Mundane problems can stifle creative IT development, says Richard Harrison
IT directors may have business-critical projects, but they are often judged on the day-to-day successes and failures of routine processes such as e-mail, printers and internet access. This is the "urgent versus important" dilemma faced by many IT directors, who need to know how to appease both senior management and those at the coalface.
IT directors can usually gauge how well they are doing at this by the outcries when the e-mail system goes down. Are they louder than when SAP goes through maintenance work?
However much IT chiefs seek to take the strategic high ground, they will always be tripped up if they fail to make sure these bread-and-butter facilities keep on working smoothly, day in, day out.
By and large IT professionals have mastered the art of juggling mundane tasks and creating effective IT strategies for the overall benefit of the company. But there can be times when normal, day-to-day problems conspire against hitting bigger targets.
A printer problem can take a member of the IT team half a day to rectify, especially if it means getting out a dusty manual or dealing with helplines. Meanwhile, urgent issues, such as adding new users, need to be addressed right away.
Smaller businesses lacking in IT resources feel the pressure even more and can often question if their IT systems will progress if time is spent on maintenance.
Outsourcing day-to-day management can work for large companies, removing the headache of catering for individual problems and allowing in-house IT staff to get on with bigger projects. But what has been left by the wayside? In my experience, many businesses which start the year with the best of intentions then bypass projects such as system upgrades, implementation of new initiatives or development of an online presence. These projects could ultimately set a business up for the long term and allow it to remain competitive.
There are many outsourcing options for firms, such as value-added support services, but some have come under criticism lately. However, innovative outsourcing can offer an effective way to remotely manage systems, alleviating the need to rectify mundane problems and leaving staff to develop the bigger picture.
Until the urgent can be replaced by the important, many smaller businesses will continue to be on the back foot and will be reactive rather than proactive in their approach to IT.
Richard Harrison is head of commercial services at PC World Business