Too Many Hats, Not Enough Heads: Managing IT on a Budget
Every IT professional knows the drill: What was meant to be a productive day spent preventing problems and updating neglected servers with security patches, quickly gets derailed with one-off questions and requests. The reality of many IT teams is that there’s simply too much work, too little budget and too few hours to accomplish everything that needs to be done. This is even more relevant for smaller IT teams, where they may only have a few people serving an entire small business or a particular business unit within a larger enterprise.
Despite the increasing amount of work for IT teams, a recent Gartner report found that IT spending is expected to total $3.49 trillion in 2016, down 0.5 percent from 2015. Furthermore, while average annual company revenues are growing, IT budgets are remaining relatively flat and IT managers don’t expect their staff to increase in 2016. According to the Spiceworks State of IT 2016 report, only 38 percent of respondents plan to increase IT budgets this year.
This means that IT teams are going to have to continue doing more with less. The amount of work that IT teams manage will only grow, and they’ll have to continue doing all of it successfully with fewer staff and a smaller budget. So, what’s the solution here?
Some might say that running an IT infrastructure consists of just three tasks – managing, monitoring and troubleshooting. But while it may sound like only three jobs, each of those three jobs require a full view of system health across each function, application and business process. That to-do list with only three items now includes IT security, network management, user administration, online operations, email administration, cloud systems deployment and management, and application development. If that’s not enough, many of these IT systems require three different deployment environments – development, staging and production – each of which requires care, feeding and monitoring, while creating even more potential points of failure.
The most common way to monitor system health across the board is to independently watch each one. However, this manual process is incredibly time-consuming, inefficient and non-scalable. Additionally, looking at each system independently fails to pinpoint the root cause of a problem since an issue can span multiple systems and infrastructure.
These are just a handful of the obstacles and issues that IT teams face on a regular basis. A large IT department may be able to easily navigate these waters, but smaller teams with a limited budget often struggle to do so. In a small IT department (often approximately three people), it’s everyone’s responsibility to maintain servers, network equipment and applications. With no specialized teams, every IT person naturally becomes a generalist and all facets of IT end up controlled by just three people. This means that at the drop of a dime, anyone on the team has to know enough to jump in during an emergency.
The fact is there are just not enough people to manage all of the day-to-day tasks in addition to the one-off requests and problems that are bound to pop up. While many IT professionals are skilled at and used to wearing multiple hats, they can only do so much in a day. Organizations cannot rely on IT teams to just do more with less and expect things to run smoothly.
There’s no golden ticket that will successfully manage IT at a low budget and with a small staff. However, with the right processes and systems in place, IT teams can more effectively streamline tasks and projects and improve their ability to do more with less. Here are a few things to keep in mind when trying to solve this puzzle:
- Beware of free products: While free products are great in theory, they aren’t truly free since they require staff to maintain them. Bringing on free software that requires a specialized team member to manage it can get expensive and may ultimately lead to having to let someone go who had mastered the many other facets of his or her department.
- All about automation: A tool that automates monitoring processes can free up time for IT teams to focus on the bigger picture. IT teams need logs all in one place and the ability to search those logs, and software should do that for you proactively. A tool that automatically collects and collates data and effectively separates the useful information from the useless data is invaluable.
- No assembly required: A solution should come fully ready to go – there shouldn’t be a mountain of parts that require assembly. If you had the time and manpower to assemble something, you probably would already have the extra staff member. Focus on selecting solutions that are easy to get up and running.
- Build your IT skills: For IT professionals in these environments, developing their skills benefits both them and the company. For example, staring at a single system makes someone a mechanic, but learning to look across IT systems at a dashboard of centralized log data makes that same employee a big data analyst – and more valuable to the business. IT teams should focus on continually developing their skills, and organizations should encourage and incentivize their efforts to do so.
- Harness the cloud: Taking advantage of the cloud is popular advice these days, and it’s especially critical for smaller IT teams looking to control cost and efficiency. Without the capacity to spend more on hardware, moving processes to the cloud can eliminate the need for this expense, alleviate resource constraints and even remove roadblocks to agility and innovation.
The issue of too many tasks and not enough resources is an increasingly common challenge in the IT world. In this scenario, the goal is to implement systems and processes that allow IT’s current troubleshooters and specialists to use their same skills, but at scale. With the right tools, training and team, IT can become a strategic business driver rather than a daily obstacle.
Edited by Stefania Viscusi