Wish List: Document Your Hacks
Keep a handy list of your jury rigged fixes to use as leverage when arguing for items that might not be in your IT budget.
How many rigs and hacks do you have in your IT environment?
C'mon. You don't have to admit it aloud, but you know what I'm talking about. Baling-wire scripts that connect critical business systems. Chewing-gum manual processes in place to make sure certain things get done. Duct-taped tools that require careful monitoring and attention to keep working.
It's time to document them. Not because you'll necessarily be able to fix them -- after all, those jury rigs are probably only in place because they were the only way you were able to get things done -- but because it's nice to have a wish list.
Document Those Hacks
I know, and you know, that you and probably most of your IT team want to do things the right way. IT people tend to dislike hacks and rigs, mainly because they're inelegant, unreliable and kludgy. You make them because you can't get the budget needed to do those things the right way.
But implementing a hack doesn't mean you have to surrender the battle. Document each and every ugly, painful, embarrassing piece of rigging on your network, and call it your IT Wish List. Then use that Wish List. Politically.
The next time IT budget discussions come up, whip out the List. "Do you have any idea how rigged and delicate our environment already is, boss? No? Well, have a look. This is what we're doing to make ends meet, and we not only can't afford to cut budgets, we could use some more money to do a few of these things the right way."
When runbook automation becomes a hot topic in your environment -- and it will, if it hasn't already -- whip out the Wish List. "OK, team, we're going to put automation on your annual review, and here are the things we need fixed up and made beautiful." Whether you have them do that in Windows PowerShell, in System Center Orchestrator or in something else, you'll have a ready-made to-do list that your team can start tackling.
Further the IT Agenda
You can also use the List to start pushing an IT management agenda -- in whatever direction you think that agenda should take. Tired of supporting your own Exchange infrastructure? Fine. "Boss, I'm going to advocate again for Office 365." On a mission to implement runbook automation? "Boss, we've already paid for Orchestrator, so let's set aside some time to get it deployed and assign someone to building out runbooks."
IT will always have glue holding different things together. Whether it's using a system like BizTalk to connect disparate systems, or something like Orchestrator to manage runbooks, glue is a big part of what you do. It's different than baling wire, which for me is an informal, unmanaged, seat-of-the-pants effort where every jury-rig is a one-off event. That process is a Windows PowerShell script, this one runs on a Franken-script of VBScript and batch, those systems connect via some FTP-based magic and a prayer, and so on. Baling-wire rigs are delicate, they're difficult to monitor, and they're the things you tend to spend a lot of time firefighting and diagnosing when they go wrong.
Improvements on the Way
Traditionally there haven't been great tools in place, especially from Microsoft, to help the move from baling wire to real glue. Third parties have helped a lot, if you could buy their tools -- folks like JAMS Scheduler, Opalis (now Orchestrator, meaning Microsoft sees the value of these tools) and so on. But Microsoft is finally starting to make inroads. The growing coverage of Windows PowerShell gives you a stronger surface to build glue from, and tools such as Orchestrator let you put things to work in a central fashion.
So as Microsoft starts to give you better glue, make sure you've got a Wish List of things to work on. Whether you ever get the time and money to fix them is one thing; having the List handy will make sure you're always ready to have the conversation whenever the opportunity arises.
Don Jones is a multiple-year recipient of Microsoft’s MVP Award, and is Curriculum Director for IT Pro Content for video training company Pluralsight. Don is also a co-founder and President of PowerShell.org, a community dedicated to Microsoft’s Windows PowerShell technology. Don has more than two decades of experience in the IT industry, and specializes in the Microsoft business technology platform. He’s the author of more than 50 technology books, an accomplished IT journalist, and a sought-after speaker and instructor at conferences worldwide. Reach Don on Twitter at @concentratedDon, or on Facebook at Facebook.com/ConcentratedDon.