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IT Advice from Bill Nye “The Science Guy”

Bill-Nye

I recently came across this quote and thought it very apropos to the situation in today’s complex IT organizations. Whether you are talking about server, storage, and network admins; developers; QA teams; security managers; and the many other experts in a typical IT organization, the fact is everyone in IT has specialized knowledge and a unique perspective on what they are responsible for.

It’s all too easy to get caught up in these individual perspectives and miss out on the big picture. But worse than that, because there are so many items associated with delivering a given application or service, and many of these items like a policy or unique setting an individual expert is not aware of, the best intended actions can often produce unexpectedly bad outcomes. Our own experiences and a quick Google search reveals that it is still all too common that outages are caused by “human error” and not an equipment failure or code issue.

George Spafford at Gartner has state the problem this way, “It is becoming impossible for any person or group [within IT] to completely understand how everything integrates together.” Because we don’t know what we don’t know, we can be lulled into a false sense of security as the bad outcomes all too clearly illustrate.

In response, a lot of IT organizations have tried to attack the problem with email, meetings and formalized change processes. This has helped many companies identify and minimize risks to a certain degree, but they have exchanged this benefit for a much slower change rate and over-involving too many personnel in change management.

A recently published metric from industry consulting firm Pink Elephant found that the average time from creation of a change request to its execution was 31 days! Whether the change is in response to a business need or is applying a patch or upgrade to make infrastructure better performing and resilient, I think we can all agree that a month is far too long. And a month is just the average! I am sure that complex changes with many change items greatly exceed a month in many IT organizations today. We need to do better as an industry – and that goes not just for practitioners but vendors and consultants too.

Here’s the second part of the problem with many current approaches. Because IT operations teams are rightly concerned about the instability that change represents, they pull far too many people into change planning meetings and change advisory board (CAB) meetings who don’t really need to be there or who could have just as easily provided their input offline. I can’t tell you how many times I have heard a change process owner complain about how they send emails out to change approvers and then have to hunt them down in person to get them to login to the change system and respond. And for their part, those approvers often complain that they get so many emails from the change system they can’t distinguish which are important and just end up ignoring them all.

So this brings me back to Bill Nye and his astute observation that we can learn something from everyone we meet. Let’s accept the fact that each of us doesn’t know everything we need to know to effectively manage today’s complex IT environments, despite the fact that we may indeed be experts in a particular area. It is only by capturing our collective knowledge and making it available to everyone that we can have a complete understanding of dependencies and risks. By using a modern approach like ITinvolve that allows IT knowledge workers to follow what they are responsible for or have an interest in, we can leverage the knowledge of others AND identify exactly who the right experts are and proactively engage them in a virtual collaboration to assess risk.

The result is that risks can be assessed more accurately but also more quickly, and without pulling people unnecessarily off of whatever else they are working on too. This assessment can then be provided proactively to the CAB and CAB members can approve or reject offline from meetings at a time of their convenience. If all CAB members approve, the change doesn’t even need to get discussed in the formal CAB meeting and can move straight to execution. This then enables IT to focus CAB meetings on the really important and high-risk changes that everyone hasn’t approved.

To get there, the first step is simply to recognize and appreciate that you can learn a lot from others by sharing what you know and having everyone do the same. We often here statements from our customers like “I’ve learned more about our environment using ITinvolve in the last three weeks than in the last five years I’ve worked here.” This is the reality, no matter how much of an expert we are, our knowledge of today’s complex IT landscape is limited. It’s only by working together and sharing what we know that we can deliver on our mission of helping IT become more agile while minimizing risk.

Matt Selheimer
VP of Marketing

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