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6 steps to improving communication between IT support groups
You can't have a truly coordinated support program without communication between legacy and client/server support staffs. We give you pointers to alleviate the obstacles
One of the few givens in a large corporation is that you'll have legacy and client/server systems. Another given: The IT support personnel for the various systems probably don't talk to each other. Now, learn the necessary steps to get all support personnel working together for the good of the users.
There are few universal constants in this
industry, but one issue has distinguished itself as ubiquitous as
computers themselves: the lack of communication between
support engineers for legacy and client/server systems.
We've visited with hundreds of companies during the past year and
held dozens of Information Technology Infrastructure Planning
workshops with Fortune 100 corporations. From these workshops, which
are designed to break down the the cultural differences between the
organizations and help implement proper infrastructures, we've drawn
these two conclusions that have not changed for several years:
- The number one problem in IT today is people-related issues (i.e.,
politics, organizational structure, conflicts between legacy personnel
and Unix/PC personnel, training, etc.).
- The second most significant problem is the lack of disciplines,
notably processes and procedures.
All the focus has been on developing
applications at an accelerated pace, but the infrastructure has been
put on the back burner. Think back to the legacy days -- the
infrastructure was first. Now it's completely reversed, and this has
become a huge problem.
New paradigm, old problem
While companies obviously have different sets of issues, problems, and
priorities, one problematic issue all companies share is the lack of
communication. Most executives don't realize how bad this problem
really is, and nowhere is the problem more damaging than in IT.
When client/server computing was first introduced and everyone was
decentralizing support organizations, communications between IT and the
various operations deteriorated quickly. Communication within IT was bad
enough when organizations were all under the same roof. Now the
nightmare has become a major roadblock in supporting the New
Another reason communication is so poor is because IT groups must
keep up with requests from their increasingly demanding users. There
are also technology changes, and of course, the ever-popular yearly
(sometimes bi-yearly) organizational changes. And you wonder why people
have such a hard time communicating with one another.
Many of our customers blame all their infrastructure miseries on
client/server. We beg to differ. The problems today are not technology
related. People and process issues are the culprits. Communication
issues IT organizations face are:
- Distributed support organizations
With support organizations
scattered throughout your corporation, it's becoming more difficult to
communicate, especially when it comes to resolving production support
- Legacy dictators vs. Unix cowboys
They have absolutely nothing in
common so why waste time trying to get these two groups together? It's
easier to keep them in separate buildings and organizations, right?
- Processes are not documented and/or communicated properly
There's just too much paperwork everywhere. Often, it's too lengthy,
cumbersome, bureaucratic, not accessible by all, and in some cases,
simply cannot be found.
- E-mail is not used as an effective communications tool
There are two major problems with electronic mail -- there's too much
junk mail and e-mail is very impersonal.
- Training could be a powerful tool in battling communication
Training is important. It's crucial to realize that it's not
just about sending technicians to external classes.
- Roles and responsibilities not clearly defined
It was simple in the legacy world when everyone had clearly defined
duties. In this networked world roles are blurred.
- It's that time of the year for a reorganization
Just when you get things worked out and you begin to feel comfortable
with your co-workers, it's time to change things around again.
- Office politics
The number one killer of communications is office
politics. It is the most unproductive obstacle of all, but
unfortunately, it's also part of corporate America.
OK, enough of that. How can we help fix the situation?
- Implement internal support agreements
Because the functions of IT
support groups are so blurry nowadays, there must be contracts between
such groups as development and operations, database administration and
systems programming, and other groups where two sets of technicians
might be called upon to support a single user. These agreements should
handle all types of special requests and support requirements between
- Re-culture staff
The mentalities of the staff that made legacy
environments successful must change and the attitude of PC/Unix people
must also change. These groups must work together. There should be no
boundaries or territorial feuds. All IT people should also be
customer-oriented and possess marketing and selling skills. If at all
possible, physically move your legacy and client/server organizations
closer to one another. It's important in fostering communication.
- Develop a Client/Server Production Acceptance process (see
We spoke about this in previous articles. The process
promotes and instills communication by forcing development and support
personnel to work together when deploying mission-critical production
- Implement an intranet Web site
Get all the documentation online. Keep it at a minimum yet sufficient
enough to do the job.
- Don't use e-mail as your only form of communication
We think e-mail is an awesome productivity tool, but it also causes its share
of conflicts. Often its context is taken the wrong way and causes friction
between people. If at all possible, face-to-face interaction is
preferred for improving communication.
- Get training
Often, training is the first line item slashed
when funds are tight. However, we believe training can offer
significant benefits. Here's what we recommend:
- Train the trainer
Take your most senior technicians, send them to
external classes, and let them develop and teach the internal
training that brings the diverse groups together. Classes should be
slated once a week and include brown bag lunches. There should be
homework assignments after each session.
- There are several ways to establish simple and inexpensive
programs that bring legacy and Unix/PC people together. One that we
recommend might be called: "Get acquainted with the hardware." This
could be a one-day session where you spend the first part of the day
understanding these new Unix servers. In the afternoon, pair up your
developers and computer operations staff (supporting both legacy and
Unix) and have them take apart the hardware and put it back together
again. It's both a great team-building program and an excellent
technical learning experience.
- Make your support staff (both legacy and client/server)
streamline your production environment by looking at all your current
processes and developing scripts to automate the infrastructure. It's
another great team-building exercise and a way to foster
communication. Proper in-house (hands-on) training programs are
important in instilling and promoting communication between
different IT organizations.
is Sun's Open Systems Migration Consultant for NAAFO Market
Development. Randy Johnson
owns R&H Associates, a full-time rightsizing consultancy in Boulder
Creek, CA. R&H Associates helps people worldwide in implementing and
supporting client/server infrastructures based on their proven
methodologies. © 1996 Harris Kern and Randy Johnson. All rights
Pick up a copy of their book Rightsizing The New Enterprise: The
Proof Not the Hype, SunSoft Press/PTR Prentice Hall, ISBN
0-13-132184-6, or their new book Managing The New Enterprise: The
Proof Not the Hype by Kern, Johnson, Hawkins, Law, and Kennedy,
SunSoft Press/PTR Prentice Hall, ISBN 0-13-231184-4. Browse SunSoft Press
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