How to Take Control of Your IT
The first steps to take control of your IT
The first step to taking control of your IT is to understand what you have. It doesn’t matter how large or small your IT estate is, if you don’t know what you have you cannot manage it, you cannot upgrade it (effectively) you cannot secure it and you may not know what you need, or what to do in the event of a disaster. In the absence of any other plan this may provide you with some timely pointers to enable you to take control of your IT estate starting today. This isn’t prescriptive or comprehensive, it is a collection of thoughts and ideas based on my practical experience helping organisations gain control of their IT.
If you are already on top of your IT, this may still help to extract some valuable information from your end user community that you may otherwise not have access to. It may even identify some gaps in your existing records. I regularly come across organisations where a full IT audit is on an eternal ‘to do list’, constantly being rescheduled as the time approaches. This is especially the case in organisations that have limited IT resource and even less time.
The fact is, that once this is completed life can be a lot less stressful for anyone with some responsibility for IT and the general operation of the business. Imagine how you might cope with a disaster if you are not entirely sure what the business needs are when everything is working well.
…if one device is missed your records are invalid because they cannot be relied upon.
As with any project it is easier to tackle this in manageable lots. If you are supporting a small organisation you may be able to manage this in one exercise across the organisation. If you are supporting a larger organisation this will be easier to manage a department or location at a time. You may ask if this is relevant to larger organisations as they really should be on top of their IT estate. You would think so wouldn’t you? But, in my experience, there are many that do not really know what they have.
There are a number of tools available to collect information from your estate, some are free and others are premium services. Sometimes even this is a step too far for the busy IT administrator or team as the decision as to what application to use to collect the information is delayed or simply never happens at all. This information gathering needs to be started sooner rather than later.
There are also some shortfalls if relying on software to collect the user data. The first is that unless you are already intimate with your estate some devices may be missed, and if one device is missed your records are invalid because they cannot be relied upon. The second, and – in my opinion – greater shortfall is the missed opportunity to engage with your user community. In my experience, many IT teams are already expert at maintaining a distance from their systems users. Some IT teams have a tight grip on their centrally administered applications but they are unaware that some of the workforce are using personal apps or locally purchased applications.
However, if it is all you have and for the purpose of getting the data collection ball rolling, it is better than nothing.
It is more important to act and start collecting as much information as possible than to procrastinate and miss the opportunity to fully understand your IT estate. So, my fall-back data collection tool for this exercise is a spreadsheet. Now, I must declare I am not a fan of spreadsheets for records but in this scenario, it is simply a means for us to collect data as quickly as possible.
Most of the not for profit organisations I work with do not have the budget for a sophisticated IT asset database so their data collection spreadsheet is their asset database. This may be OK for small to medium organisations with a stable IT estate, provided you maintain a tight control over the database spreadsheet. For medium to large organisations or for organisations with a highly transient IT estate a spreadsheet is simply not fit for purpose. However, if it is all you have to get the data collection ball rolling, it is better than nothing. Consider a Cloud based spreadsheet such as Google Sheets if you have more than one person needing regular access.
This is an opportunity to collect as much information as you need or desire
This is an opportunity to collect as much information as you need or desire from your user community, including their view of the IT world. So where should you start?
We start with the basics. For small organisations, a single worksheet for the organisation may suffice, for larger organisations a worksheet per department may work better. I usually start with the following headings but in most cases the organisations I provide this to will make it their own by adding more columns relevant to their day to day requirements.
We start with ‘Team Member’ followed by their role. If team members have multiple roles you may want to add a row for each role or have additional columns describing their role. If you have equipped hot desks or work stations, you may want to list these as ‘team members’ to capture any hardware associated with the desk.
If you try to collect every last detail on this first sweep the data collection is likely to stall.
The next group of columns will identify every type of device each team member could have associated with their name. You can have as many columns as you wish so it is important that this section caters for the team member with the most devices. For example: Desktop 1, Desktop 2, Laptop 1, Laptop 2, Tablet 1, Tablet 2, Mobile 1, Mobile 2, etc. It is important to capture the operating system (OS) details here too.
I generally find this works best when this is the first of a several phases. If you try to collect every detail on this first sweep, the data collection is likely to stall. I usually recommend collecting hardware types and operating systems on the first sweep but recording full hardware details, software patches and the fine detail is for another day. It may even be for a third party to take care of. This initial phase is to get an understanding of the scale and to quantify the estate rather than to identify and fix all the issues. Let’s learn to walk before we attempt to run.
if you contract your IT support to a third party it is worth speaking to them first before undertaking this exercise.
The third group of columns will identify the shared services such as servers, printers, scanners, storage the team members access from their devices. I appreciate that your team members may not know the answers to all these questions and may even give false information based on their perception. These columns may be completed later by IT team members or third party support organisations. In fact, on this note, if you contract your IT support to a third party it is worth speaking to them first before undertaking this exercise. They may have some of this information to hand. I hasten to add, that I would still go through the exercise to gain the final word from your user community. Never assume the information provided by your support organisation is accurate unless you can verify it.
The fourth group could detail applications owned by the organisation, whether on premise or Cloud. For example: MS Office 365, Outlook, Visio, OpenOffice, CRM System, Accounting System, Databases, Project Management Software, etc.
Team members should be encouraged to make a statement about their user experience rather than just confirm they use the system as this is valuable information…
If your organisation creates media rich content you may want to create a specific group of columns for audio and video creation and editing applications. Also, if the operation of your organisation depends on team members accessing Social Media platforms, these should also be listed.
Team members should be encouraged to make a statement about their user experience rather than just confirm they use the system as this is valuable information, even if it is anecdotal (and emotive). This applies to hardware and applications. Remember, perception is reality to an IT systems user. You may also want a column inviting team members to give their opinion on what is working well and what could be working better as an overall statement. You obviously cannot guarantee any ‘recommendations’ will be acted upon but this may yield some good ideas for future consideration.