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The CIO’s Role in the IT Infrastructure Support and Development Organization

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Executives need to focus at least 50% of their time on getting their house (infrastructure) in order due to global competition, business requirements and issues, shrinking IT budgets, and unhappy customers. They have no choice but to get cost-effective. But it’s not too late.
Placing special emphasis on a comprehensive approach combining organization, people, process, and technology, Harris Kern’s Enterprise Computing Institute is recognized as one of the world’s premier sources for CIOs and IT professionals concerned with managing information technology.
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Times have changed. The MIS managers in the 1970s and 1980s knew every aspect of their infrastructure. There were no surprises. They were very much in tune with their infrastructure, especially those people and process issues I highlight throughout all the articles and the books published by Harris Kern’s Enterprise Computing Institute. They let their system programmers and DBAs worry about the technology. Their biggest concern was reliability, availability, and serviceability (RAS). The MIS managers of yesteryear were responsible for providing RAS. IT wouldn’t be what it is today without their relentless pursuit of RAS. We can learn from their experiences and the way they managed. They were involved; they spent time in the trenches with the enlisted. They were credible leaders to their troops because they typically came up from the ranks and had established their expertise.

Today is a whole new ballgame. Yet, to be successful, CIOs need to show the same leadership as their peers of the 1970s, and they need to set accountability standards.

Infrastructures are bending, bleeding, and becoming more costly than ever because everyone’s supporting more disparate systems than ever before. Very little time is being focused on implementing key processes. (Actually, the organization structure is so far off center that such processes would not be effective in this environment anyway.)

CIOs everywhere have been focusing on new systems development and deployment. They know that development is where they get the biggest bang for the buck. (And, of course, it’s the politically correct thing to do.) The faster new systems are deployed to meet the needs of the business, the easier it is for the CIO to gain peer respect in the short run. Unfortunately, this modus operandi doesn’t encourage long-term planning.

What about the long-term impact of continuously adding network information systems? If new applications don’t fit into the overall IT architecture, or don’t have ample bandwidth or adequate support from the DBAs, they don’t work. Believe me, I’ve seen too many examples of well-intended projects going amok because they were created in a vacuum, without consideration of the infrastructure required to support them.

Executives Out of Touch with Their Infrastructure

Executive management needs to get involved! Things are desperately out of control with the IT infrastructure. Yet management really doesn’t know how bad it is. It’s a real mess out there, as I’ve depicted in previous articles. The problem is that executive management is overloaded but now it’s become a crisis.

As a first step, management needs to dedicate a few days to understanding the issues that their organization is facing. Executives need to spend just a few days in the trenches with their technical staff to get the true picture. The horrors they uncover will shock them—a wakeup call that they’ll never forget. This is a necessity!

But that’s not enough. Executive management has to establish a set of common metrics to judge how well the organization is meeting its daily, short-term, and long-term objectives. By having common metrics, everyone in the organization will speak the same lingo. Think about the data centers of the 1960s and 1970s. Typically, the data center was one location where everyone worked together. Today, applications development staffs are scattered around the world, the data center has become a compendium of different data centers, and executives are not located together. It’s no wonder that people are out of touch with one another—and why executives are so easily out of touch with their organizations. The point is for everyone to be in touch with what’s happening, to have up-to-the-minute news and measurements for performance so that management can be proactive, not reactive.

With a common set of metrics that everyone in the organization understands, everyone on the IT team can immediately gauge how the team is doing against its own measurements. My contention is that you only achieve high-level RAS when you understand what the measurements mean. Too often I’ve seen IT executives gloss over the nuts and bolts of making RAS possible. Executives assume that RAS is the responsibility of lower-level data center and network managers, without understanding the linkage of the different components that make this possible. By having a common metric system for RAS, different managers can see how different departments are performing, and they can correlate results among departments.

Supporting client/server applications encompasses multiple hardware and software components that must be monitored to ensure a RAS environment. Products such as Hewlett-Packard’s OpenView and Computer Associates’ UniCenter can provide seamless interfaces to hardware and software products to gather operational statistics and other data. Microsoft’s MSM and Paradigm’s desktop software management tools can provide for desktop management and ensure that only approved software is loaded on desktops.

Information about the network computing environment is critical for RAS. The dashboard of information should include basic data points like these:

  • Assets inventory (network-wide hardware and software)

  • Network connections

  • Network performance (including data-packet management)

  • Desktop software (inventory control)

  • Database connections

  • Database availability (session status)

  • Database performance

  • Operating system availability

  • Operating system performance

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