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There is a role that is needed within the IT Management Structure that is missing. In my opinion, this role could save large corporations many millions of dollars per year while contributing greatly to the overall health of all IT departments, and their personnel. While working on muti-month projects that report to senior management for corporations in many countries, I have never seen anyone holding this position or performing this role.
In order to explain the role and where it fits in, we have to do a very fast review of a typical IT Management Hierarchical Structure. Please keep in mind that your organization may have a variation of this design and it may not reflect your structure exactly--but I bet it’s pretty close.
Silos: (A concept, not a role.)
This is a term I first heard used by a colleague that was COO for a major insurance organization. Silos are usually an agricultural term for tall cylindrical storage structures holding stores of grain. Basically, giant vertical cylinders. This makes them a wonderful description of how many IT organization's various departments work. Self-contained vertical structures. They report up - but not sideways. Communication with the other Silos happens via an entity or role that sits above them. This is not helpful--but it is very common.
Non-Technical Manager. Responsible for the business management of the entire IT Department. Probably an MBA. Sometimes they have had some technical training. They may have started their career as an Engineer, but that was long ago and what they once knew is long since obsolete. How could it be otherwise? Technology changes so rapidly that as soon as an Engineer takes on budgetary responsibilities--they will very quickly be mostly dependent on the technical skills of their direct reports. This would lead to an assumption that their direct reports have technical skills--which is usually not the case.
VP and Director may perform the same role depending on the size of the organization. (In Europe, Vice President is often a title more equivalent to the "Lead" role in the United States.) Often there are different VP’s for different areas of the IT world such as a VP of Infrastructure or Support--or some other “silo.” It is most often a non-technical role.
Director (or other Senior Manager):
Possibly Technical--but typically not. May have once had a departmental “silo” skill set. However, may never have been technical at all. Still essentially managing people, projects and possibly budgets. It should be pointed out that this particular role has the widest range of technical to non-technical people. Some are highly technical, but it is not the norm.
Runs a department like the Network Team, Server Team, Development Team, etc.. A Technical Manager--but usually only in a specific area of expertise. Ironically, since the career path for such a person is moving into the more senior management roles--which are non-technical--this individual is probably working more on gaining business oriented skills than technological skills. You may see them, for example, running a technical department from a technical perspective, but going to night-school for an MBA.
Highly technical. Works in a department like the Network Team, Server Team, etc.. These are the people performing the technical tasks. There are different levels here as well and what is commonly referred as "The Lead" is usually the last technical word within the Silo.
So, here are my questions:
Who is there in this management structure that has the authority to task the Technical Managers and also understands what those Technical Managers are doing? Often, no one.
Who is looking at the big picture from a purely technological perspective? By this I mean, who is seeing how the processes of one Silo affect the processes of another Silo--or Silos? Often, no one.
Here is a very simple example. If the Network Team has placed a small server that only serves one or two applications, into a smaller switch--who is aware of the requirements of those applications AND the fact that such a move is taking (has taken) place? Would the Network Team know that this small server is running at 80% utilization and is responsible for moving enormous amounts of data? Maybe, maybe not. What would be the effect of such a move? It wouldn’t be pretty. Who would discover the problem? Probably a business user...ouch!
Here is where change control comes into place but it is usually a troubled process and designed with far too many holes. Few organizations have meetings where all Senior Managers or their Agents really sit down and review all changes for negative impact on their area of responsibility, and discuss the cross-over effects of such changes--horizontally. If they did have such a discussion would it be candid? Would they be in a political position to say, “hey, here is a much better way for YOUR Silo to do that work.” Most commonly such an act would be political suicide and against most corporate cultures. So, the concern usually ends up being, “does what you are doing hurt me?” If so, speak up. If not, keep silent.
Does anyone in your organization have the technical skills AND authority to provide that form of technical integration?
There is a commercial in the United States where a man stands in a room of his home in a suburban neighborhood. We see him flicker a light switch on and off. He then asks his wife, “Honey, what does this switch do?” She shrugs. The next view in the commercial is of his neighbor’s garage door opening and closing--again and again--on the hood of his neighbor’s car. Literally chewing it up! Unfortunately, this analogy works very well for large enterprise networks.
The Middle Manager is often the highest level of Manager that understands the technology from the technical perspective (as apposed to the business perspective), and they are themselves working in a Silo. They are responsible for their Team, their people and their budget. They are only one of many such Managers reporting up to the higher levels of management that, typically, do not really understand the technical details of the problem and can offer little to no help.
Senior IT Management receives different points of view coated in techno-speak and usually will be adverse to challenge their subordinates on any technical details of the problem. They can say, “not good enough; here is more budget; here are more resources." Those things are helpful and needed—but it is not a role of technical integration. No real technical assistance can be offered.
Middle management reports to Senior Management explaining that they are actively working the problem. Senior Management reports to Executive Management saying that they are on top of it and have tasked their staff with the resolution of the problem.
Ok--so--whose hands are on the wheel?
Who is there in this chain of command that is capable of receiving input from the various Technical (Silo) Middle Managers--that has the technical skills to fully understand the details as well as the authority and mandate to task all IT departments? No one.
Is there anyone that understands, in a technical way, the actions and issues being worked by the Middle Managers in their individual silos? Yes, but minimally.
Is there anyone that can see where the issues overlap? This is the key--so I will repeat it. Is there anyone that can see where the issues overlap--technically? No.
The role of Chief Technology Officer or Chief Scientist is the closest, but they tend to be far removed from the day to day deploying and troubleshooting life of IT departments. They may be planning the overall path that the corporation will take with regards to IT, but they are usually in the dark with regards to the reality of daily IT work.
So, who is in authority to task Middle Managers from any IT department (Silo) to provide tests, logs, diagrams, or to perform specific actions--who is actually in a position to see ALL Silos and understand the technical aspects of ALL Silos? No one. That is the problem. That is the missing link.
Imagine that within Executive Management there was another role. Let’s call it the Vice President of Technology Coordination, or some other such thing. This individual is highly skilled technically, in all areas of enterprise information technology. They are also an experienced people and project manager. They are NOT a Business Manager and do not have budgetary responsibilities. Their job is to sit at the side of the CIO and provide that top level TECHNICAL MANAGEMENT that is not currently in place. Such an individual would maintain the 20,000 foot view technically--but be able to drill down with any Middle Manager, (or direct that drilling), and get into the details technically as well.
There are not many individuals that can fill this role--but they exist. Seek them out. If you find someone with these skills--create that position and invite them to fill it.
Follow Barry Koplowitz on Twitter @bkoplowitz