Proactive or reactive IT?

by | May 23, 2019 | Business

Let’s begin this blog post by asking the first question any organization needs to ask when considering their approach to IT:

How important is IT in your organization relative to other functions?

For some businesses, the impact of IT is superficial – problems, risks and missed opportunities are inconvenient, but they aren’t meaningfully impacting the bottom-line results of the business. For other organizations, IT has a dramatic impact and is fundamental in creating value for the business – IT is a top priority for these organizations. The ideal approach for these businesses is to recognize that the IT function is an asset – producing significant value – and money spent is an investment in the value of the business. Extra investment here often creates a great return.

For those that view IT as a necessary expense and not a priority, the appropriate approach is relatively simple – just minimize this expense and simplify your approach. For those that need to invest smartly in their technology, the path ahead can seem unclear and difficult. How do you move forward? What do you need?
Everyone Needs a Good Fireman
tech support

It probably goes without saying that with technology tectonics, comes the need to have a competent, trusted IT person to put out the technology fires as they arise. Maybe you need a file off the backup, a new computer or a server repaired – these reactive fires are common and tangible. Every business will want someone that can be on call to respond from time to time as the need arises. This reactive, firefighting work is so prevalent and costly that it is often mistaken as fulfilling all the IT needs for an organization. And for those the low-IT-need organizations, a good fireman is maybe all you need.

For those looking to get ahead of the problems and become progressive, the fireman is just the basics – you need more. But what exactly do you need? To answer this, we need to understand some fundamental truths about technology and the related support function.
Firefighters and Surgeons
The first thing is to understand is firefighters don’t make good surgeons. In the world of technology, urgent, reactive work has a very strong gravitational pull. If there is a problem to fix, it is difficult to ignore. This is human nature – we favour the urgent over the important. So, a person or team will have a really hard time being “proactive” when there is reactive work waiting for them. This nature tends to reinforce itself: the more reactive you are, the more reactive you need to be. This is the default mode for many people and/or IT companies – it is difficult to avoid, really. We call this IT Quick Sand and when it is really bad, it is the IT Death Spiral.
So, it is important to manage IT chaos by isolating the reactive work from the proactive work. Ideally, the separation of this work is done through a team – one or more team members are responsible for taking on the reactive work and, in essence, protect the proactive part of the team from this chaos: keep your firefighters fighting fires and your surgeons conducting focused surgeries. 

Randoms or Standards

Technology is always evolving, expanding and offers a cornucopia of options to choose from. Compare two random businesses that do very similar things and you’ll find very little that looks technically the same. Sure, they’ll both probably have some computers with Microsoft Windows, with some wires and stuff – they look the same to the untrained eye. Dig a little deeper and you’ll see that on a specific, technical level, things look very different. So, imagine you’re a tech support person and you get a call from Customer A who needs a file restored or has a router problem. All else equal, you will see something nearly completely different when you help Customer B with the exact same problem. This is the life of nearly all IT people who help multiple companies. The “randoms” are a huge challenge, especially with the other challenges described already. You’ll find most IT people or companies trying to nudge the companies they help toward a preferred technology and they will configure things “their way”. This is natural and helpful. That said, with the IT Death Spiral, Technology Volatility and these Randoms, it is difficult to make progress with the passive “nudging” of technology. It is usually a very superficial improvement and you really end up with a lot of complexity to manage. More is needed, indeed.

It is critically important for an IT person or company to deliberately establish a detailed standard for the IT environment(s) they are responsible for. This standard needs to be based on the business – i.e. what business risk do we avoid by aligning with a specific technical standard (opposed to implementing technology for technology’s sake). Of course, as technology evolves the standard needs to evolve as well. This is not enough on its own, however. Standards needs to be implemented. The IT function in a business must actively and aggressively audit an IT environment against the standard. Where it is out of alignment, there needs to either be a correction (if that is relatively easy) or a business decision needs to be made about the impact of being out of alignment. There is no third option: invest or don’t and remember firefighting is not investing. With a baseline understanding of where IT stands in your organization, a basic decision can be made about the overall approach.

What approach will your organization take: Reactive or Proactive?