Decision Maker

Stop Your IT Teams from Wasting Time and Money

You, as the IT manager, are responsible for finding places to automate and making sure it happens.

I can't remember when I first started writing the phrase, "in these days of do more, with less." Even in the pre-recession boom, everyone was always saying how we were doing more, with less. When some organizations had to lay people off, we needed to get by with even less. Yet every time I visit a new client, I'm appalled at how much waste there is.

I don't mean the kind of waste that probably bugs you every day at your job, such as change management meetings that drag on; projects that start, stop, and die; or badly planned tech acquisitions. I see a different kind of waste that's even more avoidable and more prevalent.

Recently I was with a client whose Active Directory team routinely created and updated user accounts manually, in Active Directory Users and Computers. The client had called me in because they wanted to start populating a greater number of user attributes in Active Directory, in preparation for using Windows Server 2012 Dynamic Access Control. Their holdup was that it simply took too long for their directory team to manually input all of that information. I stuttered a bit and asked what form the information was in. "Database, CSV file, whatever you want," they said. "We can give you the data in any form. It just takes too long to read it in Notepad and type it into the Active Directory dialog boxes."

Seriously. This happened.

No More Manual Intervention
Now, despite what you might think, I'm not about to go off on a pitch for Windows PowerShell -- although in this specific instance I'd be justified in doing so. The problem is bigger than that. Everywhere I look, I see IT people doing things manually. While Windows PowerShell is a great tool for automation, it's just that -- a tool -- and it's hardly the only one out there. I don't care which tool you pick, just pick one. Pick a dozen. Stop doing things manually.

The blame doesn't fall on IT administrators. Most administrators would be delighted to automate boring, repetitive, manual tasks. They're not hamsters, happy to run around on their wheels all day doing the same thing. At least, they shouldn't be. If your organization does have administrators who delight in boring, repetitive, manual work that could be done better and faster by one of the many computers you've paid for ... well, hopefully you're not paying more for those people than you would for equivalent computers, and I think computers are going for about a thousand bucks right now.

Wake-Up Call
The problem is with management, which seems happy to waste money paying tens of thousands of dollars in salaries for someone to sit and click the same buttons over and over. So here's your wake-up call, decision makers: Start looking at how your IT team runs your environment. If someone performs a task manually more than twice, ask yourself -- and them -- why. Track the time involved. Assign a cost to that time. Assign an opportunity cost: What projects aren't being done for lack of time or manpower? Then start looking at tools that can automate those tasks at a lower cost-per-execution than doing it manually.

It's funny: Microsoft once had a reputation for delivering products that weren't enterprise-ready, a comment on both scalability and manageability. Microsoft has largely addressed those problems, but its customers haven't, in large part, caught on. Sure, we're all happier with the scalability of, say, Exchange Server 2010 than we were with Exchange Server 4.0. But we're still managing today's servers the same way we did a decade ago.

Skilling up and tooling up on automation won't be free and it won't be easy. Automation invariably involves a degree of complexity and it's best done by someone with a bit of a head for programming. The new term is DevOps, meaning in part the ability of your operations team to take on development-style tasks. But it's worth it. Take it one small step at a time -- pick a task and automate it. Learn from that experience, and make automation a formal goal for your team.

About the Author

Don Jones is a 12-year industry veteran, author of more than 45 technology books and an in-demand speaker at industry events worldwide. His broad technological background, combined with his years of managerial-level business experience, make him a sought-after consultant by companies that want to better align their technology resources to their business direction. Jones is a contributor to TechNet Magazine and Redmond, and writes a blog at ConcentratedTech.com.

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