Sunday, 12 June 2011

In IT Operations, it's always the Credit Crunch

The Credit Crunch sucks.

There were lots of redundancies. Whole companies went under. Investment banks crashed. House prices dropped like stones. I stayed in a job so it wasn't that bad for me personally. I don't own a company, stocks or have a mortgage so I was able to pick up all the Credit Crunch special offers. And man, they were good. Restaurants were desperate for business so I haven't paid full prices for meals for about two years. I picked up a holiday to Thailand at a 5-star deluxe hotel for about 30% of the full price. And Christmas sales were never so good.

But now it's all about The Cuts. The government needs to save money so they've cut everything. They've cut funding for education, theatres, healthcare, street cleaning, child benefits, business, leisure services and lots more. I have to pay more on petrol, VAT, food, pension contributions and going out. And in the future I'm going to have to pay lots more for my child to go to a school where they actually teach kids how to read and write, a house that's big enough to swing a cat in (I still don't understand that phrase), and my beach holidays in the Caribbean. The Credit Crunch no longer has a good side.

All this means I've really got to track where my money is going so I can have my holidays in the sun and my kids won't think that Dizzee Rascal is speaks the Queens English. I've got to keep a check on how much I spend on food, petrol, eating out - it can be a bit annoying but it's necessary. But wait, I need a couple of holidays a year, 5-star accommodation at a minimum. I need to figure out how to make more money. I've got to plan where I investment my money and time so that I can have the things I want in the future.

In IT Operations, it's always the Credit Crunch.

Money's tight, staffing is tight, and your boss is "responding to market conditions". Time is money so you've got to check where you time is going, and where to invest it so you can meet your goals. This one of the key functions of issue tracking. And if you intend on doing the job well, it's vital that you have a capable issue tracker that can provide you with knowledge about your team's performance. There's no shortage of systems available at all prices ranges and feature sets, just find one does the job properly and works for you.

Now there's all kind of reasons why issue tracking is not done properly; "It's too complicated", "it takes too much time", "we're not using ITIL", "what we've got is good enough" - but these excuses are all crap. Either you're going at least try and do the job properly or you're not. If it's too complicated, get something simpler. If it takes too much time, rethink what information is essential to track the issue and discard everything else. And whatever you do, avoid making your own solution - it's never going to be as good as something you can get off the shelf, even for free.

To summarize, here are five reasons why you need a decent issue tracker:

1. Find out where your time and money is going. If you're complaining that you don't have enough staff to do the work, surely you need to know what your staff are busy doing. You need real data, not general feelings or assumptions.

2. Are you getting better or worse? You need to know if all the work that's being done is actually having an effect. Are you experiencing less incidents? Are customer requests taking longer? Get the facts.

3. Where should you invest your time? There's always things that need fixing and projects on the back burner. But which one should be done first? Analysing the cause of incidents and which change requests take the longest will give you a better picture.

4. Reports helps justify requests for funding. Making a business case can be hard. It will be even harder if you've got no evidence to back up requests for new staff, or new software to replace something that repeatedly causes many incidents.

5. Get rid of the monkey work. If you don't have a issue tracker, you'll find yourself doing a lot of tedious work that you simply don't have to do. Putting references in email subjects, ensuring the right people get copies of email, categorisation, finding related issues. Issue trackers much life much more efficient.

Note that the process of deploying an issue tracker is not trivial. Yes, you might be able to get the software up and running in an afternoon, but you probably need it to be configured to match your workflow. Get it wrong and it's frustrating for users and the quality of data will be poor. If funding for an issue tracker is not forthcoming, here are some free products that have good reviews; OTRSRequest TrackerSpiceworks, OneOrZero. Now there's no more excuses - get your issues under control!