Welcome to the “Introducing” series. Today we will provide a high-level explanation of what Information Technology (IT) does for an organization.
In my nearly 30 years working in Information Technology (IT) I have worked in a lot of different capacities including in-house as an IT director and as a consultant providing technical assistance for a variety of industries. If you are not part of the IT crew, you may not be fully aware of what they provide to your organization. This blog post should give you some insights into what they do and how they help your company to function properly.
From a high-level IT organization are tasked with monitoring and maintaining the services which are required for a company to function but what does that really mean?
For example, your organization’s IT team is responsible for providing you with the applications which you need to do your job. What types of applications? Think about what you use daily – email, word processing, spreadsheets, instant messaging and websites. These applications are provided as a service to the organization. Applications have a lifecycle that starts when the application is either created or depoyed to a device. Once an application has been created there are updates that occur as well as enhancements that are added. Eventually, the application is no longer required, and it is decommissioned. These three steps (creation or provisioning, maintenance, and decommissioning) are an example of how a lifecycle works.
Your IT organization may have provided the system that you are using when you access these applications (a laptop, desktop or tablet as an example) or assisted with the deployment of applications on a device that you own and work with daily. Systems also have a lifecycle that starts when they are first provided to a user (provisioned), to having updates made to the system to eventually when the system is no longer required, and it is decommissioned.
Supporting the lifecycle of various services that are required for the business to function is the core responsibility of your IT organization.
That doesn’t sound like too a lot, does it? When you look a little deeper there is a lot of work that goes into providing the systems and applications which a company runs on. To maintain systems and applications there are several major categories of work that need to happen to keep technology running smoothly at your organization.
- Management, Maintenance & Monitoring:
- Controlling access to systems and applications: IT is responsible for providing access to systems and applications. As an example, when someone joins an organization, they need to have a user account created and if they leave an organization that account needs to be removed. Additionally, those accounts must be given access to the systems and applications which are needed for the person to do their job, without giving the user access to information, systems, or applications that they should not be allowed. Too much access so that the user can access information, systems or applications which they should not be allowed to access).
- Controlling cost/budgeting: Like other departments in a company, the IT organization is required to control the cost of providing the services provided by IT. With the push to the cloud, IT is becoming more responsible for ensuring variable costs are kept under control. We will discuss this topic more in later blog posts in this series.
- Maintaining the underlying resources: The applications which you use behind the scenes are dependent upon underlying resources that are required to provide them. These are generally broken into three major areas: Compute, Storage, and Network, which we will discuss in more depth in additional blog posts.
- Backup/Disaster Recovery: The IT organization needs to make sure that required systems and their dependencies are backed up so that they can be recovered and that the organization is ready to handle a situation if a disaster were to occur and a location where their company maintains resources is no longer available. As an example, there have been tornadoes that have had major impacts on cities where data centers reside. It’s the IT organization’s responsibility to provide an effective plan to recover if such a disaster were to occur. Additionally, human beings make mistakes – including members of the IT organization. Having an effective backup and disaster recovery plan can protect an organization from mistakes which could make the company unable to function.
- Monitoring: The IT organization needs to be aware of the current state of their systems and applications and able to proactively address problems that may occur. For example, if the company website was not functioning or access to the website was slow for all users it would be on the IT organization to identify the issue and work on a resolution to the issue.
- Application Development:
- Enhancements and bugfixes: As issues are found by the users of the application or performance problems occur, the Line of Business applications are maintained and enhanced by the IT organization. New features need to be developed to make the application easier to use and to provide functionality that will help to differentiate your organization from your competition.
- Developing new LOB applications: The applications which run your business are often the key differentiator between your organization and your competition. Developing a new Line of Business applications that can help to differentiate your organization from your competition is a primary way that IT can positively impact the business.
- Helping when there are problems: When you have a problem with your system or an application you use for your work you need a place to go to ask for help. This is where the helpdesk comes in. The helpdesk is there to provide you with assistance in these areas and is commonly accessed by sending an email with details of the problem, leaving a detailed voicemail or stopping by their office. Pro-tip: Stopping by the office of the helpdesk technicians is not the recommended approach as those types of visits make it much more difficult for helpdesk technicians to effectively prioritize their work. This is often referred to as a “drive-by”.
- Securing your systems, applications and underlying resources: It seems like daily we hear another example of another organization that had a data breach or whose systems were compromised. It’s the job of your IT organization to effectively secure the systems and applications which your organization uses as well as the underlying resources they are dependent on. This is a big task including effectively maintaining Operating System versions, patching all systems (including your laptop, desktop or tablet), providing effective anti-virus and anti-malware, training the organization’s personnel on how to keep company resources secure and watching for potential security threats across the organization. Please note, even organizations with an incredible security team aren’t necessarily safe from attacks as the level of attacks from hackers and other countries is constantly increasing and the level of complexity of those attacks is also constantly increasing.
The list above is far from comprehensive but it gives you an idea of what your IT organization is tasked with doing. The IT organization is also responsible for addressing any executive sponsored projects which may supersede the priorities of the items listed above. I have listed a few common questions to these where I’ve seen confusion in the past.
Question: I have a friend who works in IT, which means that they can help with pretty much anything in the Information Technology space – right?
Answer: If you have a foot problem, a family doctor or general practitioner may have seen the issue before, but if they didn’t know the exact cause and resolution, they will refer you to a specialist. Information Technology is a lot like that. Most people who work in IT are specialized in an area of technology. As an example, the person who is on the helpdesk most likely isn’t also working on application development or monitoring of systems. Just because someone works in IT doesn’t mean that they are deeply knowledgeable in all areas of IT. More specifically, just because someone works in IT doesn’t mean they can fix your computer. Most IT professionals are focused on one aspect of computers, your problem may not be something they are familiar with or have experience with. Seriously ?
Question: My organization doesn’t have any in-house IT folks. Who is doing the work that you are discussing above?
Answer: Many organizations outsource a variety of functions. Almost no company manages its retirement plan and many organizations outsource their payroll to a company such as ADP. Information Technology is similar in this way as it often outsources for efficiency and expertise.
Question: I am in college and considering a career field in IT. What are avenues that I can pursue as an IT professional?
Answer: There is an incredible variety of jobs that are available in IT ranging from IT administrators, database administrators, developers, cloud architects, helpdesk, to security specialists. In college, the best recommendation is to take a wide variety of courses to investigate all areas of Information Technology. From those classes, you can see what you are (and more importantly what you are not) interested in.
Thank you to Greg T, Chad S, and Beth F for all of their help and their excellent feedback on this blog post!