IT professionals are the engines who power modern business and this is a trend that every member of the C-suite has become familiar with over the last few years. As such, opportunities for recognising the hard work that IT pros do are becoming ever more important – especially in the wake of the constant pressures that IT teams face – whether that’s cyberthreats, changing legislations or a need for new technologies and skillsets. This IT Professionals Day, we spoke to eight business and technology leaders to get their views on managing the changing technology landscape and the need to support IT teams throughout.
“There are many functions within a business whose value can fall under the radar and this is particularly true of the IT professional,” said Alan Conboy, Office of the CTO, Scale Computing. “Whether it’s the IT team or a solo expert, each IT professional spends their day working tirelessly to protect their organisation from downtime, server failures, upgrade issues and capacity problems to name a few. Their role means the rest of the organisation doesn’t even need to think about the business IT infrastructure at all. But, we are all guilty of not always remembering to thank the IT team for the work they do and instead, more often than not, only recognising them when a problem arises. So on IT Professional’s Day, we should all take the time to appreciate the IT professionals around us and thank them for the time they spend making sure our working day is not impacted by IT challenges.”
Emerging technologies and a changing landscape
IT teams have done huge amounts over the years to earn our recognition. One aspect that the leaders we spoke to focused on was the emerging need for IT professionals to keep pace with an industry that is changing at an unprecedented rate.
Gary Watson, CTO and Founder at Nexsan, said: “IT professionals are crucial when it comes to innovation and technology but their importance is often overlooked. For many of us we only encounter their services when IT is going wrong, but the reality is that every day they work fiercely to protect infrastructure, keep services running and drive forwards with new and efficient ways to work.”
This was echoed by Nigel Tozer, Solutions Marketing Director at Commvault, who commented: “While many employees are quick to complain about IT in the workplace, IT pros have never had more asked of them. The business can be demanding, asking for everything from uninhibited access to the latest data and apps, through to seamless transitions to the cloud or the adoption of AI. And at the same time, it goes without saying that IT should ensure compliance with GDPR and protect against hacking or ransomware attacks.
“Delivering on all this is a tall order, especially as IT budgets have been kept flat in recent years. As consumers of IT, we can all be careless and open a dodgy attachment, create redundant data copies and use unsanctioned cloud services. The same is true at a business level – more data is being created than ever, yet cloud and SaaS use means that data is disparate and more difficult to control or use effectively.
“So, on IT Pro Day 2018, spare a thought for those in IT: you might not feel like you’re in a moving car that’s having a wheel changed, but with the fast pace of business today, that’s pretty much the task that IT are undertaking.”
Neil Barton, CTO at WhereScape, added: “IT is critical to an organisation’s ability to compete in our fast paced, tech-centred world. Every day IT professionals face the daunting task of ensuring IT infrastructure is primed and ready to deliver crucial and timely business insight. As companies require more frequent updates to their data infrastructure to match business needs and capitalise on emerging technologies, the role and organisational impact of the IT professional continues to expand.
“That’s why IT professionals must leverage tools such as data infrastructure automation to ensure the solutions they design, develop, deploy and operate will offer the fastest time to value possible. By eliminating the unnecessary hand-coding traditionally associated with data infrastructure projects for example, IT professionals can save time, lower costs and limit project risk – and in the process, increase their own bandwidth and contributions to the business.”
And new technology is not limited to the infrastructure used to store and manage data, but also to how it is moved around. Todd Krautkremer, CMO at Cradlepoint, explained: “The IT Pro’s role is ever-changing, but over the last few years, they have been responsible for enabling huge transformation in the technology domains that comprise modern IT organisations. In today’s hyper-connected enterprise, IT Pros are often responsible for managing a network which extends well beyond the traditional fixed location boundaries and across the public Internet – connecting everything from vehicles, kiosks, sensors, cameras and digital signage.
“This expanded scope of connecting people, places and things everywhere means that 4G LTE and soon 5G, has become an essential wide-area network (WAN) infrastructure. To enable more agility, especially for lean IT shops, they are also harnessing the power of software-defined networking (SDN) to accelerate provisioning times, increase availability and create a more intelligent and self-optimising network edge that seamlessly blends wired and wireless connections.
“Just around the corner, IT Pros will have another tool in their toolbox – 5G, which promises to deliver gigabit speeds, low latencies and low-cost Internet of Things (IoT) connectivity. 5G will enable a new generation of business applications poised to transform workforce productivity and customer experiences by leveraging virtual and augmented reality, remote-controlled robotics, telemedicine and Artificial Intelligence (AI) technologies.
Krautkremer concluded: “IT Pros have always been unsung heroes, but with such significant technology developments on the horizon, it’s time we start singing their praises.”
New threats and challenges
However, against this backdrop of new technology and the stress that this can cause, another factor that became apparent is the rise in threats involving IT. Gijsbert Janssen van Doorn, Technology Evangelist, Zerto, explained how these threats can be a cause of stress for IT teams: “IT professionals are under tremendous pressure to ensure that business technology services are protected and available 24/7, regardless of the level of risk. They are charged with maintaining IT resilience in the wake of any disruption. This can be a daunting task, which was reinforced in a recent survey where 93% of IT professionals said their businesses have experienced a tech-related disruption in the last two years. Following these disruptions, organisations reported that in around half of the cases, employees had to work overtime (53% of occasions) and there was a loss of productivity (50% of such instances).”
On the theme of security challenges facing IT professionals, Jan van Vliet, VP and GM EMEA, Digital Guardian, said: “Modern IT professionals must be aware of the three cornerstones of IT security; people, process and technology. Many automated tools discussed in security strategy are widely available to businesses today, but we still come back to the issue of ensuring that the proper processes are in place and people are provided with the right skillsets and training. Faced with a constantly changing business landscape and changes in staff, it is very difficult for businesses to ensure security processes are well applied and that a strong foundational security culture exists.
“Most organisations already accept that it is not if, but when, they will be breached. This expectation may well reflect the fact that malicious parties are now more likely to extort the victim, or release the data to forums or even the public. Time and the security skills shortage are the enemies in this situation and they make it hard to ensure the three cornerstones are kept current and relevant.”
A need for support and recognition
The clear theme from all of the leaders we spoke to was the need for more recognition for the members of the IT teams. Zerto’s Gijsbert Janssen van Doorn, commented: “This IT Professionals Day, the best thing an organisation can do to support its IT pros is to invest in the right tools to help them combat downtime and enable resilience. This means tools that are multi-purpose, easy to use and integrate simply work across clouds and on-premises, and are constantly fuelled by innovation to meet ever evolving needs. Tools like this are critical to ensure IT professionals can focus on IT transformation, and not have to burn the midnight oil recovering from downtime that could have been prevented.”
Gary Watson, CTO and Founder of Nexsan, said: “In today’s technology-driven age, IT professionals are faced with increasing pressure and with supporting technology that can help make their lives easier, such as secure storage, easier management and high performance, they can focus their time elsewhere. IT professionals need the correct tools in place in order to keep operations running smoothly and forward-thinking organisations that take the time to rethink their infrastructure and support IT professionals with their daily role stand in better stead to deal with new IT challenges.”
Interestingly, these are challenges felt in both the public and private sector, as Paul Parker, Chief Technologist of Federal and National Government at SolarWinds – the original organisation behind IT Pro Day – explained.
“Today’s public sector technology professionals face a tremendous amount of responsibility at work, from strategic technology evaluations and IT modernisation, to the more onerous tasks, such as helpdesk tickets and end-user requests. As a result, they have very little time to dedicate to being Tech PROactive.
“However, tech pros are taking the initiative to go above and beyond their responsibilities to explore how new technology can benefit their organisations, with automation, cloud and AI/Machine Learning topping the list of advancements that could solve problems within their IT environments. Additionally, there is a large desire to continue their education, with 44% saying they would focus on developing their IT skillset with one extra hour in the work day. We applaud this commitment and on IT Pro Day we encourage organisations to support their employees’ dedication and development.”
The pace of change isn’t going to slow any time soon, so as IT professionals bear the strain of making Digital Transformation a reality for a business – in a secure, compliant, flexible way – the onus is on the C-suite and business leaders to provide them with the support and encouragement they need. This support extends across budgets and investments in the right tools and technologies, through to simply recognising the hard work IT professionals do day-in-day-out to keep a business always-on.