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7 Time-Saving Tips for Busy IT Leaders

Without a doubt, the IT industry is one in which time is a precious commodity. It’s incredibly easy to become bogged down with the nitty gritty details and waste resources putting out fires to the point where other key areas of the organization begin to suffer. If optimizing your time is a priority for you (and/or your team), this article is for you. Read on to learn a few expert tips on how to find efficiencies, eliminate time-wasters and kick bad habits to the curb once and for all.

Tighten up your email practices.

Checking, sending and responding to emails is a huge time suck. But until it officially becomes a thing of the past, email is still something most IT folks will have to deal with. Optimizing your practices can make things more efficient. For instance, schedule specified time to manage email and use other communication methods, such as SMS, for urgent requests. Also, watch who you cc. If you’re including people on your messages who don’t really need to be included, you’re wasting your team’s time as well.

Ditch the waterfall.

Once a widely accepted project management methodology, waterfall has proven to be more of a hassle than what it’s worth, mainly because it can result in tremendous inefficiency. For instance, if developers discover something faulty with a previous step, the entire project must be scrapped and started afresh. And because testing doesn’t happen until later in the process, any existing bugs could have resulted in incorrect coding. If your team is still using waterfall practices, it may be time to consider making the switch to agile.

Expand your network.

It’s easy to feel as though the problems you, your team or your organization are experiencing are unique, but in reality most IT leaders are struggling with the same issues. Some of these other folks may already have figured out the best solution. Rather than wasting time, spinning your wheels and brainstorming on your own, why not tap into your network of peers. By leveraging the insight and advice of others, your decision-making will be faster and more on-point.

Automate.

To some, this one may seem like a no-brainer, but it’s surprising how many IT leaders are still dragging their feet on the automation front. Yet, when you look at the actual, quantifiable numbers, the benefits of automation and AI are staggering. According to a recent report by WorkMarket, 53% of employees say automation could save them up to 2 work hours per day (240 hours per year) and that number goes up to 3 work hours (360 hours per year) for 78% business leaders. At an average workweek of 40 hours, that equates to a time savings of 6 weeks for employees and 9 full weeks for leaders. What could you and your team do with that much time savings?

Scratch the standups.

Daily standup meetings may seem like a good idea on the surface, but when you gather your team on such a frequent basis, the results hardly make it worth the time. The real value of meetings lies in problem-solving, brainstorming and real-time collaboration. Daily scrum, on the other hand, tend to be more about status updates, which isn’t really the best use of anyone’s time. If daily huddles are currently your thing, you may want to consider spacing those meetings out and reserving them for specific needs rather than check-ins.

Fail fast and ditch what isn’t working.

Just because something’s always been done a certain way doesn’t mean it’s the best way. In fact, you or your team could very well be wasting precious time on practices and policies that are out-of-date and wildly inefficient. Agile isn’t just a methodology for project management. It’s also an important mindset – particularly for an IT leader. Make the coming year one in which you work to identify things that aren’t working and take the necessary steps to change them for the better.

Don’t be an island.

Just because you happen to be in a position of power at your organization doesn’t mean you have to solve problems entirely on your own. To the contrary, the most efficient and successful IT leaders not only value but actively seek the assistance of others. Think about it. You are already leading a team of educated problem-solvers. Your job should be to expose existing issues and then let the team determine the best resolution. Not only will this save you time and aggravation, but it’ll also enable you to develop a sense of trust and respect amongst your employees, which can go a long way toward retention.

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How to Become an Intelligent Automation Leader in 4 Steps

Intelligent automation is rapidly transforming the global economy, delivering momentous gains to enterprises that adopt it at scale. One recent article by McKinsey revealed that some organizations have been able to automate 50 to 70 percent of their workflows, generating ROI that reaches into the triple-digits. In addition to cutting costs, intelligent automation can also deliver precision, speed and enhanced customer experience.

In order for organizations to enjoy the full value of intelligent automation, IT leaders must be willing to take a guiding role. Unfortunately, many IT executives find this challenging, whether due to the increased complexity of IT processes, lack of understanding and/or clarity, inconsistent or fragmented tools that hinder scaling, or the misconception that intelligent automation cannot be adopted without major re-engineering of existing processes.

How can these challenges be overcome? And how can IT leaders succeed in their automation initiatives? The answer to these questions lies in the following four key steps along the intelligent automation journey.

Step 1: Evaluate the high-level potential value

The first step in becoming an intelligent automation leader starts with the development of a clear business case. This involves assessing the potential high-level value of the company’s main IT activities. Some examples of what these areas of value might look like include:

Incident Response – A significant number of IT incidents are initiated through support desk requests. These typically result in tickets being created and assigned to Level 1 support agents. While these are the obvious candidates for automation, the portion of tickets that are escalated to specialized L2 and L3 agents are also ripe for the picking, thanks to the advanced technology behind intelligent automation. And since these activities are generally well-documented, categorizing and prioritizing them by automation potential should be relatively straightforward.

Planned Activities – In addition to the one-offs and unexpected support tickets that crop up, IT is also responsible for performing a number of planned activities on a regular basis. These activities typically include things like backups, upgrades and patching. They may also involve more complex security audits. The amount of time and resources required to perform these duties can collectively add up to around 20 percent of the IT budget. Calculating this figure can help determine the potential savings intelligent automation can deliver.

Introducing New Applications – From a business perspective, this activity is often viewed as the one that produces the most significant value. It can also account for an additional 20 to 40 percent of the time and resources put forth by IT. These activities are not exclusive of application development, either. They also include such tasks as testing and hosting. This places increasing demand on both the application team as well as the infrastructure group.

Step 2: Dig deeper to identify which specific use cases are best suited for intelligent automation.

Determining how to effectively implement intelligent automation requires a deep dive to uncover the root causes of issues. It may also involve the untangling of complex systems and the development of an accurate picture of how to leverage automation to extract the greatest value. In other words, the process is a complicated one and requires a certain degree of commitment. Let’s take the three potential use cases above as an example.

Incident Response

Automating IR begins with identifying which incidents are the best candidates, which can be challenging. The goal should always be digging deep enough to uncover the “why” of documented incidents. Without this information, efforts are futile. Text-mining can help by automatically reading ticket descriptions and extracting the necessary insights to sort them into three categories:

  • Automatable
  • Requires machine learning
  • Highly cognitive/manual

This analysis should leave you with a prioritized list of incidents to automate and the type of automation best suited for the job.

Planned Activities

Most enterprise-grade IT departments rely on industry-standard tools to manage their infrastructures. Unfortunately, due to factors such as advanced customization, adjustments due to mergers and specific user requirements, managing these systems often requires a significant amount of manual effort, diminishing the overall value.

For instance, despite the widespread adoption of infrastructure and application monitoring tools, support teams are often unable to respond effectively to the logs being generated, either because there are too many of them or because of the many reasons why they are being generated in the first place. As a result, IT leaders are often unclear on how to approach intelligent automation implementation.

In situations such as this, machine learning technology can be “trained’ to identify the reasons behind alerts and then either recommend or autonomously make better decisions on which action to take. This eliminates much of the complexity for the IT team.

Introducing New Applications

Many IT executives fall into the trap of focusing solely on the reduction of manual labor. As a result, they fail to see and achieve the full value potential of intelligent automation. Faster and more accurate delivery of applications requires the development and design of a new operating model, with an emphasis on DevOps and agile.

Reviewing this entire process to gain an understanding of how to make the most use of this new operating model can result in entirely new approaches to work. Intelligent automation can facilitate some of these new ways of working. For instance, automating the testing process will enable applications teams to iterate more quickly. Likewise, developing a self-service model for things like automated server provisioning allows the operations team to become more responsive. The list goes on.

Step 3: Execute your proof of concept

In order to demonstrate the true value and validate your case for intelligent automation, the next critical step is executing a proof of concept. A great place to start with this is incident management. Organizations that have successfully deployed intelligent automation for incident management have been able to achieve substantial cost savings in a relatively short period of time.

Thankfully, there are many different incidents that can quickly and easily be automated to support your proof of concept, including such tasks as password resets and employee onboarding. In its most basic form, a proof of concept requires the following:

  • Collaboration with subject matter experts to identify where automation can best be applied and understand all the steps and systems involved in a particular process or workflow.
  • Careful selection of an intelligent automation platform. Look specifically for products that can be integrated with existing systems and applications and offers pre-packaged, no-code options. (This will enable rapid adoption and time-to-value.)
  • Obtaining necessary IT and overall business approvals with regard to regulatory constraints, security guidelines and access limitations.
  • Ongoing testing and monitoring to capture results and document value

This phase is also an ideal time to consider building stronger internal intelligent automation capabilities; for example, developing a team to spearhead a future automation center of excellence (CoE). This team will ultimately become the foundation and engine that drives all IPA initiatives.

Step 4: Build intelligent automation capabilities to scale

Achieving the full benefits of intelligent automation requires the development and nurturing of certain skills and capabilities, in addition to rolling out an entirely new company-wide culture. This is essential as successful adoption of IPA requires that automation become embedded into the very heart of the organization itself. There are plenty of ways to accomplish this, but generally speaking, companies that have been successful have done the following three things:

Build on success to expand into new areas of IT (and beyond).

Once the basic tasks and workflows have been automated, it’s time to move on to more advanced level-2 and level-3 activities. The IT team should be expanding beyond incidents to begin leveraging the AI and machine learning technologies to assist with things like analytics and decision support. The goal is to eventually roll out intelligent automation to as many routine and complex processes as possible.

Spread the word.

With a strong foundation of capabilities and experience, IT leaders can begin to position themselves as subject matter experts for the rest of the organization. This process involves continued outreach, such as connecting with other leaders across the enterprise to advise them of the specific benefits IPA can have for them. This outreach also provides the opportunity to identify additional areas where automation might be beneficial.

Explore the advanced elements of intelligent automation.

While the majority of organizations have thus far only focused primarily on simple process automation, the future belongs to those with an eye toward artificial intelligence and cognitive learning. These solutions are already making an impact on companies with forward-thinking leaders. The best way to break into this arena is to start working on small AI initiatives. From there, just like basic automation, you can continue to build, expand and grow.

Intelligent automation is maturing rapidly and quickly becoming a core component of the IT landscape. IT professionals who recognize the importance and understand how to develop their automation capabilities have the potential to become respected leaders in the process – a title that will serve them well throughout their careers.

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7 Tips for Managing a Remote IT Team

7 Tips for Managing a Remote IT TeamThe beauty of technologies like cloud and IT automation is that it’s enabled many IT teams to work remotely, either some or all of the time. Research has shown that offering flexible work options can dramatically improve productivity, boost employee morale (and therefore retention), maximize efficiency and cut costs. But managing remote teams isn’t without its challenges. Here are a few key pointers that will help keep everyone on track, engaged and working at optimal performance.

Check in on a regular basis.

It’s easy for remote workers to become detached from the team, which could result in a slack in performance, disengagement and potential turnover. Avoid this by making a point to stay in continuous contact with your virtual team members. Check-in consistently, whether it’s daily, weekly, bi-weekly or another arrangement that works for you.

Choose face/voice time over electronic communications.

The same technology that facilitates remote work arrangements should also be utilized to keep offsite workers plugged in. Remember – your employees are already immersed in things like IT automation and other human-less tools. Bring them back to reality by connecting via telephone or video conferencing instead of email or instant messaging. If possible, occasional in-person meetings are recommended.

Make communication a priority.

When it comes to remote workers, “out of sight, out of mind” can easily become a problem. Co-located teams that perform at their best do so in part because those in leadership roles make regular communication a priority. Get to know your off-site employees. Actively listen when you’re meeting together. Treat them with trust and respect. Ask about workload and progress. Simply put, over-communicate.

Be clear about expectations.

As a manager, it’s your job to clearly and accurately let your employees – both on-site and remote – about exactly what’s expected of them. Being located at a satellite or home office can make it even more challenging for team members to know where they stand. Always be direct about roles, projects, deadlines and anything else so that your remote workers will be able to deliver on those expectations.

Make yourself available and accessible.

Your remote workers cannot simply pop into your office when they have a question or concern. Overcome this challenge by making yourself as available as possible and ensuring that your team members know when and how to best get ahold of you. Respond promtly to messages or emails. This may involve making yourself available across different time zones, but it’s essential to running a cohesive dispersed team.

Enable and encourage collaboration.

To be most effective in their roles, remote employees should be able to connect and collaborate with other team members. Thanks to technology, there are plenty of tools available to facilitate this, from Skype and instant messages to Slack and other cloud collaboration tools. Once the preferred platforms are set up, encourage your subordinates to participate and lead the charge by actively engaging as well.

Foster relationships.

When employing tools like IT automation, it can be easy to become detached from the human aspect of working as part of an IT team. Overcome this obstacle by using team building and camaraderie to foster interpersonal relationships amongst team members. Make a point to get to know your employees on a personal level and try to find a common ground. Encourage occasional “water cooler” conversations, as they will enable personal connections and strengthen relationships.

If you thought IT automation would allow you to set it and forget it, you may have forgotten about the one key component of your IT team that isn’t going anywhere anytime soon: people. Keeping the human touch in the mix can be challenging, especially when some or all team members are located off-site. The seven tips above should help you keep your remote team happier, healthier and ultimately more successful.

eBook: 10 time consuming tasks you should automate