IT — the Backbone of Any Business
Being an effective IT Manager involves wearing many hats. At any one time, you and your team could be providing helpdesk support to users spread over several sites, troubleshooting a network issue, planning a new system rollout, deploying new cloud systems or building a new server.
Employees depend on IT and communications systems to do their jobs, and typically the only interaction you’ll have with most of them is if they require support. The importance IT has in the business has increased significantly in recent years, and so the profile of the IT team has also grown.
Reporting to the Managing Director, you’re aware of the importance they place on keeping the business’s operational systems up and running. From a relatively low level of visibility 5-10 years ago, IT is now more prominent than it has ever been.
IT issues are high on the management team agenda and you’re regularly invited into management meetings to discuss IT planning and strategy as well as operational issues. Alongside the day-to-day operational role you play in maintaining IT systems, so that the business can operate and employees can do their job, you’re also tasked with ensuring the business is protected against cyberthreats. In fact, cybersecurity is near the top of the MD’s priority list — which in turn means it has to be top of yours. The GDPR rules have really focused the minds of the management team on data privacy and security, but much of the implementation workload has headed your way.
The fact that IT now has a higher profile at board level than a few years ago is great news in many respects. It means you have the opportunity to voice concerns and to input into business thinking; on the other hand, a great deal is expected from you and your team just to keep IT systems ticking along.
One main benefit for you of this exposure to senior management is that you can flag matters such as IT resourcing — both from a people and budget level. Although you’re technically trained and experienced, you can’t cover all technologies, even among your wider team of IT professionals.
You feel strongly that you need additional funding to fully address cyberthreats, implement the cloud migration that you’ve been tasked with, keep the business IT systems and users operational day-to-day and ensure that future planning and strategy is covered. Thankfully your abilities to contribute at strategic level have been recognised and you’re increasingly being asked to input into strategic business planning. A typical example is in supporting the MD’s vision of empowering employees to work efficiently anywhere, any time.
It’s only natural that your role is to implement and deliver on the IT requirements of the business — and to that end you share in your MD’s vision of empowering employees with cloud and communications technology so that they can be productive and efficient anywhere they happen to be working.
You also are 100% bought-in to the need to secure the business and protect corporate and customer data against theft and loss. Alongside this, your main vision is to represent IT and communications regularly at board level so that:
- IT is high on every meeting agenda and given a strong voice.
- IT budgets increase to meet increased demands.
- Your team headcount can increase to cover the evolving IT requirements of the business.
- You are given the freedom to make key decisions, including hiring in external expertise where required
In common with other members of the management team, you need to keep yourself abreast of developments in your field; so you subscribe to professional magazines such as Computer Weekly and IT Week — as well as receiving newsletters from the vendors, integrators and suppliers whose technology products and services you use.
You also rely on members of your team to keep their eyes and ears open for signs of new developments, particularly developing cyberthreats.
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ICT Managed Services
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It’s the commonly joked about fact among IT professionals: the business only knows you’re there when things go wrong. Of course, it’s not as simple as that, but you do accept that it’s the number one goal of your team to keep operational IT systems up and running so that they just ‘work’ as they should do.
Alongside this the IT Department provides a helpdesk and support function to employees, which is becoming more complex as employees increasingly work remotely and use their own mobile devices within business sites.
Just like your MD and other Board members, your concerns about IT security are considerable. The risks are unlikely ever to go away, and the complexities of the technologies required to combat the increasingly sophisticated threats mean only one thing: more budget is required, new skills must be brought in, and new technologies and services must be found and deployed.
This area of your budget has been put under increasing pressure as a result of the need to deploy cybersecurity technologies across the whole network, from the end points to the perimeter to mobile devices, remote access and cloud systems. Data security is a constant worry and a never-ending headache and is consequently one of the few things that can genuinely wake you up in a cold sweat, as you consider the myriad possible sources of data loss.
Training and educating employees to take more responsibility and be more vigilant against cyberthreats is helping to address this in part; but there’s still the risk of data loss posed by the occasional malicious insider whose intention may be to steal customer data.
The MD’s vision is to roll out cloud technologies in order to make it easier and more cost effective for the company’s people to work anywhere. It’s forward thinking, enlightened and has the potential to make the business more competitive.
But at the same time it’s a logistical and security challenge — particularly with systems needing patching, passwords needing close management and users requiring support when they’re off site. That said, you wouldn’t have it any other way because you can see the massive benefits that the business will gain if you and your team make it happen.
The cloud has changed everything about the way IT is deployed, managed and used. The Board have been a little slow in catching up with some developments, but now with the full weight of the business behind moving systems to the cloud, you feel empowered to do one of the things you enjoy most: looking for new opportunities to invest in ‘ahead of the curve’ technologies.
As with everything, being cloud-powered does have both benefits and drawbacks. But in terms of disaster recovery and continuity planning, the cloud has made things a whole lot more straightforward. The possibilities here are almost limitless — but you need to balance cloud investment with security investment, and make sure that both areas complement each other.
The business planning process can occasionally be tedious. But this is where you really get to input to the company’s future strategy. IT has the potential to deliver competitive advantage for the business, and this isn’t lost on senior management. You are the person that can contribute most strongly in this area, and you’re glad to be able to shape budgets and investment in the right areas of technology and communications.
Many UK SMEs are evaluating their ROI on IT infrastructure and support and moving away from the traditional ways of supporting business operations through in-house resources.
The range of responsibilities of the IT department has grown massively in recent years. But the resources and budget available — while increasing to a degree — have not fully kept pace with the growing list of tasks. This is a massive challenge for you as the IT Manager.
How can you juggle so many priorities at the same time, and not let anything slip? There may not have been any major incidents yet, but you feel (rightly) that with so many things to cover, you need more help.
Whether that comes in the form of additional budget or headcount isn’t really the issue right now. You just need access to the skills to keep the business secure, to deliver continuing, seamless IT operations and to roll out the new systems you’ve been tasked with. It may be that the only answer is to outsource all or part of certain IT functions.
With so many priorities, you could deploy all of the available IT budget and still be left with gaps. It’s a case of using your IT budget for the right things, focusing on the priorities that really matter — like cybersecurity, cloud technologies and communications infrastructure — and putting strict expenditure controls in place.
This is a perennial problem; if you had your way you’d probably double the budget for IT, but that’s unlikely to happen. So it’s a matter of choosing suppliers and technologies carefully, partnering with the businesses that deliver most added value and ensuring you generate ROI.
The number of applications in a typical organisation has rocketed in 5 years. Even a single business department may use dozens of applications — and that’s in addition to the software that might be incorporated into the standard PC build with Windows and Office365.
How are you supposed to manage and support all these different applications? The simple answer is that you can try, but if you had an in-house expert for every application, operating system and cloud technology you’d need an IT team the size of a small country. Reality is that it’s simply not possible. As with everything, it comes down to priority, focus, expert decision making and outsourcing what you can’t really do in house.
Every day is a balancing act — multiple priorities, each of must be ranked. Yet at a higher level there’s a simpler split: how to balance everyday operational needs of IT users going about their jobs with the longer term strategic planning and direction of corporate IT.
Laying down the foundations for future IT needs may cause short term pain because it may slow down response times or cause the deployment of budget into areas that don’t have an immediate impact on the business. Maintaining this balancing act is just one of the challenges that must be met and overcome every day by you and your team.How Can Technology (and Chess) Help?
First priority for you is to work with your team, budget and resources to deliver first class IT operations and support. As we’ve said, we know that every day brings multiple (sometimes conflicting) priorities, requirements to work with a large range of different technologies, a need to balance current and future IT strategy — and with all this, the requirement to keep your costs within budget.
When you consider just two strategic areas under your remit — empowering employees to work anywhere and maintaining the security of the business and its data — it points at the need for a justified investment in hiring outsourced expertise.
Even the IT teams of the largest corporate enterprises are rarely able to ‘go it alone’. This is why we recommend outsourcing some or all of certain functional areas of your IT operations to expert IT partners. It also means that your IT technology choices must be right first time. Using Chess’s Cloud-based services to deliver functions such as Office365, backup, unified communications, storage, security, business continuity — and perhaps most important of all, Managed Services — you’ll be placing your IT in safe hands.
Each year when you prepare your budget submission, incorporating short term operational requirements alongside longer term strategic requirements for new investment, it’s a painful process.
Most business leaders would admit that if there’s anything that keeps them awake at night it’s the possibility of their organisation hitting the headlines due to a data breach.