IT Leader Survival Guide For 2012: 5 Must-Do's - InformationWeek

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Art Wittmann
Art Wittmann
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IT Leader Survival Guide For 2012: 5 Must-Do's

Try these best practices on for size in the new year. It wouldn't kill you to floss more, either.

Before I make my 2012 predictions and offer sage advice, let me preface it all with a bit of personal philosophy and observation. It's my belief that trends in IT and business never ever happen as abruptly as most folks in my business would like, or predict.

So you won't ever hear me declare this to be the year of anything--not cloud, not mobility, not social media. Nor will I declare the death of anything--not Wintel laptops, not proprietary Unix systems, not mainframes. Nothing we use now will cease to exist in 2012. It just never happens that way, at least not at a macro level. And the more central that technology becomes to business, the less likely it is that any one form of technology will die abruptly, or skyrocket to preeminent use.

When we talk about transformative and disruptive technologies, a very disruptive technology might displace another during the span of a decade or so. Think about VCRs and video tape, and the move to CDs and DVDs, and the subsequent move to streaming media. When investments are large as they are in this example, it's not unusual to see three or more generations of technology still being actively used.

[ Want to boost your social networking and professional appeal to recruiters and potential employers? See 10 LinkedIn Tips for IT Pros. ]

Sure, some are ascendant and some are descendent. But for IT organizations, the real challenge is supporting real business needs by supporting multiple generations of technology--that often have very different support needs and use models. The key here is that smart IT organizations manage descendent technologies as a separate process from managing the ascendant ones within the same sphere. Acceptance of steaming media shouldn't mean the immediate demise of DVDs or tape. It just doesn't work that way.

Admitting to a long cycle for technology acceptance doesn't mean, however, that organizations should be passive, or worse, resistant to accelerating the pace of adoption. All too often, well meaning IT pros recoil against the flavor of the day so much that they end up clinging to descendent trends--in ways that aren't helpful to their organizations, or to their careers.

With that in mind, here's a list of things I'd do as an IT leader in 2012.

1. Embrace a world beyond Microsoft and Intel

While I'd never count either of these two companies out of dominating any market that they truly seek to own, it's hard to see the all-but-unanswered rise of the ARM chip and Android and iOS operating systems as anything but a blunder by Intel and Microsoft, respectively.

The Atom chip and Windows 8 are so late to the mobile game that it'll take years for Intel and Microsoft to build dominance in the mobile device world, if indeed they ever do. Meanwhile, there's a range of interesting devices from phones through to highly functional laptop alternatives like the Asus Transformer. The quad-core ARM chip makes it a good performer; instant-on capability, a 16-hour battery life, and its ability to be used as a tablet or snap into a keyboard shell, all add up to an intriguing option for road warriors and executives.

Smart IT organizations will go beyond policies that allow email and calendars on these devices, to figuring out how the gadgets can be used with existing company backend systems. There's a big difference between tolerance of a technology and embracing it. It's not hard to read these tea leaves, so embrace the technology your users will want.

Spend some money, bring some devices in house, figure out their strengths and weaknesses, and find best use cases. Most organizations are doing this, but mostly in terms of device security and management. Take it further.

2. Put mobility in perspective

There's a huge rush on to make sure you've staked out your claim in the growing array of mobile app stores, whether it's Apple's or the Android versions. For some businesses, this makes perfect sense--some can justify the cost of developing good apps while also developing good tablet and smartphone-friendly websites.

But at least judging from a good share of the apps I've seen, many businesses would be better off concentrating on their websites and leaving the apps to Rovio and Zynga (makers of Angry Birds and Words With Friends, respectively.)

And while mobility is important (see Microsoft and Intel's current dilemma mentioned above,) it's one of those things that can be obsessed about. For many companies, developing an iOS or Android app is the first foray into commercial application development. At the outset, it's a lot like home remodeling. You can usually take any estimate you get, then double or triple the cost to do it and time to get it done. But unlike redoing your kitchen, it's hard to ever leave app development alone. There's always an improvement to make or a feature to add.

The term money pit comes to mind. So unless you've got a really good reason for doing it, stick to your website. That's probably enough of a money pit as it is. And while you'll always get users of an app, those same users might have been just as happy and well served at your website.

3. Get serious about data oriented security

As you start to contemplate the end of the all-Windows workplace and the onset of mobility and consumerization, the notion that you can build a moat around the castle that holds the corporate data jewels should be laid to rest, once and for all.

What don't you necessarily need? More firewalls, more end-user device security software, or more technology in general. Even in a homogeneous Wintel environment, all that technology didn't do a very good job of keeping data safe, and it'll only get worse as your users bring in more devices, and use data more broadly.

The answer is to involve your business side colleagues. After all, it's their data you need to protect, not yours. Have them help you assess what needs protecting and what doesn't. Put systems in place to track how and when data is accessed, and help your business partners find ways to use their data safely. They'll work with you--you just need to ask them.

4. Practice vicious standardization in the data center

If you're less than thrilled about the prospect of supporting almost any device that your users decide they want--and believe me, I can understand the feeling--make yourself feel better and help your team work more efficiently by reversing that trend in the data center. Even in an era of powerful X86 servers and highly functional virtualization, data centers still house a wide variety of brands and configurations of servers and storage systems. It's a management nightmare.

We've seen such forward thinking organizations as Federal Express move to a policy of using standardized virtualized systems, even to the extent of excluding some applications which might not lend themselves to that environment.

Of course, there are exceptions, but they are difficult to come by. Before exceptions are made, there must be evidence that all other avenues have been exhausted and that the exception truly is a necessity. The result: Many more workloads are virtualized and are therefore more easily managed. The return on this investment can often be higher than pushing for a true private cloud environment that might only accommodate 50 to 60% of the data center workloads.

5. Make IT managers spend 10% of time with internal and external customers

If you get nothing else from my list, take this item to heart. We're in an era of unprecedented change in technology, as well as unprecedented importance. Thinking that you have an idea of what your customers want and need from you simply isn't good enough. The only way to really understand their needs is to spend some time with them. Sit with accounting teams as they close the books each month and communicate numbers to executives. Sit with marketing teams and see what assumptions they're making about your social media capabilities (or how they've worked around them.) Sit with product development teams and see how they communicate and work. Spend some time with outside customers and see how they interact with your websites and sales teams.

I've seen this done in various organizations and I've never ever heard IT executives come back saying "yep, everything works about like we figured it did." (And if you're the first, imagine how smart you're going to feel! ) While you're out with your business site partners, you can begin to understand better how they use data. That will also help with data oriented security efforts.

There you go. In short, be proactive, don't buy into hype, and know your customers. It's not the first time you've heard that advice, but it never hurts to hear it again. I hope you had a good 2011 and that you'll have an even better 2012.

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User Rank: Apprentice
12/9/2011 | 5:47:27 PM
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