Ramblings About IT Philosophy

October 10, 2015
sysadmin philosophy rants work

Recently, I’ve been thinking that I should write down some of my views on IT. I don’t believe in a black & white world, but in one that’s full of realities, tradeoffs, and compromises. I’ve worked with people who refuse to (or are unable to) recognize that and spend energy trying to dictate instead of collaborate, typically to the detriment of themselves and frustration of everyone around them. IT exists to support and enable an organization, and should not be an end unto itself.

IT should stand for Enabling Technology

Many don’t view it this way. And I think this is often the fault of people in the IT field (or at least they could be doing more to change that perception).

IT practitioners should see themselves as enabling the organization. IT is often implemented as a culture of “No”, which either limits the value an org could get from IT or you find lots of rogue/shadow IT springing up outside the IT department. Rogue IT is even easier these days since people can pull out the company credit card and spin up cloud services without the upfront costs and technical hurdles of buying physical servers (or even services running on people’s desktops).

If someone comes to IT with an unusual new request, avoid saying no immediately! Instead, work with them to capture the problem they’re to solve so you can help work toward a solution that satisfies everyone. Saying no means they may choose to solve it without your input, which may lead to unpleasant things when you find yourself stuck supporting and maintaining it down the road since the org relies on it. Or even worse it could result in sensitive data being carelessly stored in a way that is at higher risk of being exposed. If you avoid saying “no” immediately, you are able to remain actively involved in the discussion, granting you the chance to guide the organization to a better solution to their business needs.

Upper management can sometimes view IT as nothing but a cost item on the budget with no obvious value. It’s up to IT to “sell” management of the value IT brings to the organization in ways that are relevant. Think of all the things that couldn’t be done without IT or would be dramatically slower (days spent shuffling papers between departments) or less efficient (how many more people would be required). IT practitioners should always be proactively looking to the goals of the organization and what they can do to further enable those goals.

For example, I’ve always been a big proponent of automating repetitive tasks. Any task that staff spend time doing things manually with a computer, you should be asking if the process could be further automated. While some employees may worry about losing their job after being replaced by an automated process, I suspect the organization would be better served if that person’s time was freed of the mundane (and potentially more error-prone) work so they can focus their energy on the tasks that are hard to automate. I would expect this would actually deliver more value to the organization since it can otherwise be difficult to make progress on the “hard problems.”