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Unix Enterprise by Harris Kern & Randy Johnson

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

January  1997
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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. (1,200 words)

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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:

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 Enterprise.

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.


Wanna talk?
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:

OK, enough of that. How can we help fix the situation?

  1. 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 the organizations.

  2. 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.

  3. Develop a Client/Server Production Acceptance process (see Resources below)
    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 applications.

  4. Implement an intranet Web site
    Get all the documentation online. Keep it at a minimum yet sufficient enough to do the job.

  5. 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.

  6. 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:

    1. 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.

    2. 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.

    3. 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.

Harris Kern ( 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 reserved.

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 offerings at:

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