The dangerous migration of IT professionals

The cost of IT infrastructure complexity might soon be keenly felt by HR departments, according to EMC’s Clive Gold

It will come as no surprise to most IT professionals that the greater the IT infrastructure sprawl, the less interesting your typical working day will be.

During the past two decades, Australian businesses have accumulated an ever growing list of servers, network devices, storage arrays, databases, etc. Each addition has added another element to the complexity of the environment, which in turn brings increased day-to-day maintenance, troubleshooting, monitoring and updating, and compliance issues.

Customers tell us that they spend an average of 72 per cent of their IT dollars on maintaining their current infrastructures, and only 28 per cent on innovation. Analysts have been telling us for years what this means in terms of technology ROI and even lost competitive opportunity, but what most businesses haven’t considered is the effect on their most important IT resource — their staff.

IT professionals are some of the most highly educated, analytical and innovative employees in any organisation, and yet they’re spending an overwhelming amount of their time on repetitive tasks that do not fully utilise their skills and abilities.

According to a recent survey by the IT Professionals Association, some 67 per cent of IT workers felt their efforts were unrecognised by their employers. In the world of human resources, this is a big warning sign. They know that frustrated, unchallenged and unrecognised staff are the most likely to walk. The experts tell us that the single most important component in staff retention and development is providing creative and meaningful work opportunities.

Global expert Hay Group recently found that companies that couldn’t find suitable engagement opportunities were 40 per cent more likely to lose staff members and that up to 33 per cent of employees at poorly performing workplaces were already considering a move.

So what does this mean for Australian businesses?

Analysis of the latest industry figures would suggest that as many as 130,000 IT professionals right now are actively looking for work environments that are more stimulating and challenging. To put that into perspective, that would be enough to fill the Sydney Cricket Ground almost three times over.

The knock-on effect for business is huge. Like all jobs there is cost associated with finding and training replacement staff — however, unlike other roles, in many organisations the complexity of their IT environment also means the loss of critical knowledge, experience, and contacts which significantly amplifies the impact. It appears frustration comes with a pretty high price tag. EMC believes there are two main strategies to help businesses engage and retain IT staff.

The first is to reduce the complexity. Technology approaches such as virtualization leading to private cloud computing means that the path to simplicity is easier than ever before.

All it needs is a willingness by the organisation to begin the transformation process.

EMC's belief is that by lowering the complexity of the IT infrastructure, you can simplify management and automate the repetitive tasks, thus increasing time to innovate, which brings us to the second opportunity.

Find compelling professional opportunities for your valued IT staff — and we’re not just talking about training. The IT Professionals Association, the ITPA, found that only 18 per cent of IT professionals looking at other job opportunities believed that improved training would change their minds about moving on.

Anecdotally we know a far more powerful motivator for technology staff is to give them real, challenging opportunities which add value, and in IT today that means adding to the top line or improving services.

Google reportedly gives its development staff up to 20 per cent of their working week to develop their own projects. It seems to be working out pretty well for them!

Some companies are getting staff to work out ways to fully utilise all of the data they collect to see how it can be used to transform their organisation or what the organisation does. It does seem that in this Digital Age, organisations effectively harnessing the full potential of data, will win.

Every day we hear new examples where organisations have used data in interesting ways; from reducing the impact of climate change, to minimising the effects of poverty in Africa, and even predicting how long it will take you to get home on the M4 in Sydney.

Take a company called FlightCaster for instance — it offers improved accuracy in predicting flight delays by analysing historical data, and collecting other real time feeds, then uses new generation analytical tools to analyse and predict the outcome in real time. Case in point — Facebook was once a small company that analyses how users move around its website, analysing every click to improve the end user experience to become what it is today.

As Big Data analytics becomes more understood, having the right people to do this efficiently could well be the difference.