If you’ve ever been asked to provide a fast and immediate solution or otherwise provide a band-aid solution, this article is for you. Often the technology professional is faced with the challenging expectation to get something up and running for the sake of production or time, that we rarely have the opportunity to provide a long-term solution (because it’s a band-aid). On the other hand, we rarely are presented the opportunity to do things the right way. When we do, I call this strategic thinking, because we consider multiple factors aside from merely just getting it back up and running. We can plan for growth, life-cycle replacement, and future paths that align with the organizations long-term goals. Strategic thinking means executing with a purpose that mitigates issues down the road and for a technology professional, this means creating opportunities where we can focus our energy and efforts elsewhere. But, I know what you’re saying. I do not have the time to consider other factors or think strategically when the business is impacted. I’m here to tell you that you do have the time and once you start strategically thinking, you will have more time in the future.
Once you consider the concept, it pops into your head as a no-brainer, right? Wrong. In reality, IT professionals are so thinly spread, we are constantly jumping from one project to another, rarely dedicating the necessary time to actually sit and think about a problem or its solution. The phone is constantly ringing and we receive just as many unplanned visitors as e-mails. Its the nature of the beast. I can give you a couple of examples of none strategic thinking. One of the first organizations I employed at, a relatively large facility, with a brilliant businessman as an IT director. He taught me how to wheel & deal with technology vendors, squeezing them for the lowest price, free shipping, etc. However, he and his leadership would always look towards Ebay for good deals, normally crated used technology like printers, desktops, switches, phones, etc. I’m not knocking Ebay, some of their stuff comes from reputable dealers, but others is just junk. About half the loads we would receive were end-of-life, not working, or the miles were visible. However, the problems and concerns realized from placing those items in 24-hr production environment were greater. Switches and desktops all experienced problems, impacting production and calling on whatever poor IT soul was oncall that evening. From those experiences alone, I learned to fight the battle and spend the extra money for reliable assets. Not only reliable, but equipment that fit our long-term strategies. By purchasing new equipment, you’re performing an investment to your organization and consumers. For instance, if you have a 24-port switch that is end of life, do you replace it or let it sit until it dies? That gets into a discussion around planned and unplanned outages, but for the sake of this conversation, let presume you replace it. When you replace it, do you replace it with a like model or get a 48-port and double your capacity? The answer revolves around strategic thinking. You start to ask questions. What is the possibility of needing double the amount of ports, whats the cost and risk associated, is this a critical area, do you maintain critical spares, and if so, what is your response time? Other things to consider for this particular scenario could include the area, cabinet, power, and determining if this is a good time to improve other attributes. Using this one example, you can start to consider the wider benefits of strategic thinking that go well beyond the standard band-aid fix of IT and apply it to other areas of IT, such as server life & growth, storage capacity, application & hardware redundancy, manpower, backup plans, documentation, etc.
With strategic thinking, we vitalize our environment and prevent unplanned outages. We reduce the amount of interrupting phone calls we may receive, we potentially plan for the growth of our network to support our consumers. When we think about strategy, we closely relate that work with the game of chess, and accurately so. Chess is not merely a game of moving the piece on the board, it is a game that promotes strategy. Executing movements with purpose, creating a means to an end. When we apply strategic thinking to the technology professional, we are executing with purpose. The purpose of keeping the business running, ensuring we have the time to focus on other tasks, and ensuring the business and network grow together, more importantly, that we have planned outages as opposed to unplanned outages.So, how can we become a more strategic thinker? We can start inward by transforming our mindset and the way we approach the business. First and foremost, we always consider both our vision and the organizations vision. Next, we identify critical areas and equipment, then we develop a plan. At first, your plan can merely focus around basic information, like a current network drawings, IP addresses, server information, etc. But as you progress, so should your plan and it should grow to include projections, life-cycle replacements, etc. Next, we stay tapped into developing technology trends and consider how they may grow your business. Finally, we listen to our consumers and leaders, understanding priorities, where re-occurring issues are, and we work to mitigate those issues, but while thinking strategically. As a technology professional, I developed the skill set to think strategically, develop and executing plans with a purpose. Focusing on the organization and the next five years and not only what that meant for IT, but what that meant for the business and IT’s contribution to the business.