Just as hardware and software need to be upgraded and refreshed, staff roles in an IT department need revamping occasionally, as well.
The increased use of automation and outsourcing can keep staff numbers low, but the use of those strategies also creates a need for more project management training and specialized skills in areas such as security, for example. This leads IT managers to re-examine staff duties to make sure they’re continuing to see efficiencies and effectiveness within the salary budget. Here are some insights to the steps an SME should consider when approaching restructuring.
Determine Staffing Levels
There’s no formula or standard when it comes to deciding on staff roles and responsibilities, and the question of whether to restructure has no easy answer, according to Nick Vossburg, president of Alteritech, an IT infrastructure and managed services firm.
Restructuring will be highly dependent on a number of variables, he notes, but in a general sense, IT departments are usually staffed using ratios of help desk personnel to staff and engineers to servers. Typically, there’s usually one full-time data center employee for every 30 to 50 servers, for instance, and one employee for every 10TB of storage.
However, many factors can affect the proper ratio, including company culture, complexity of infrastructure, number of servers, size of staff, IT literacy and proficiency among staff members, effectiveness of support and maintenance tools, automation, and self-help support tools.
A first step in determining whether restructuring is necessary is to look at overall efficiency of current efforts and to have some in-depth conversations with department heads as well as IT employees. It’s useful to know, for example, whether HR anticipates a hiring push in the year ahead--or some serious downsizing--and how that might affect IT operations.
Also, take a look at utilization, suggests David Layton, a senior vice president at Terremark Worldwide, a provider of IT infrastructure services. He notes that 85% utilization is considered effective, while more than 90% risks burnout. Examine overtime figures, too, he suggests: If there’s a run rate of 30 hours per week or more of overtime, it’s time to add another staff member and/or restructure.
Much like planning a major technology upgrade, a restructuring plan should look ahead about three to five years to project what type of skills will be necessary and whether existing employees can handle those responsibilities as they arise. Some organizations may want to bring in a consultant or data center staffing expert, too, to get additional perspective and hear about what other data centers have been doing in their restructuring efforts.
Automation & Outsourcing Power
Staff ratios can be improved through the use of self-help tools, automation of common support tasks, and run books for IT staff that can minimize inefficient support methods, says Vossburg.
“The goal should be to restructure the department without impacting services to its clients,” he notes. “Often, that can be achieved by evaluating outsourcing options and identifying areas that can be automated or improved through self-service options for staff.”
Many times, when restructuring occurs, help desk operations are the first to be tweaked because these tasks can take up so much time and effort for an IT staff. The wealth of automated tools and outsourcing options should be considered so that the IT department can be restructured in a way that takes these daily firefighting chores off the shoulders of IT employees.
Automation can also change the responsibility mix of managers by doing more extensive monitoring and management of systems, notes Dr. Joe Polastre, CTO and co-founder of Sentilla (www.sentilla.com), maker of software that manages energy use in the data center.
“‘Hand’ monitoring of circuit capacity, server utilization, UPS load, CRAC power anomalies, etc., requires too much human involvement,” he says. “With limited staff, these tedious tasks would take too much time to yield any useful results or action items.” Management is inherently a continuous process, he adds, which needs to be automated in order to free personnel resources for IT projects.
Looking Toward Restructuring
As automation and outsourcing are considered and perhaps utilized more, an IT manager will need to look to staff responsibilities to decide where internal restructuring needs to take place.
Most likely, there will need to be expertise in terms of project management, security, and strategic planning, and some employees may need to freshen up their skills or take training in order to move into these roles, especially if they’ve been focusing on help desk tasks in the past.
The responsibilities of an IT manager may need to shift, but this is one position that’s often not in danger of being completely overhauled, Vossburg notes: “At the core, every IT department needs a manager who can balance the day-to-day management of technology with strategic vision to ensure the organization maintains its competitiveness.”
While taking on the nuts-and-bolts restructuring tasks, increase communication with IT employees, Vossburg notes, particularly if any downsizing may occur as a result of the department revamp. He says, “Giving staff time to think about their options and look for other opportunities helps to alleviate the strain put on the person and their families.”
Even for those who aren’t being downsized, major changes to their roles can be anxiety-producing as well as exhilarating. Taking the time to check in on every step of the restructuring can make the process more of a boon and less of a headache.