How does your IT Department run?

rick with 6 string - small I recently had the privilege of holding a piece of Canadian history (photo credit, Mark Blevis from Podcasters Across Boarders). Well, actually 64 pieces of history – in the shape of the SixStringNation guitar. I was at a conference this past weekend and the keynote was from Jowi Taylor – the mastermind behind the ambitious project of assembling a guitar made up of historical wood and miscellaneous objects from every corner of Canada. It’s a really fascinating piece of living history that any Canadian is capable of holding / playing whenever the exhibit is at a local community event. Just to give you an idea of it’s diversity – here’s a sampling of some of the items:

Seat #69 from Massey Hall
A piece of the school Louis Riel attended as a child
a chunk of rock from the oldest rock in the world (great bear lake)
Piece of Copper from the Canadian Parliament Buildings
A Patuanak Moose shin
Maurice Richard’s 1956 Stanley Cup Ring
Piece of the Bluenose racing schooner
Paul Henderson’s Hockey Stick
Wayne Gretzkys Hockey Stick
Pierre Elliott Trudeau’s canoe paddle

When I listened to Jowi’s keynote, about the challenges raising support for such a project, the process he went through collecting all the pieces and capturing the stories behind them all – it brought to light what kind of magic you can have when you bring such diversity together to create something new representative of something larger then the assembly of pieces that make it up.

ok – so why is Rick telling me about this guitar? am I supposed to take up guitar lessons and join a band?

not exactly…

while the SixStringNation project is an ambitious project that is still ongoing, it can be a metaphor for your own work environment and the possibilities of working with all the pieces of your IT department in harmony for the benefit of your end users.I have been a consultant working with clients of all shapes and sizes. I can probably count on one – maybe two hands if I stretch it - the number of IT departments that actually worked well together across the whole breadth of the company without friction, politics and tension. Why is this? How is it that the server guys groan whenever they get told of a project only when it’s at the end of it’s development cycle and it now needs to be deployed into production on an infrastructure that has just now been revealed? What about the developer who is not given the tools and resources to properly develop in a realistic and representative environment to which his/her application will run? How about the end user who is forced into using technology that does not meet their needs – but it’s what IT told him/her is right for their job and anything else is not authorized? Maybe it’s the manager who has to make decisions gathering data from 5 different tools, most of which he/she is unable to tweak or update easily due to security concerns? Maybe it’s the executives that are still waiting for the ROI to come in that the slick sales person convinced them would be in within 2 years of migration.

When can we all just call a truce, admit to the issues and start working together to get them resolved? It takes a big person to admit to what is going wrong in a project and an even bigger one to address the problems head on in a department and get them sorted out. Are you up for the task? If not – that’s ok, so long as you are willing to support someone else who has decided to get things resolved for the better?

There is no silver bullet. it’s a long process to get things running like a well oiled machine in a department – sometimes overcoming years of neglect or mistrust. All I am asking is that you take a step in the right direction and start to identify things that are not working and prioritize which ones you can start to chip away at. Combine that with a broader discovery initiative of like minded individuals from other sections in your department and you will be surprised to see how many people actually want to fix things together. Rally around each other – create a virtual team for change within the org with some clear goals of improving process or technology that needs updating / fixing. Pitch your efforts to a supportive manager / executive with the goal being a better / meaner / more efficient group and tie your success to the success of the company. You’d be pleasantly surprised at the support you’ll get if you spend a little time thinking things through with a diverse team looking at all the angles.

If you are looking for a structure on which to start your research on areas to improve – you could always start with a little review using our Infrastructure Optimization framework. I dug up some nice resources from the partner site ( or you can dive right in with the Tech Center on TechNet. Both have plenty to read – stick to the overviews for now, just to get the hang of it.

oh – and I seriously suggest you check out the SixStringNation site and get out to see this collage of Canadian History. Here’s a link to a video that explains the concept.

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Comments (3)

  1. Scott Wright says:

    Great commentary, Rick. Almost all of the challenges you point to remind me of my own clients in the context of managing IT system security. Systems can’t be considered secure in an environment where any of the deficiencies you point out exist. While they may not seem like security issues, necessarily, as we do risk assessments, we do look at virtually every one of these elements.

    I guess what I’m trying to say is that teams should look to their IT security leadership for guidance, and the IT security leadership role must try to coordinate these challenging and often conflicting objectives together with the organization’s business objectives and risk tolerance.

    Technology will probably never reach the point where these problems will disappear. So, we need to educate everyone on good risk management at the job level.

    Wish I could have tried that guitar!

    – Scott Wright

    The Streetwise Security Coach

  2. @scott Wright

    Thanks for the comments man. I agree whole heartedly with your thoughts on IT Security and managing it within organizations. When I was an IT guy working for a company supporting people – the IT Security Officer was just an idiot that said NO to anything or Any change without much thought behind the no. Over time it evolved to more of a discussion, once a relationship and trust was built, but man – I hated talking with him at first. Mind you – this was YEARS ago and the environment is MUCH better now in a lot of places – way more dialogue and more productive outcomes.

    thanks for sharing!


  3. Eric Leist says:

    Interesting post, some really great discussion. I was doing dome research and I found this great white paper about how IT can cost-effectively operate in a recession. It’s called Recession Leadership: Uncovering Hidden Efficiencies Through IT Cost Reset.

    Here’s the link:

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