Information technology (IT) management is an established discipline, defined by the series of steps, practices and procedures used to select, install and maintain technology in business, covering technology products, services, devices, data and related transactions. That’s the “formal” definition – but in practical application, there’s more to it than that. As a practice, IT management is more than “installing and maintaining technology” – it’s about using technology in a way that both “supports and transforms”.
It goes without saying that technology has to perform, has to be reliable, useable and functional. And that’s all part of managing IT, requiring a combination of technical skills, business acumen, operational awareness and management capabilities. All of these elements combine to create the actionable “ways and means” for managing IT within multiple types of business environments and circumstances.
In fact, the practice of IT management incorporates multiple elements of the business “management” spectrum. In order to fulfill technology “objectives” and provide related operational services, this IT management paradigm is made up of three (3) key practice components:
- General Management Practices: The traditional management concepts and practices required to run any type of business, including finance, budgeting, marketing, staffing, time management, administration and related matters.
- Subject Matter Practices: The specialized “technical” practices mandated by the needs and characteristics of available and in place technology, including networking, telecommunications, application development and related matters.
- Operational Practices: Established operational concepts and practices tailored to suit the unique needs of managing IT as a business “support” function, including technology asset management, data security “disaster recovery”, change control, IT project management and related practices.
IT Managers Wear Many Hats
In order to fulfill the IT management paradigm described above, active and engaged IT professionals must “wear many hats” (at least 7 and maybe even more):
Hat #1: Technical – To make technology work.
Hat #2: Operational – To keep technology running.
Hat #3: Administrative – To manage the business of managing IT (and all that entails)
Hat #4: Project – To deliver selected project initiatives.
Hat #5: Marketing – To promote and “sell” IT services, initiatives and projects.
Hat #6: Strategist – To work for IT/business alignment, creating and maintaining an IT vision.
Hat #7: Consultant – To advise and consult on technology and business issues.
Obviously, the number of hats and how often they are worn will vary based on business environment, technology in place, organizational structure and the components of the IT service portfolio. But as a general rule, the successful IT manager must be able to navigate both technical and business waters. Technical capabilities alone will not deliver transformative IT. Optimized results depend on the ability to understand business needs, understand what technology can do (and what it cannot do), understand the human element (stakeholder interests and influences), work around the constraints, and put it all together to form a cohesive solution.
Essential Skills and Abilities
It takes a varied portfolio of “skills and abilities” to fulfill the IT management paradigm on an ongoing basis. From a skills point of view (in addition to the obvious technical expertise and basic management skills), IT professionals must be skilled planners, negotiators and administrators. In addition, they must possess certain key abilities including:
- The ability to juggle multiple activities and initiatives at once.
- The ability to prioritize work requests according to needs and capabilities.
- The ability to balance service and project demands with existing resource capabilities.
- The ability to handle criticism and complaints without getting defensive (to have a thick skin).
- The ability to communicate effectively (verbally and in writing).
- The ability to learn from mistakes (and own up to them).
- The ability to “read” people and situations and know how to respond accordingly.
- The ability to accept accolades with grace.
- The ability (and willingness) to take risks.
- The ability (and willingness) to delegate work responsibilities as appropriate.
- The ability to anticipate objections and pre-empt problems.
- The ability to make every end-user feel “important” and well served.
- The ability to keep an open mind and stay away from the “not invented here” syndrome.
- The ability (and willingness) to act (and avoid analysis paralysis).
- The ability (and willingness) to avoid micro-managing as an instinctive means of just getting things done.
The Value of IT Management Standards
We all know that work is easier, and success is more likely, when you can manage with a “roadmap” rather than a blank slate. Pre-defined IT management standards provide that roadmap, giving you tested practices and procedures to guide planning actions and decisions. Standards set a baseline for how projects are managed and services are delivered, saving time, improving quality and lowering costs.
But simply having “standards” is not enough. They have to be the “right” standards for your needs. The “right” standards will always be sufficiently actionable, realistic, relevant, and above all, flexible, and they must address the “big 4” management demands (strategic planning, problem management, policy development and projects). These are the areas where purpose, proficiency and productivity are most needed and can have the most significant impact.
- IT managers need a standardized set of strategic practices to make informed decisions and resolve technology problems.
- IT managers need a standardized set of actionable practices to govern and guide the creation of all required IT management plans, policies and procedures.
- IT managers need a “priorities based” lifecycle approach to managing projects, to successfully navigate the constraints and deliver optimized results (on time and on budget).
As an organizational entity, IT will be most effective when it operates with a standards based mentality, tempered with the recognition that all practices must be sufficiently flexible and responsive. It’s all about “sizing” standards to suit needs, goals and capabilities, and to also change with the times (as business and technology needs dictate).