Dousing the flames of the daily firefight: Bringing IT teams back to strategic direction

By Stuart Simmons, Regional Director, IT Services, Apogee Corporation.

  • 1 month ago Posted in

A significant portion of an IT department’s time, sometimes as high as 90%, is consumed by ‘firefighting’ activities, leaving a meagre 10-20% for project work. To-do lists are being dominated by dealing with support issues and system downtime. This imbalance not only affects the efficiency of the department, but also incurs hidden costs for the organisation. Financial opportunities presented by growth and innovation are lost as businesses fail to find a common ground for strategic direction. To avoid any more losses, it’s imperative that businesses provide their IT professionals with room to breathe above the flames.

Burdened by the hybrid reality

Immediate, often unplanned tasks are becoming increasingly commonplace for IT teams. It’s a perpetual state of emergency response, tackling one critical issue after another. This leaves little, or sometimes no time at all for company-wide innovation. As a result, organisations must not only take note of the lost opportunities for new revenue streams, but the effect it may be having on their IT professionals. Research published ahead of National Stress Awareness Day in the UK last year suggested that more than half of employees (54%) in the UK workforce were experiencing a form of burnout.

This strain has been worsened by the hybrid set-up. Equipment, cloud storage and network access all need to be functioning and reliable for employees to complete tasks from home. If device rollouts for remote working have been rushed due to time-poor IT staff, employees might need to travel into the office to replace hardware. This creates downtime and ultimately an extra cost to the business. It’s an added pressure for IT staff who may feel that they need to be “always-on”.

IT employees too often find themselves with limited chances to apply their expertise to where it is needed the most. Businesses must alleviate the burden and empower them to focus on more strategic projects.

Scoping the issues

New technology solutions can streamline workplace processes and put IT teams back on the path to strategic progression, but again the issue is having the necessary time and resources to optimise them for the workforce. Instead, businesses should start by identifying exactly what the current processes are and where the bottlenecks lie.

Having these conversations early on is critical in pinpointing the root cause of the daily firefight. It could be that the employee-facing hardware or software is outdated or no longer fit-for-purpose. Staff are then constantly having to paper over the cracks with quick fixes before there’s another breakage or error. With

heavy workloads creating pressure, new equipment setups may take days to complete, further worsening the situation.

Another example is that the underlying infrastructure could lack up-to-date security provisions or failover capabilities, leading to an increased risk of outages. Costs from these outages could amount to thousands of pounds on a monthly basis, but IT teams can’t dedicate the time to a complete rip-and-replace project to solve the problem. Rather than inefficient technology, it could be that the current processes within the IT team are taking longer than they should, such as dealing with user tickets.

Lessening the load

There are a number of practical solutions that can make all the difference. Engaging with external experts to identify the problem areas and recommend ways to streamline processes is a good first step. Rather than leaving equipment rollouts in the hands of IT employees, everything from laptop stands, keyboards and headsets can be meticulously managed externally. Setup time can be reduced from days to hours, and oversight of devices can reduce the risk of constant fixes that often overwhelm IT teams.

Behind the curtain, consolidation of underlying servers can further decrease the complexity for employees. For example, businesses can fall into the trap of accumulating too many servers to power remote desktop services for hybrid workforces, but these can be shrunk down into more manageable deployments, simplifying their maintenance. Closely managed infrastructure can run seamlessly in the background, leaving IT employees to pursue innovative ventures.

A path to strategic management

The disproportionate focus on firefighting within IT departments is unsustainable, leading to stifled innovation and increased risk of staff burnout, especially in hybrid work environments. The path forward involves a strategic shift by collaborating with specialists outside the organisation to streamline processes and update infrastructure. Businesses can and should utilise support centres to transform their IT departments into key drivers of innovation and growth.

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