The head of finance just approached you with a complaint about the “instability” of their systems. Someone in networking brought up fluctuations in connectivity speeds being related to aging hardware in your data center. And the last you heard, the graphic design team was having a variety of issues they just referred to as “wonkiness.” Despite sounding unrelated, all of these complaints, and we’re sure you’ve heard myriad more besides, fall under the heading of stable IT—a major concern for CIOs across the country.
A yearly report issued by Harvey Nash and KPMG about the state of IT from the CIO’s perspective always brings interesting things to light. Recently, this included listing the ability to provide stable IT across the company as one of the top 3 issues plaguing CIOs across the board. Today’s article is all about developing a solid understanding of what stable IT actually entails, and how, as CIO, it falls on you to provide it for every department across the organization.
How’s Your Infrastructure Looking?
First things first: When was the last time anyone opened the wiring closet on the 7th floor? Is the primary file server hosted on-site, at your data center 2 towns over, or in the cloud? Is there a disparity between which departments have access to the cutting edge pieces of that infrastructure? If so, is it equitable?
These are just the first three questions that come to mind that far too many CIOs seem to not have answers for. Before your IT can be described as stable, you’ve got to know whose needs are or aren’t being met and how you can work with them to remedy the situation. And that ability rests on knowing your infrastructure inside and out (literally).
With the current global pandemic changing the face of work, for the foreseeable future if not forever, it’s crucial to have a handle on your physical infrastructure needs. After all, when the office is running on a skeleton crew and the vast majority of workers are remote, your needs look very different than when everyone is co-located, don’t they? This doesn’t lessen the need for security, etc. Rather it simply means taking a hard look at your infrastructure to determine if it’s serving everyone appropriately.
Speaking of the cloud: what is your cloud strategy? The very same shift to off-site workforces means you’ll want to move this to the top of your priority list. When your assets and workforce were co-located on-site, behind your bespoke network configuration, everything ran smoothly. Now that some people have gigabit fiber connections while others are sharing sketchy wifi with their roommates (all of whom are also working from home full time now), all that hardware their signals have to traverse is starting to have an impact on productivity.
With the introduction of 5G speeds in many areas, edge computing is coming into its own. Perhaps now is the time to get on that bandwagon and do what you can to open the pipeline by moving your mission-critical assets to a cloud host taking advantage of the speeds now available. It’s increasingly cost-effective, simple, and efficient to move everything from the email server to your AD infrastructure to a cloud host giving you not only reliable speeds but added security options and always up-to-date hardware configurations.
Shadow IT Is Here to Stay, How Are You Handling It?
The phrase shadow IT has many meanings depending on who you ask and how it’s affecting them. For our purposes, we’re defining it as any IT asset, be it hardware or software, that is deployed by a department other than IT and without IT’s knowledge. So, if finance is using specialized software they never told you about, that’s shadow IT. So is the fleet of drawing tablets the graphics department gave out last year without telling anyone.
Initially used as a slur of sorts, to refer to the negative impact many of these implementations had on overall IT, shadow IT has come to be more of a neutral phenomenon. As such, there are two primary routes a CIO can take when it comes to addressing previously unknown infrastructure—you can eliminate it, or you can embrace it. Either option begins with a company-wide IT audit.
Though it might seem paradoxical, the latter option is often the better choice. Why? Because it can allow departments to use the solutions they feel best serve their needs, while keeping the costs separate from the overall IT budget. By embracing (some) shadow IT, you allow each department some autonomy, while regaining control over IT assets, locking down access rights, sealing off attack vectors, etc. Of course, this is only true in situations where it’s possible to integrate that IT into your larger IT umbrella in some way.
One final note here, Shadow IT has a way of interweaving itself into and in between other realms of IT. So, as part of that IT audit, be sure to sit down with department heads and EAs (who often tend to know more about the day-to-day operations of the departments). These meetings show that you’re taking their needs into account and aren’t just going to remove the tools they’ve come to rely on. Show everyone that your goal is collaboration, and you’ll get the cooperation you need to find and document your company’s shadow IT situation.
Cyber Security Is Changing, Are You Keeping Up?
Cyber security is a top priority for us, as such it’s a topic we’ve written about at great length and there’s more to come. For today, we’re focusing on what aspects you as CIO need to have a firm grasp on in order to keep the rest of IT flowing smoothly. This is not meant to say you should be horning in on InfoSec’s turf, rather that there are things you should be sure to be up to date on even if they don’t fall directly under your purview.
Data security is BIG. The news cycle is chock-full of stories of companies misusing their customers’ private information. Stories of data breaches that exposed customer data to prying eyes and malicious actors. And stories of the myriad ways a company’s confidential internal data can end up in the wrong hands. While much of that sounds like fear-mongering, the threat is indeed quite real and something that every company with a connection to the internet needs to take very seriously.
This focus on data is becoming as much a PR issue as it already was a security issue. This means that your company's reputation now depends on your ability to protect customer and employee data just as much as how awesome your product is and how much your employees love working there. And that’s where IT comes in.
In order for all that data to remain safe, not only does InfoSec need strong policies in place, the infrastructure that data travels and is stored on needs to be in line with best practices and in compliance with all of said policies. When working with InfoSec, it’s up to you to ensure that hardware is configured properly and software is updated. When a breach is detected (because despite everyone’s best efforts, one likely will be), it’s on you and your IT team to respond quickly to lock it down and communicate with the affected parties. Cyber security may no longer mean just watching for sketchy looking emails, but the fundamentals will always remain—protection is the name of the game.
Is It Time to Bring In the Experts?
Stability doesn’t just mean keeping things moving well in the here and now. It also encompasses establishing policies and procedures that carry that well-being into the future. No matter your industry or sector, digital transformation is the name of the game, so as CIO there’s going to be more asked of you than ever before. As the business world digitizes, everyone from multinational corporations to the corner store is deploying more and more technology. And as more and more technology is in the hands of everyday people, there will be more and more need for experts to help transitions go smoothly, train users on that new tech, and help the company not only keep up but even get a leg up on the competition.
65% of the CIOs polled in the report referenced in the intro say that skills are a key factor holding them back from enacting initiatives to move their companies forward. Many of them make mention of outsourcing as a path they’re going to be looking into as a way of enhancing the skills they have to work with.
Outsourcing, like shadow IT, used to have a mostly negative connotation. When you said that word, people immediately thought of their last call to tech support and what a hard time they had getting their problem sorted out. The reality has changed, quite dramatically, in the last few years. Nearshoring, for example, has come to the forefront of the business process outsourcing discussion. This is where you hire a complete team, be it tech support, software development, or even general IT consultants, who are located in a different country from your own yet are still within your timezone. This last piece eliminates much of the communication breakdown that outsourcing of old was renowned for.
Finding the right mix of focus, front-end to keep your customers happy, and back-end to keep the business running smoothly (which, consequently, also keeps your customers happy) is a crucial skill for today’s CIO. And the ability to provide stable IT is one great way to do this—just don’t be afraid to ask for help!