Are you sitting in your car before going into the office? Are you looking through your calendar and trying to carve out some time to just think? Do you have so many conflicting priorities that it’s a real challenge to make the time for strategic thinking?
Chances are you are an IT Manager.
Who would want to be an IT Manager given this level of pressure? Well, the role can be very rewarding; it’s a challenge for sure, but also an opportunity. IT Managers have the chance to rub shoulders with the most senior people in the business, as well as project and middle managers. They may also have the scope to build a great team, helping technical staff to build a career.
In a small growing business, there may not yet be an IT Manager. How does such a firm make the decision to establish that role? The stakeholders need to understand and accept that IT management can help them to grow, as well as support their everyday needs.
IT management acts as both a business function and act to serve specific challenges indicative of what the business does. Secondly, though it has to serve as an organisational imperative, adding value and helping to transform the business and enable growth. In this sense, it can help a growing business integrate IT at both the strategic and operational levels.
In this guide, we’re going to be taking an in-depth look at IT management and the role of the IT manager, what they are and why they’re important to your business.
The Objectives of IT Management
As the guardian of the firm’s systems, IT has to maintain the defences against cyber attacks. Its objective is to neutralise cyber threats so that employees can get on with their jobs. At the same time, the defence mechanisms should not be so onerous that they affect how staff they do their jobs.
The primary objective of IT then is operational. Today’s businesses are wholly dependent on technology, from smartphones out on the road to servers in a rack. IT’s job is to ensure that systems are up and functioning and devices are working correctly in order for the business to function.
IT management is taking this infrastructure and developing it at a strategic level in line with the business’s objectives and goals.
Strategy is therefore a key component of the IT manager’s role. Bread and butter planning, such a renewal plan for upgrading devices and servers need to be established, but can then be handed off to a team lead. Larger strategic moves may relate to the firm’s use of cloud and 3rd party suppliers and the decision to base some of those systems in-house. Here the manager will be expected to bring technical know-how into executive-level decisions and thus has the opportunity to influence future direction.
The IT manager will usually be the budget holder for IT spend. Their objective will be to get value for money and to ensure that the budget is allocated based upon business priority. By implication, they will also have to say no to some requests.
Depending on the size of the business and its approach to outsourcing, the IT manager may have the objective of growing an IT team. This can be very rewarding but challenging.
The Challenges of IT Management
Once a small business has made the case for IT management, the first challenge will be to firm up responsibilities. Stakeholders who have previously gone out and bought themselves a new laptop may see a request process and budget signoff as bureaucracy.
In a more hierarchical organisation, a difficult challenge comes from the relationship with the company executives and their perception of IT. If IT is seen primarily as a cost overhead, rather than an enabler, budget approval will always be an uphill battle.
Security is a tough challenge. Businesses are attacked all the time, with security incidents impacting nearly two billion records annually. IT has to protect systems from malware, web application attacks and email phishing. While some of these can be handled by firewall and virus protection, the threats are becoming smarter. Threat detection also needs to keep getting smarter and IT management must be constantly vigilant.
Some IT support technicians thrive on this kind of pressure and feel rewarded when they can help people quickly. Others see it as a stepping-stone to a technical career, perhaps as a developer, or running one of the management systems. This can become a headache for the IT manager who has to motivate their team and try to facilitate their progress through appraisals, whilst continuing to get the job done. It can result in a high attrition rate and a constant need for hiring and training new staff.
As such, there may be a good case for outsourcing IT, which can help businesses of all sizes cope with growth by releasing economies, reducing downtime of scale and providing a 24/7 service (meaning unplanned absences and high staff turnover won’t leave your business vulnerable).
IT Manager Skills
IT management is one of the few roles that require a mix of technical, commercial and organisational skills, such as:
- The technical acumen to grasp new and evolving technology and how it works, but also the business knowledge to see how it can be used to generate value.
- The intellect to assess and choose 3rd party suppliers, but also the negotiating skills to secure the best value deal.
- Interpersonal soft skills, to build relationships with peers, executives and their own team. It’s vital that the IT manager can build credibility from stakeholders down to end users, but also engender loyalty from within their team.
- Excellent judgement when making decisions on budget, assessing which items are high priority, but also being persuasive when saying no to unreasonable or unnecessary items.
Common Mistakes in IT Management
Few managers of any kind will openly admit to their mistakes, especially not in an interview. But making mistakes and learning from them is how businesses grow. Here are a few typical mistakes made in IT management, and how to mitigate them:
- Not confessing, or doing so too late. If a project is going badly, there is a tendency to try and fix things without going public. There is a point, however, when the IT manager needs to brief their superior in order that corrective action can be taken. Leaving it too late will give them a reputation for being secretive.
- Building a strong business case, but just on paper. A request for additional budget needs a high-level sponsor; otherwise, it can be seen as just an IT wish list. The IT manager will need to use networking and influence skills alongside the written case.
- Becoming tied-in to a single vendor. Once a vendor has an exclusive partnership it becomes very difficult to unseat them or to negotiate a better deal. It’s essential to retain the ability to switch partners, in some cases running with two competing suppliers, such as Cloud services.
Growing the Business
Appointing an IT manager is a sign that a young business is coming of age; making that decision is a key step in its growth. Determining objectives and choosing the right candidate are both critical. It’s essential to get these steps right. With a great IT manager in place, however, the firm can continue to grow with confidence in its systems and technical strategy.ALL ARTICLES