It's time for a change: Do less with less

Demands on IT are out of hand. Why it's time for the Slow IT way

For years, IT pros have heard that they must do more with less, as staffing is cut and outsourced, while demands to better serve the business and adopt new technologies continually increase. This is how it’s always been, but it doesn’t have to be how it always will be.

We've reached the breaking point, and it's time to make a stand. There is no more "more," so IT must do less with less. You already know how to draw the line: Stop doing the busywork with little value. Make the business choose its key priorities, rather than dump them all on you. Be smarter about letting users handle some of their own tech so that you can do what's truly critical. Help yourself eliminate aggravation while helping the business to reduce costs. Push back when confronted with impossible deadlines and requirements that have no basis in reality can actually be beneficial in the long run -- for everyone.

In a world of junk food and harried families, we saw the rise of the fast-food nation and the high price paid for its convenience. From that frustration was born the Slow Food movement, which promotes a healthy relationship with food. The Slow IT movement applauds that sentiment and seeks to apply it to technology management.

The tanking economy is the perfect excuse -- use it! Business executives across the globe are using the downturn to justify layoffs, cutbacks, closings, delays, negotiations, and all manner of triage. You too can play that game. After all, you only want what's good for the company. And if someone says it hurts, well, it's only temporary, right? This is an emergency!

Seek opportunity in adversity. Embrace the 10 tenets of Slow IT:

The 10 tenets of Slow IT

1. Stop trying to be a superhero. Unrealistic deadlines and workloads just lead to burnout and poor quality. You're asked to juggle an impossible set of priorities. Pass the buck back where it belongs. Be clear on each project's requirements (time and money), and tell the business to decide its priorities. New projects mean something else has to move down the list. It's not your job to decide which -- in fact, making it the business's responsibility will reduce the less-useful requests. But only if you deliver what you promise will business trust you're not just trying to slack off.

2. Let users manage themselves wherever they can. Many users can install their own software and manage updates. Let them, such as through a do-it-yourself server for licensed apps. And stop babysitting their use of personal technology. Unless specific regulations disallow it, let people install iTunes, Gmail, and the like -- with the clear understanding that if they screw up their computer, you'll wipe it out and reinstall the defaults, not troubleshoot any damage they caused. Likewise, make it policy that if they use personal e-mail, iPhones, or other personal technology, they are on the hook for any breaches or misuse. Make sure that everyone knows all the risks, and the reasons you’re doing this. After all, with freedom comes responsibility. And you've got more critical work to do.

3. Eliminate the makework. Go through your routine tasks and assess what value they actually bring. Chances are that you spend more time than necessary on monitoring and preventative measures for risks that are rare. It may sound like heresy, but it's probably more efficient to let some things go and fix them occasionally than to spend a lot of effort preventing the breakdown. With that assessment, you can reduce the makework and give business more of the tech benefit they really want.

4. Automate everything you possibly can. And point out that you’ve saved the company the cost of one or more employees by doing so. Make sure that your monitoring application knows everything about everything, from CPU utilization in your routers to random tests of inbound fax lines. Just make sure it’s understood that autopilot only works when the skies are clear.

5. Outsource your annoyances. SaaS and cloud computing aren't just the latest tech buzzwords; they're also ways to avoid managing and maintaining servers, storage, and applications. Google Apps, Live Workspaces, and the like are fine substitutes for the departmental or branch office filer -- and they're already available to everyone. Hosted applications are a bigger step, but the same principle applies. If you're supporting a multiplicity of marketing, sales, support, budgeting, billing, or project apps for as many myriad workgroups, it's time to rationalize the environment. Start pulling the plug on these servers, and consolidate these applications in the cloud. The most troublesome apps and noisiest users are first in line.

6. Target the sacred cows. Pushing administrative headaches into the ether is just one aspect of performing IT triage. Don't stop there. Look for every opportunity to eliminate the nice-to-haves for the sake of the truly important. The time is ripe to reevaluate the old valuables and to kill aging sacred cows. Is that creaky legacy system a business necessity, or is it a luxury the business can no longer afford? Do users really need Wi-Fi in every corner of the building? Unless management is living in a cave, new projects and planned purchases have already been reexamined. Now is your chance to put the costs and benefits of existing assets under a microscope too -- especially those that are feasting on admins.

7. Let downtime be downtime. Don’t open the laptop when you get home, turn off the cell phone, and let the spam pile up for the weekend. The quickest way to losing your marbles is to never learn how to relax. Take up a hobby, like single-malt Scotch. There are enough crises in every work week. Let the weekends and evenings sort themselves out -- unless there’s absolutely no other choice.

8. Refuse to get married to anything. Hardware, software, home, office, computers, routers, whatever -- just because you fixed it once doesn’t mean you are contractually obligated to fix it forever. In fact, you probably shouldn’t even fix it once. The next time someone brings their personal laptop in to have you “just take a look,” ask them something in their line of work that wouldn’t be acceptable. “Well, you’re in finance, right? Would you mind doing my taxes for the past three years? I just can’t get the hang of them.” Turnabout is fair play.

9. Keep the joy of tech alive. Yes, everything is said to be urgent, but you can't let the fun and innovation of tech get squeezed out of your week. In fact, you need to keep that fun going as a motivator. The company is poorly served if you're a dead geek walking. Staying abreast of tech innovations will let you more easily see better solutions to tech issues as they arise. Reserve at least an hour a day to peruse IT news sites, gadget sites, and so forth. Don't get stuck in the hamster wheel of the day-to-day.

10. Make the business listen to you. Befriend the brain-sucking zombies. You've heard ad nauseam the need for technologists to understand the business. Well, the business needs to understand you, too. Make a point to engage with business staffers so that you can learn what's really important to them and they can learn what's really important to you. Plus, once you realize they're not (all) brain-sucking zombies, and they discover you're not Ted Kaczynski, you'll create the trust of a personal relationship that is critical during crunch times.

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