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7 great sinkholes of an IT department’s time

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By Camilo Gutierrez Amaya

As someone who works in network security, I’ve worked closely with plenty of IT teams. It’s given me a front row seat into the issues that unnecessarily gobble up valuable IT resources that could be used more productively as well as some insights into how companies could prevent these sinkholes in the future.

Sinkhole #1: Manual chores

Installations, updates, patches… are you implementing technology or fiddling with it?

Perhaps one of the biggest difficulties that IT teams face is the number of tasks that have to be done manually: software installations, updates, corrections and enhancements, to name just a few. All take up valuable time for the people responsible for managing the technology.

In a survey of IT leaders at more than 3,700 companies, respondents said they spend an average 72% of their budgets on keep-the-lights-on functions, such as supporting ongoing operations and maintenance, while only 28% goes toward new projects.

Think about implementing IT automation solutions that can orchestrate and integrate tools, people and processes throughout your workflow. Automating updates, reports, monitoring and other tasks is a simple and effective way to save time. Once you’ve implemented these solutions, be sure to keep using them.

Sinkhole #2: Clean-ups

A little knowledge can be dangerous. Users prove it every day.

How much time spent on dealing with incidents can be saved if our users are adequately educated? Anyone whose day-to-day work involves IT surely feels that a lot of time is wasted handling requests that could be prevented if users were more aware of what they were doing.

In a 2012 survey, workers said 37% of time wasted at work went to “fixing other people’s mistakes”. 2 And 52% of IT security professionals said their biggest challenge is dealing with limited end user knowledge regarding risk.3

The best answer is to consider investing more time and resources into educating users and updating their knowledge with regular, scheduled conferences, webinars or in-person training, instead of wasting valuable minutes daily dealing with large numbers of small requests that can be easily prevented.

Sinkhole #3: Fire fighting

Who has time for preventing fires if you spend all day putting them out?

Too often, urgent issues take precedence over important ones. Unfortunately, IT teams often become the “firefighters” of the company, putting out all the technical glitches that spring up on a day-to-day basis.

Here’s why prevention matters:

  • Lost revenue from unplanned outages increased by 56% since 2010.4
  • IT professionals say 27% of interrupted computer tasks take them two hours to return to their original tasks.5

Naturally, unexpected events will always arise but the main focus should be on reducing the occurrence of such incidents rather than on tackling them.

Having multi-layered security solutions in place can help prevent downtime caused by events such as successful phishing scam or denial of service attacks. Also, consider using a cybersecurity product with US-based support teams in or near your time zone that can help if issues arise.

Sinkhole #4: Data anarchy

Does anyone know where that file is? Didn’t think so.

With the increasing volumes of data we find ourselves having to manage, keeping information organised and centralised can be a real headache. According to a 2011 IDC study, 90% of all data created in the next decade will be of the unstructured variety – making it almost impossible for organisations to manage, store, share and dispose of it in any meaningful way.

What often happens is, users develop their own systems for storing things on their own devices; reports containing sensitive data may end up far from the company’s official storage drives. Obviously, this creates problems for IT teams in terms of guaranteeing the availability and integrity of data.

To manage data, one must be able to correctly identify information assets. IT teams should learn to collaborate with users to determine effective, easy-to-use systems that will save everybody time and improve security as well.

Sinkhole #5: Off-duty jobs

When you need something fixed, call IT. They can fix anything.

Given how readily available IT teams are, and the curiosity and talent for resolving incidents, they often wind up resolving problems that fall outside the scope of their duty – which keeps them away from the tasks that they should really be occupied with.

In a survey of 200 IT professionals, 29% of respondents said they lost count of how much time they spend each month on troubleshooting issues; 59% said more than four people are involved in fixing these problems.6

An OpTier survey of 272 IT managers found one-third have been interrupted during their vacations to deal with problems.

IT department coordinators need to clearly define tasks and responsibilities to ensure that the “Swiss Army knife effect” does not adversely affect their hardworking IT staffers.

Sinkhole #6: Winging it

No process, no documentation, no manual? Just make something up.

This sinkhole, like the previous one, is due to a lack of documentation and poor definition of procedures. Naturally, it’s important to be able to improvise – this is an important part of an IT team’s skill set – but improvisation should not be the general rule.

The OpTier survey indicated that 35% of IT managers felt that service level requirements were not clear. Lack of visibility into IT transactions was reported by 32%. Both were cited as major time wasters.

Documenting tasks and procedures is the best way to prepare for dealing with incidents, staff rotation and for the continual improvement of tasks dealt with on a regular basis.

Sinkhole #7: Data glut

What happened? The answer’s somewhere in this 2.4GB text file.

Having systems that generate apparently infinite lists of events will not help much to improve how IT tasks are managed, unless we have the necessary tools and IT employees to process and convert all that data into truly essential reports.

Between now and 2020, the digital universe will grow by a factor of 10x – from 4.4 trillion gigabytes to 44 trillion. However, the number of IT professionals available to manage all that data will only grow by 1.5x today’s levels.7

By focusing our efforts on processing only the data of real interest and use to us, we can achieve the results we are looking for and not waste resources to collate, store and process more data than is necessary.

And by encouraging more people to get into the field of information technology – perhaps by becoming mentors to students or colleagues – we’ll have some welcome help dealing with those 44 trillion gigabytes.

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