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Best Practices: Why you can't go it alone

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Change control and cross-functional rotation
To get a better understanding of how current IT teams function, take a look at your provisioning process. If possible, run a report to see how long each team takes to perform its provisioning task. Also check to see whether the hand-off process is streamlined or if the tickets jump back and forth between teams for clarification and other miscommunications. This will give you insight into how each team functions relative to others and allows you to see any organizational, functional or operational challenges.

The same policy applies to change management and control. Check to see if a particular change activity or task can be performed without stalling repeatedly. If there are significant holdups, determine if they're being caused by a particular team or process. IT teams should have incentives to educate other teams about their processes, and even a procedure for allowing one team to critique another. Some of your competitors are already doing this in an attempt to provide better IT services to their business.

When IP SANs came along, storage admins faced a challenge in acquiring TCP/IP know-how. Likewise, network admins were faced with the question of how to increase their understanding of storage and apply it to their networking systems. IP SANs--and to some extent NAS--have provided immense training opportunities for storage

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and network admins to be able to stretch outside of their comfort zones and learn different technologies.

But new technology training doesn't have to be costly. For starters, it doesn't mean that you need to send your teams en masse to vendor training sessions. If your firm has an internal training group, you could collaborate with them to create your own course materials and labs. Team members can also contribute toward developing specialized course material. For example, systems admins could create a course on basic Unix administration for the network and storage folks.

As this concept matures, you can even involve members from different teams in the systems, storage and network on-call rotation. This allows everyone to get a taste of the challenges faced by their peers. For example, systems admins will learn to appreciate the extremes of supporting a storage and network environment. If you try this, I'd suggest a buddy system in which a more experienced person is paired with someone just learning a new network technology.

By now, you might be rolling your eyes about all of this feel-good team building filled with buzzwords and buddy systems. But there's a reason collaborative project tools are purchased so frequently. There's also a lot of good data being supplied by IT teams who have tried a new approach, and there's no doubt your overall data center strategy will require more cooperation and collaboration between people who might never do business together. Consider your CIO, the person paying your monthly electric bills or even your property manager. Each one has information the other one needs, and for a truly next-generation system to work, you need progressive IT leadership where everyone works smarter, if not harder.


This was first published in October 2008

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