6 common IT practices that should be eliminated

EducationIn a past article, we explored the growing need for IT evolution and outlined 6 keys to a high-performing IT department. The fact is, keeping the lights on is no longer good enough. Modern IT organizations must move quickly, and drive the business forward.

However, I noticed a problem. While all of the keys outlined in that article will help IT departments improve performance, it ignores a critical issue: common IT practices that kill productivity and waste precious resources.

The fact is, you could follow each one of those points perfectly…yet still struggle. If your IT staff focuses its energy on time-wasting and resource-draining tasks, you’ll never drive the business forward. You’ll be caught in a never-ending cycle of being busy, yet ultimately unproductive.

So, what are these common time-wasting and resource-draining IT practices that must be eliminated? We posed that question to a few experts in the area, and have compiled their responses (as well as some of my own thoughts) below. Without further ado, here are 6 common IT practices that should be eliminated.

1. Writing (or re-writing) applications from scratch

“A common IT practice that wastes time and money is rewriting your app’s code from scratch” explains Bartosz Olchowka, Head of Development at LiveChat. “Usually it comes from trying to use the latest technology, while the old one works perfectly fine. This practice is not always a good idea–it can waste lots of time (rewriting the code is a time consuming process) if your customers won’t see any benefits. Always take careful consideration before rewriting your code from scratch. Oftentimes, dev teams can focus on more productive tasks that will result in immediate outcomes to your clients.”

I see this as a time-wasting task on two fronts:
First–as Olchowka mentions–rewriting applications that work just fine is usually a waste of time. Besides the fulfillment of building the application from scratch, what value does this deliver? Unless that old application is holding your company or customers back in some way, you should focus your attention on other tasks.

Second, writing (or rewriting) any app from scratch these days is a waste of time. Now, I understand the satisfaction that comes from building an app from the ground up. But, with all of the excellent frameworks and development tools available these days, it’s largely unnecessary.

2. Repeating low-level, manual tasks

According to the analyst firm, Quocirca, “30% of an IT team’s time is spent on low-level tasks such as responding to minor user incidents, carrying out routine procedures or checking for errors.” The fact is, many IT departments get caught in a never-ending cycle of low-level repetitive tasks. These tasks keep IT busy, but also keep them from accomplishing anything of importance. The solution: Automate these repetitive tasks.

“Companies are increasingly turning toward IT automation to eliminate the resource-draining tasks that hold them back from pursuing more strategic, innovative activities,” explains Jonathan Crane, CCO at IPsoft. “For those that are just starting out with IT automation, deciding what should be automated can be overwhelming. The best place to start is with low-level tasks that are time consuming and frequent. Below is a list of five tasks that IT departments can – and should – be automating:

1. Running diagnostics
2. Predictive incident management
3. Requesting permissions
4. Service readiness checks
5. Password management”

Of course, that’s just the tip of the iceberg. The point is, IT pros must regularly evaluate their repetitive tasks and see what (if anything) they can do to automate these tasks. You might be surprised at how much time you could save.

3. Creating reports for end users or executives

It’s not that reporting isn’t necessary–it’s absolutely essential. It’s the fact that IT departments focus so much of their time and energy on a task that can easily be automated, or turned over to the end users. Here’s a great story that illustrates this point nicely:

photo credit: lumaxart via photopin cc

photo credit: lumaxart via photopin cc

“I used to provide executive summary reports for customers on how the IT system is performing,” says Oli Thordarson, CEO of Alvaka Networks, Inc. “I even bonused one of the engineers if he got the reports done by the end of the first week of the month. The basic criteria was for him to print out all the alarm and performance data, examine trends and important events, etc. He was then to create a one to two page executive summary that could be digested by the CFO, department manager, etc. We would then mail out those reports.”

“After a few experiences talking with the report recipients and learning that they had never even unsealed the envelope until I was discussing some IT budget planning matters, we quit doing them. In summary, those executives don’t care what happened last month. The IT guys don’t care what is in the report that covers last month. When something happens they only care about the status “right now!” What we did switch to is a real time reporting portal. That is what they are interested in…, but only when something happens.”

I see two big keys to that story:
First, without proper communication, the time wasting cycle would not have been caught. It’s easy to get caught performing time-wasting tasks because “that’s what we’re supposed to do” or “that’s what we’ve always done.” Maybe an executive asked for a weekly report a few years back, and you’re still delivering it to this day. Perhaps it’s time to circle back and make sure it’s still needed.

Second, creating a reporting portal is a great solution to end user reporting problems. Set up a secure area on your intranet where employees can login and access their reports whenever they need them. It lets them access data instantly, and saves IT from repetitive reporting requests.

4. Manual Quality Assurance

“Manual QA should be eliminated as a practice,” explains Tom Barker, Senior Manager of Web Development at Comcast, Adjunct Professor at Philadelphia University, and Author. “Manual QA testers should instead be utilized to write test cases that can be automated by developers or test automation engineers sometimes called SETs (software engineer in test) or SDETs (software development engineer in test).”

“Manual QA, that is the hands on functional testing done by humans, does not scale. When there are releases, the QA testers must swarm to test instead of testing new features. When new features are developed they generally can be developed as fast as they can be tested. For small organizations this isn’t usually an issue. For large organizations this becomes much more apparent.”

This comes down to the point mentioned above: Automate those tasks that can be automated. Of course, it’s worth noting that not all testing can be automated. Areas like application design and the overall look and feel of an application still requires human interaction. However–as Barker mentioned–manual functional testing doesn’t scale, and only slows the IT department down. It’s a prime example of a process that can be automated.

5. Juggling multiple projects at once

We’re seeing an increasing amount of research surrounding the subject of multitasking. What are they finding? To make a long story short: It kills productivity. Our brains can only focus on a single task at a time, and struggle to switch from one task to another. How much does multi-tasking hurt productivity? This recent study puts the number at 40%. If we switch from task to task on a regular basis, we waste 40% of our time.

The same applies to IT projects. Switching between projects puts a strain on our productivity, yet many IT departments try to juggle multiple projects at the same time. The result: As explained below, this only drives up cost and lowers quality.

“There will never be enough people to handle everything,” says Michael Good, CEO of IT New York, LLC. “Launching multiple projects and moving people back and forth among them is never a good idea. It often makes the final project cost more money, take more time and the resulting quality might not reach your standards.”

“It is better to keep a stable team on each project, once they finish it, then you can move them to another one. This way the resulting applications will always keep your standards, it will be finished on time and thus it won’t cost additional money.”

6. Individual desktop support

Physical end user support–which was always a time-consuming IT task–is becoming less and less necessary. These days, IT departments can remotely fix issues, and even create new virtual desktops for their users instantly. If you’re still providing physical end user support, it’s time to explore more efficient options.

“The world of the desktop has evolved,” explains JJ DiGeronimo, a Technology Executive, Author, Entrepreneur & STEM Advocate. “Virtual machines have enabled desktop teams to move away from individual desktop support. Whether your desktop has crashed or you need an upgrade, desktops via Virtual Machines can streamline desktop delivery to almost every type of device anywhere in the world. Support teams no longer have to visit the device or have the device shipped back to support HQs. The support team, remotely and with a quick keyboard entry, can redirect devices to updated desktop profiles in minutes.”

So, what do you think? Would you add anything to that list? If so, I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

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4 thoughts on “6 common IT practices that should be eliminated

  1. As a general rule I agree with #1. However the article makes no mention of Technical Debt and maintenance. A rebuild can often times reduce the costs of maintenance when technical debt is high in a system. Obviously, the system must be a long living to justify any kind of rebuild for this reason, but I have been involved in more than one project where technical debt constituted high percentages of regular updates and maintenance and the rebuild only took twice the effort of one update. The fact that advice like this is generally accepted as fact, kept the client from making this decision and thereby wasted budget hanging on to poorly maintained code. Just felt this case needed to be caveated.

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