Who knows what's best for your company's technology future? It's the people in the trenches who get their fingers dirty crawling under your desks: your faithful IT department. And they need to be freed from stagnating budgets.
Why is it so hard to fund the mandatory?
A few months ago, I heard from a peer of mine who was tickled pink because she was able to bring on two new full-time IT resources; one is a developer, and the other is a business intelligence reporting guru. Those are two new positions, not replacements. For a small shop like hers, it's an extremely big deal. By small, I mean they have a CIO, four pure tech people, and two peripheral workers that have IT-related duties. That group supports about 600 users. By a big deal, I mean that it took her close to three years to cost-justify the positions and get them approved. Her department simply had too much work to do and couldn't afford not to do it. If you have a cash-flow problem and need your shingles replaced, you'll bring your brother-in-law over for a weekend and give him a case of cold ones. It needs to be done or the house will eventually suffer.
When you bring someone on as a full-time IT worker, the expectations are high. After all, selling the need for hiring someone for a brand-new position is usually a daunting task.
Why is that?
For starters, IT budgets have been stagnating for years. Since the dot-com bust of 2002, IT budgets have either been flat or negative. 2014 was slated to be on the upswing by about three whole points according to some sources.
Think about that.
With the advent of mobile devices, always-on and always-available solutions, the rise of the mobile worker (I always picture users in Braveheart face paint at my office door when I hear that one), bring your own device (BYOD) social computing, big data, analytics, and every other high-level topic, buzzword, and technology euphemism you can fit into a digital paragraph, the budgets that many of you CIOs, IT managers, or IT directors have had to work with have been sitting still or decreasing.
What do we as IT professionals do? We have been asked to do more with less and turn those corporate problem lemons into solutions lemonade. Some IT departments might even turn water into wine on the odd occasion, but if there's any divine intervention to be had, it's usually not in the budget.
The marketing machine selling the idea of moving to the cloud has been on fire for a couple of years now. You see examples of some large companies that have fired most of their IT staff to move to the cloud, turning an expense of human resources into pure tech-service charges. We see successful outsourcing case studies, and we have no doubt about the benefits, but there are still people somewhere, provisioning accounts and creating virtual servers. And no, a monkey can't do it. These are technical people. The resource pool of technical workers hasn't been shrinking, nor has the cost of paying for IT solutions. The workers are shifting more to the cloud, and companies are paying for cloud computing solutions and services there instead of in-house. In other words, it's a cost shift and not usually a cost reduction.
A strong but simple difference between an in-house technical services staff member and an outsourced service is that the employee has a vested interest in the success of the company. I'd bet you my last nickel that the average IT employee cares more about their company's survivability and sustainability than a contractor would. That's with all due respect to contractors, and I've known quite a few who would answer the phone on New Year's Eve and bail me out of a mess. Those guys are paid handsomely for that too. But the IT employee needs the company to expand, to sell more widgets, to cut costs, to be more environmentally friendly. There's a pride of association you get from in-house workers that you don't get from outsourced solutions.
Yes, IT staff needs to be trained. They need laptops. They need smartphones. They need salaries, health and dental benefits, insurance, and all that extra overhead like every other employee.
What they give in return is not the same as the IT employee of yesteryear. No offense to people who cut their teeth thirty-five years ago, but the job description for a modern IT professional has unofficially morphed into an always-available, always-on, mobile, work from the couch, work from the car on the side of the highway, work from the breakfast/lunch/dinner table, work on vacation, call at 3:00 a.m. to unlock an account or manually fix a process gone sour, 24x7x365, sleep-deprived, factory-formulated, high-test geeky workhorse.
And when they're not doing that, they're trying to plan for the future. Not their future, but the company's future. The IT people worth their weight in gold are looking to pay for themselves every year by implementing cost-saving measures or more efficient solutions. Those people scrutinize process and procedure, looking for ways to make things run faster, leaner, and most importantly, more effectively. They do this in order to justify every budget dollar they get.
But it's no wonder that many IT departments can't get ahead on all the new stuff coming down the pike. Departmental growth has been stunted with stationary or down budgets. Do more with less works in the short term in times of uncertainty. In the long term, it's a recipe for disaster. Imagine if you didn't invest in maintaining and upgrading machinery that builds your widgets. How long would it take for it to break down? You can only hold a factory together with duct tape for so long before it starts to fall apart.
And if IT doesn't keep up with corporate demands because of a lack of resources, then that's when the outsourcing talk starts.
Of course, cloud computing has an initial cost. You have to spend money to save money, right? That's funny. It sounds like something an IT department might say from time to time. But alas, "it's not in the budget."
Do you see the disconnect?
Many in-house IT shops I know spend much time bailing out the boat and not getting enough resources to patch the holes, let alone outfitting it with sonar, radar, and a new efficient propeller. When the water rises high enough inside the boat, the question is raised about buying a different boat—one that doesn't need someone to steer, or bail out, or put gas into the engines.
The extreme cloud marketing hype is hard to resist. You'd better get on board or else you'll get "left behind." How many times have you heard that mantra repeated over and over? It's using shame to market products and services.
Some research firms will tell you that 75% of companies will be "in the cloud" by 2024. What does that mean? That you'll use a private cloud or public cloud or that you'll allow the use of something like Dropbox or Office 365? It's such a questionable statistic that 75% really means nothing. It probably doesn't mean 75% of companies will be outsourcing their IT departments. Even if it did, I'm calling shenanigans based on the ten-year prediction alone. Where's my new flying Delorean and auto-fitting clothes like in Back to the Future II? Science fiction is unrealistic you say? Hardly. Think of the tech we have now that was inspired by Star Trek.
Those influencing the decision to move are usually far removed from technology, looking at cloud replacement strictly as a cost-cutting measure but with the promises of bells and whistles that in-house IT couldn't provide because they were buried under their workloads (i.e., understaffed) or budget-deficient (i.e., underfunded).
We need to be investing in our IT resources constantly. If you want IT to align with the business and really do something, then you need to fund it properly.
When IT gets the resources to do their jobs, then companies will be rewarded with employees who do their jobs better. IT departments can help. We need to unshackle them.