically proficient, that’s not the only skills to consider for a winning team.
As you begin the new year it’s a good time to make sure your team has the right skills. I’m not referring to technology-related expertise or product-specific skills. While those are essential, it’s equally important to have a well-balanced team with some less-commonly considered skills. One person might fill multiple buckets, and that’s fine — so long as you have all of these in your inventory.
These aren’t skills for which you can easily train. They’re certainly things you can bring up in a job interview or promotion discussion, and they can be a lot more interesting than the hoary old questions like, “what’s a 24-bit subnet?”
Every team needs a person who can find out what’s out there. If you’ve got an IT problem, the researchers can find solutions — probably multiple options. They’ll outline what’s available, create comparison charts, locate reviews and research, and more. The lack of a researcher is one reason why so many teams, I feel, end up taking the DIY approach to nearly every IT problem: They simply don’t have an aptitude for finding and considering ready-made solutions before making the DIY decision.
A good researcher will have mad Google-Fu, a healthy helping of analytical skepticism and the ability to break problems down into their most significant components.
This is who you turn to when you’re in need of a quick fix — knowing it won’t be permanent — and that it might not even last the week. They get you back up and running quickly, and then someone else backfills with a more permanent solution. They’re all about technical duct tape and software bailing wire.
Plenty of organizations have folks with this aptitude, but they often don’t manage them appropriately. Knowing that they’re cobbling something together, and that you’re immediately going to work on a more permanent solution, is the trick. Don’t stop the duct tape from happening just because it’s a temporary fix; instead, get the fix in place while the rest of the team works on something more reliable.
The restaurant industry is full of managers and workers who are great at opening restaurants. They deal with the constant flurry of problems, snags, and snafus, and get everything working smoothly. Once that happens, though, they get bored. They’re not maintainers; they’re about creating new things, getting them working and then handing them off to steadier minds.
IT teams can use people like that, too. When there’s a new solution to be deployed, or a new tech initiative, or whatever, use your openers. They’ll get things running quickly, jump on problems, and sweat through the painful times. But once things steady out, they’ll get bored, and start looking for something new to work on. Understand their role in the organization, and be ready to turn the project over to a steadier production team at the right time.
This is the person we all have on staff, and often wish we didn’t: The one who’s constantly identifying the problems in any given situation. The trick with the doomsayer is to use them for what they are, and to manage their impact. Early on in a project, this is the person who will predict everything that might go wrong — and if you’re paying attention, that’s the list of risks you need to mitigate. They’ll never agree with you that you’ve mitigated everything, and that’s not their job — just let them keep predicting doom and helping you figure out where mitigation is needed.
The fixer. The face. The friendly one who can calm users, sooth executives and calm managers. Perhaps not the most technically savvy person on the team, but someone who gets along well with others. Often a good project manager and always a good person to have when you’re launching something new that’s likely to result in a speed bump or two. Deploy them wisely, and let them help reduce the personality-related problems that all too often accompany tech projects.
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