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12/30/2013
09:06 AM
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My Best IT Moment In 2013

An emergency preparedness drill brought out the best in my IT team. What were your best moments?

"2013," a friend said to me recently, "don't let the door hit you in the butt as you leave." It wasn't exactly an easy year for many of us, but it had its bright spots.

It's easy for me to identify my best moment as a CIO in 2013. It was when the executive in charge of emergency management conducted a drill to test our collective preparedness -- with no prior notification. Our city's emergency management folks used IT's notification technology to blast a summons to all executive staff, including elected officials, to gather in the resource center used during real emergencies.

The drill described a hostage situation with an active shooter that required coordination among police, parks and recreation, public information, and other city staffers. It was a grim but realistic simulation that called upon all of us to be our best to serve those who count on us.

The folks in our public safety agencies and public information department did the heavy lifting during the exercise. But there was a moment when the public safety folks needed situation intelligence, and I recalled that we had technology systems in place that could help provide that information.

[IT leaders need to take a constructive approach as personally owned data and storage technology becomes more pervasive. Read Is Personal Cloud As Disruptive As Personal Computer?]

Within 20 minutes of being aware that a technical response could help, our IT staff had coordinated a response that provided police officers with a rich set of data that helped them to deal quickly with the situation and protect human life. Talk about a moment of clarity about IT's mission and focus!

That best personal moment didn't happen because we had deployed the technology -- and I'm being intentionally vague about what that technology was, not only to keep it as an advantage if we really run into a hostage situation, but also because what the technology was doesn't really matter. That best personal moment happened because of several other factors:

1. The emergency notification system we had put into place actually worked. City executives or their stand-ins were in place at the center within minutes.

2. IT was represented in the crisis center. Almost nine years ago, our city's executive team created an executive-level IT role, and therefore I was in the room during the emergency center activation and was able to assess what the technology needs might be. This is no small thing, our having a seat at the management table during a time of crisis.

3. I was in the loop. What I mean here is that the communications within our city organization, as well as within our IT organization, were good enough that I knew about all the technology assets that had been deployed on the ground. The stupid question, popular as ever in 2013: Does IT own it? That question doesn't matter at all. The relevant question: Is IT aware of it? In this case, our IT organization was. Again, no small thing.

4. Our continuity planning was up to snuff. Although the primary technician for this system was out of pocket during the emergency drill, our IT organization was able to deliver the goods that public safety needed, specifically confirming that what public safety wanted to do was possible and then helping out when the system apparently wasn't working. Continuity planning doesn't just mean installing redundant systems. It also means that you plan for key staffers to be out of place just when you need them the most. Cross-training is a huge part of that effort, and our staff delivered.

5. We've gotten soft. In the right way, that is. Nine years of staffing with a focus on the right soft skills became apparent during this exercise. Things didn't go well immediately, but nobody started whining or blamestorming.

For example, the way to access the system wasn't well documented, and it appeared initially that the system was down. In fact, the system was up, just at a different IP address, with different system credentials than expected. A more technocratic staff might have given up or called it a user error, especially because it was "just a drill," but our customer-friendly people stuck with it and focused on the outcome. Our IT staffers quickly figured out what was wrong and stayed in the driver's seat until a public safety officer was comfortable taking over.

The ability to carry out your organization's mission depends on a complicated matrix of information, know-how, willingness, and work ethic. When it comes together, that can be a fantastic moment for any leader.

What were your best moments in 2013?

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RobPreston
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RobPreston,
User Rank: Author
12/30/2013 | 11:34:19 AM
Soft Skills
You can't underestimate those soft skills Jonathan writes about. Our own best IT moment in 2013 was the relaunch of InformationWeek.com on a new platform, involving the migration of close to 20 years of content in multiple forms. There were inevitable problems and disagreements along the way among the editors, developers, project manager, executives, and other stakeholders. But we worked through them without (much) finger-pointing.
Laurianne
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Laurianne,
User Rank: Author
12/30/2013 | 11:49:25 AM
IT Team Bonding
I imagine the drill experience also proved a powerful morale booster for Jonathan's team. Under pressure, they showed their stuff in an area of vital importance. Can you provide such an opportunity for your team?
J_Brandt
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J_Brandt,
User Rank: Ninja
12/30/2013 | 12:13:03 PM
Re: Soft Skills
I agree with you Rob. You can never over appreciate soft skills!
millardlatimer
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millardlatimer,
User Rank: Apprentice
12/30/2013 | 2:50:54 PM
Re: Soft Skills
I agree with you Rob. It's nice to see recognition of the soft skills which are in many instances some of the hardest skills to master for IT professionals. 
ChrisMurphy
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ChrisMurphy,
User Rank: Author
1/2/2014 | 1:21:55 PM
Re: Soft Skills
A critical "soft skill" Jonathan eludes to here is the ability to look at the problem they encountered as an emergency worker would. That understanding of the business mission is indispensible.
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