Over the last couple of years I have worked with many different sized companies, from organisations with over ten thousand employees down to businesses as small as a hundred staff. Surprisingly, some of the lessons I have learned in the small end of town may soon prove relevant for those in the enterprise.
There is a lot of discussion on the challenges of enterprise IT, in particular, breaking down the silos that make cross-team processes inefficient. But for many organisations, having enough staff to form silos would be a dream come true.
Have a think about the small to medium business – the sort where IT is an enabler but not the product. It could be the not-for-profit, a small retail or fast food chain, local government, or warehousing and distribution. Probably about 200-500 staff. These are the sort of organisations that have grown past having one ‘IT guy’, but probably have an IT team of between 3 and 6 people.
Now, back to the title of this article. Nutella and Vegemite are two dark coloured sandwich spreads – but they couldn’t be more different. Nutella is known the world over and the sweet nut-based spread that has worse nutritional qualities than cake frosting (I did check this myself – it’s true). Nutella is also typically applied in a similar way to cake frosting – the younger members of my household would be better off using a trowel than a knife given the amount they try and put on a sandwich.
For those of you who don’t know and love Vegemite, it is a dark almost black spread made from yeast leftover from brewing beer. An unused, freshly opened jar has an appearance not dissimilar to black shoe polish. It is very flavoursome, but also intense and very very salty. When it is applied to a sandwich it is applied in a thick layer, often so thin that bread is visible through the layer of spread.
How does my description of sandwich spread apply to IT staff?
In an enterprise, you specialise. You have a team dedicated to one function (Network, Storage, Database etc). If you are a network engineer you will work to go deep into networking, but relational database structure is not something you are encouraged to learn. I literally had to once ask a colleague now many CCIEs he currently holds (the answer was 4).
Think about the small IT team and all the technology they are required to learn:
- Windows Server
- Windows Desktop
- Active Directory
- SQL Server
- Network switching, routing and WiFI
- Application/SaaS specific administration
- Microsoft Office
- Citrix/VMware Horizon
- Public Cloud etc.
In a smaller IT team, you spread yourself thin and learn a little about a lot.
How does this apply to the enterprise? Enterprise IT teams are getting smaller as more and more is outsourced to the cloud of ‘as-a-Service’ providers. This happens in small ways, if you start using a co-lo data centre you don’t need as big a data centre team, your telco manages more of your network, that managed security provider takes over the firewall. Enterprise IT is more about vendor management and governance than hands-on technology, and as a result the pressure it on enterprise IT workers to cover a broader array of technology. Maybe your network team needs to be able to architect Juniper and Cisco routers, the storage team not just EMC but HDS, NetApp and IBM as well?
While Enterprise users expect an IT professional to have a deep level of knowledge, the new pressures on the role demands breadth as well. And it is not just technology, but ’soft skills’ involving communication and stakeholder management become even more critical.