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Ask Slashdot: How Do You Tell a Compelling Story About IT Infrastructure?

Soulskill posted about 7 months ago | from the name-your-servers-after-game-of-thrones-characters dept.

IT 192

An anonymous reader writes "Every month we submit status reports to upper management. On the infrastructure side, these reports tend to be 'Hey, we met our service level agreements ... again.' IT infrastructure is now a lot like the electric company. Nobody thanks the electric company when the lights come on, but they have plenty of colorful adjectives to describe them when the power is off.

What is the best way to construct a compelling story for upper management so they'll appreciate the hard work that an IT department does? They don't seem particularly impressed with functioning systems, because they expect functioning systems. The extensive effort to design and implement reliable systems has also made IT boring and dull. What types of summaries can you provide upper management to help them appreciate IT infrastructure and the money they spend on the services it provides?"

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Save your breath. (1)

Raven42rac (448205) | about 7 months ago | (#46962079)

It's highly unlikely they will care, but try to make it fun and use lots of specific numbers, management types like that.

Re:Save your breath. (1)

jeffmeden (135043) | about 7 months ago | (#46962141)

It's highly unlikely they will care, but try to make it fun and use lots of specific numbers, management types like that.

I was going to say roughly the same thing. Dazzle them with different, huge numbers. Tell them how much business data your SAN is currently backing up to protect it from loss. In bytes. Tell them how much bandwidth your firewall safely filters on average. In bits/second. Sure, after a few rounds they will start to ignore those reports too since they will all look alike, but you will have fun doing it right?

Disclaimer: I am not a corporate drone, this might be a totally bad idea, luckily I don't have to find out.

Re:Save your breath. (5, Funny)

Penguinisto (415985) | about 7 months ago | (#46962313)

I have a better idea, courtesy of politics:

"We have successfully prevented Al Qaeda from taking down our infrastructure in April"

"This month, we are proud to announce that our infrastructure is now gender-neutral and completely embraces the LGBT community!"

"The IT datacenter is now fully secure against velociraptor attacks."

"We are happy to inform you that as of this month, our IT infrastructure is 100% Animal Cruelty Free!"

"For the month of April, we have completed our (self) certification, and as a result we now feature only Free Range servers in our infrastructure."

... I used to insert bits like this a few employers ago, just to see who actually read the reports. But then, I live in Portland, so even then half of those got glossed over. :(

Re:Save your breath. (1)

just_a_monkey (1004343) | about 7 months ago | (#46962487)

Are you saying that half of those were actually noticed?

Already tried something like this once. (1)

rnturn (11092) | about 7 months ago | (#46962575)

I used to work in an organization associated, primarily, with aviation. Many of the projects had nothing to do with actually doing any flying but the director of the organization was an avid pilot with a gazillion hours of instrument flight experience. Any projects that offered an opportunity for him to contribute by doing some flying seemed to always get his attention. My projects tended to be simulations or other studies that resulted in a lot of equations, charts, and graphs but no chances for flight time. One day, to pass the time during a flight to Washington, I took along a couple of binders of source code (printed on the old green bar paper, of course) that I annotated during the flight with notes about changes to make, places where more comments were needed... boring stuff like that. In the following monthly progress report I noted that my software had been flight tested and the results were promising. The director was not particularly amused.

Re:Already tried something like this once. (1)

Idarubicin (579475) | about 7 months ago | (#46962647)

I took along a couple of binders of source code [...] that I annotated during the flight with notes about changes to make, places where more comments were needed... boring stuff like that. In the following monthly progress report I noted that my software had been flight tested and the results were promising. The director was not particularly amused.

Well, of course the director was unamused. During flight testing you noted documentation errors and several out-and-out flaws in the code, and then you tried to pass that pile of dreck off to him as "promising". Be honest--your code only survived the landing because the pilot intervened and took control of the aircraft. In the future, maybe you shouldn't try to sugarcoat things.

Re:Save your breath. (3, Interesting)

pr0fessor (1940368) | about 7 months ago | (#46962913)

I have been known to send in purchase requests for Industrial Donut Makers, Espresso Machines, etc...

They are never approved but when they come back and laugh about it, that is a great time to bring up a serious purchase request that has been stuck.

Re:Save your breath. (3, Funny)

DeBaas (470886) | about 7 months ago | (#46962147)

ehm, numbers give them headaches. Use graphs and pictures. And the first slide should be some stock photo with smiling young people that are engaged in something completely unrelated.

Oh and if you report on a project, use a traffic light that is green or use smileys...

Re:Save your breath. (1)

sootman (158191) | about 7 months ago | (#46962385)

> Oh and if you report on a project, use a traffic
> light that is green or use smileys...

Reminds me of my all-time favorite picture example. [dilbert.com]

Re:Save your breath. (1)

FuzzyDustBall (751425) | about 7 months ago | (#46962463)

A government agency I contracted for had a committee spend years coming up with status reporting and the best they cam up with is a 3 color system (stop light) that could be rolled up.

Re: Save your breath. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46962835)

It matters not how you present the reality as long as you tie your department's increased funding to 'enhanced' proftability.

Re:Save your breath. (1)

fermion (181285) | about 7 months ago | (#46962181)

When I see things like this, I tend to think, you know that everyone times is money, right? So it a report is written, assuming that every is suitably busy, reading a longer report is going cost a lot more than an executive summary.

That said, what I might do is include an addendum that list the major events of the period, maybe a bit of the troubleshooting involved, and the solution. This could be included under the guise of documentation, without actually identifying any single person as the hero. Anything else, IMHO, is going to look like the department is overstaffed and is killing time by writing self serving reports.

Re:Save your breath. (1)

cogeek (2425448) | about 7 months ago | (#46962307)

PowerPoint! Who doesn't appreciate a good PowerPoint presentation?

--
There really needs to be a sarcasm font...

Re:Save your breath. (2)

funwithBSD (245349) | about 7 months ago | (#46962403)

Set fires, put them out.

Take credit.

Re:Save your breath. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46962417)

Perhaps a prioritized list of significant local/state/federal regulations associated with the appropriate IT projects/teams.
On-going/current IT mitigation projects. Future/planned IT projects.

Re:Save your breath. (1)

rnturn (11092) | about 7 months ago | (#46962427)

``...try to make it fun and use lots of specific numbers, management types like that.''

Be careful, though. Some years ago someone in IT management where I was working invented a metric to be reported to upper management that, basically, was "disk space used". The (boneheaded) idea was that more disk space in use means business growth. The trouble was that when we asked for clarification about what disk space was to be reported the reply was that we were supposed to report ALL disk space used by the systems; not just the disk space used by the applications, databases, etc. So what happened was that nobody erased any files. Temp files? Keep 'em... makes IT look good. Multiple copies of files? Keep those, too. More disk utilization makes IT look good you know. You can imagine the gnashing of teeth that resulted when we got close to filling up a couple of disks and I whacked a ton of old junk files I found sitting out on those disks.

Re:Save your breath. (1)

ackthpt (218170) | about 7 months ago | (#46962461)

I usually start by telling where I've buried the bodies.

sigma-5 (1)

swschrad (312009) | about 7 months ago | (#46962799)

99.998% uptime, 974 exabits moved without error, 56 firewall intercepts of phishing variety, 12,467 blocks to blacklist sites, 14,273,996 successful shopping cart transactions with 2 abandons, 67 helpless desk calls with cust satisfaction of 99% on survey, 3 new C-level gadgets installed of 3 requests, projects on or ahead of schedule... aw, what the heck, 2 BOFH reports and 3 replacements hired...

Give them a system that does not function (4, Funny)

ganjadude (952775) | about 7 months ago | (#46962091)

give them a system that doesnt function how they want.
When they complain, give them what they want
profit!

Re:Give them a system that does not function (1)

Penguinisto (415985) | about 7 months ago | (#46962379)

give them a system that doesnt function how they want.
  When they complain, give them what they want
profit!

Bonus points: make the mis-function a small matter of changing the configuration files; that way you can spend a week or two "fixing" the problem.

...on the other hand, I once fired someone for doing that - repeatedly. You can fool the non-techies that way, but if your IT Director or internal customers are gearheads, or you service a development team of any size, you can screw yourself over very quickly.

Re:Give them a system that does not function (5, Funny)

DoofusOfDeath (636671) | about 7 months ago | (#46962509)

...on the other hand, I once fired someone for doing that - repeatedly.

Geez, how many times did you fire the guy before wising up?

Re:Give them a system that does not function (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46962731)

give them what they want
profit!

That's called a salary, genius.

Simple -- make it sexy. (1)

RailGunner (554645) | about 7 months ago | (#46962095)

Talk about how servicing web requests pounded your application servers long and hard during peak hours.

Re:Simple -- make it sexy. (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46962257)

Here's how we keep the systems running just the way you like it:
unzip; strip; while true; do touch; finger; grep; mount; fsck; more; yes; fsck; fsck; fsck; umount; sleep; wakeup; done

Re:Simple -- make it sexy. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46962609)

That was awesome.

Re:Simple -- make it sexy. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46962613)

Now that's good shit.

Three easy steps (1)

Krishnoid (984597) | about 7 months ago | (#46962099)

  1. Select some well-known, compelling characters [fanfiction.net] , and prepare to infringe someone's intellectual property
  2. ???
  3. Profit!

Take the SimCity transportation advisor approach (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46962101)

You can't cut back on funding! YOU'LL REGRET THIS!

Re:Take the SimCity transportation advisor approac (1)

funwithBSD (245349) | about 7 months ago | (#46962409)

You will rue the day!

RUE!

Really? (0)

SuperTechnoNerd (964528) | about 7 months ago | (#46962109)

You get a paycheck, right?

Tell them how the users screwed things up (4, Funny)

smooth wombat (796938) | about 7 months ago | (#46962113)

Try this one:

Jane felt there were too many cables under her desk so she took her scissors to several of them and cut them back to the floor opening.

Our team successfully ran new cables and got the network up and running in the space of half an hour as well proactively took steps to prevent such an occurrence in the future by tossing Jane out the window.

Re:Tell them how the users screwed things up (1)

MightyMartian (840721) | about 7 months ago | (#46962153)

And how when Jane came back as a mindless undead zombie, the team successfully decapitated her with only marginal losses to the secretarial pool.

Re:Tell them how the users screwed things up (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46962277)

Tell management how much money you've saved them by being such a pain in the ass when anyone asks for hardware that they just drive down to Best Buy and purchase it on their own.

Back that up with all the bandwidth charges you've saved by firewalling developers from programming blogs, and how safe the network is now that any software more advanced than Notepad is forbidden.

(captcha: grumble)

Re:Tell them how the users screwed things up (5, Funny)

DoofusOfDeath (636671) | about 7 months ago | (#46962563)

Try this one:

Jane felt there were too many cables under her desk so she took her scissors to several of them and cut them back to the floor opening.

Our team successfully ran new cables and got the network up and running in the space of half an hour as well proactively took steps to prevent such an occurrence in the future by tossing Jane out the window.

Wrong approach. I suggest this:

The slow throbbing of the server room A/C barely distracted from the stifling heat. As Jane sat restlessly in her thigh-length, red skirt, a bead of sweat dripped onto the network cables below. Her display, a pitiful 17" CRT from the mid `90's, flickered a 404 error. Jim, the strong but quiet network repair main, soon knocked on her office door. Despite wearing a workman's coveralls, his powerful frame was clearly visible with each move he made. He casually walked up to Jane's desk, leaned in close, and looked at her intensely with his sea-gray eyes. He said casually, but close in, "Cable trouble. I need to get down there."

Put em in the stoneage (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46962121)

Knock all their electronics offline and then deliver your monthly report by printout.
Then they might learn to respect the network.

Make the company money (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46962123)

If you can relate the work to how it is saving or making the company money that would likely be well received.

It's all about presentation. (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46962125)

Hire Morgan Freeman or Patrick Stewart to read your presentation. They can read a phone book and still give folks pleasant, comforting feeling, reassuring your audience that all is well.

Or if you need to terrify the motherlovers into never crossing you, get Samuel Jackson.

The better question is: "Should you...?" (3, Insightful)

Clyde Machine (1851570) | about 7 months ago | (#46962127)

Why is it that they need to be told a compelling story? Appreciation is nice, yes, but is it necessary for them to be wow-ed in every future report? Like OP said, they expect functioning systems and get functioning systems, and people get mad when things don't work right.

Mass exodus or spin doctor (3, Insightful)

Dishwasha (125561) | about 7 months ago | (#46962129)

What is the best way to construct a compelling story for upper management so they'll appreciate the hard work that an IT department does?

In my many years of experience none of this will ever change until a mass exodus of the IT department occurs and all the unappreciated talent leaves. And even then executives will probably never be able grasp how good they really had it because they'll be in recovery mode for a minimum of the next 3 years.

The only other situation I've seen is when the CTO is a really charismatic guy who can describe the most simplest of task in the most interesting way and can play enough politics so people kiss his butt to make sure he's happy. Then the CTO tells his underlings how appreciated they are by the executives even though they themselves never thought to say so.

Re:Mass exodus or spin doctor (1)

Trepidity (597) | about 7 months ago | (#46962373)

Another good situation can be if some people in upper management have recently moved from a company whose IT infrastructure was totally borked, to a new one where stuff actually works. That can lead to some genuine appreciation of how good things are, at least until the novelty wears off. Kind of like if you move from a building where the HVAC system is shit, to one where it keeps temperature and doesn't smell like mold, people will have glowing comments about how great the HVAC is in the new building... at least for a few months.

Re:Mass exodus or spin doctor (1)

k8to (9046) | about 7 months ago | (#46962905)

Far from it.

IT Departments fail from the inside over time, and are replaced by mindless outsourcers, contract buyers, and CIO magazine readers. Productivity decreases drastically as the employees are blocked from effectively doing their jobs by infrastructure problems, and no one at the top even understands the problem enough to be upset about it.

That's the usual pattern.

prioritize (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46962131)

All the hard work you go through to keep shit going and you are worried about a pat on the head from the boss?

Very hard, maybe impossible. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46962145)

...because the moment you start trying to talk about anything technical, their eyes glaze over. They often don't give a shit how it works, or what you had to do to make it work. They only care if it works. The only time they seem to pay attention is when whatever you do impacts the bottom line. So if you can show numerically that something you did saved them a lot of money they will love you for that .... but not much else.

So... providing electricity is easy, IT is hard? (5, Insightful)

amosh (109566) | about 7 months ago | (#46962151)

It sounds like you're upset because upper management is treating you like infrastructure, rather than the heroes you are?

You made the point yourself - nobody cheers when the lights come on, they get pissed when they go out. IT SHOULD be boring and dull. To an average person in your company, they shouldn't - EVER - care about how or why their systems work.

Do you think providing electricity isn't a difficult enterprise, requiring a huge number of highly-trained people doing a bunch of things right, 24/7? And I bet, a hundred years ago, people looked at people working in "electricity" the same way people looked at "IT" twenty years ago.

It's not 100 years ago. It's not 20 years ago. And we're not heroes or geniuses. We're plumbers. (Except that we're too dumb to unionize.) If anything, we are incredibly lucky that our uses are satisfied with the - in most cases - poor level of service they receive. Think about it - in all the time you've worked in IT, how many times have you seen the electricity in a building just go out, without explanation? Now, how many times have you seen major server outages, costing more than a million dollars in lost productivity? For me, I have never seen an electrical outage not related to a major disaster that kept everyone out of the building anyway. I have seen at least 5 outages that led to $1m or more in losses - and three of them were for stupid, easily preventible things. (Really? You upgraded both the primary and backup SAN at once, and killed the entire network for six hours when the patch turned out to not run properly?)

Take another look at your question. It's premised on the proposition that IT SHOULDN'T be boring and dull - which I disagree with entirely - and that IT should get more appreciation than it does, which is questionable at best. What's driving you to ask those questions, in that way?

Re:So... providing electricity is easy, IT is hard (1)

bill_mcgonigle (4333) | about 7 months ago | (#46962255)

I have never seen an electrical outage not related to a major disaster that kept everyone out of the building anyway

Oh, man, that must be nice. In the USA we have outages every few months as there's no redundancy on the grid.

and that IT should get more appreciation than it does, which is questionable at best

While it's silly to need such appreciation, humans do. Do they want to get accolates from the CEO? Just tell him that employees who feel very appreciated will work for up to 20% less. True story - it's fiscally irresponsible to allow any of your employees to feel unappreciated as they will demand more money and have lower productivity. And also it's not very kind, but if your CEO is a high-functioning psychopath, that doesn't carry much water.

Re:So... providing electricity is easy, IT is hard (2)

amosh (109566) | about 7 months ago | (#46962395)

Uh, I live in the USA, and I've worked in IT or other fields in three different major metro areas, and a dozen or so smaller areas. I've never - NEVER - seen this happen. I'm not saying it never happens, just that I've never seen it. Major, crippling IT outages happen all the time.

I even live in an area right now with a power provider to my home (Pepco) who is absolutely awful. Never seen an electrical outage take out an office I worked at.

Your second point is a good one, though one that's easily generalizable. EVERYONE should get more appreciation than they do. Janitors work a lot harder than I do, their work is worse and they get paid a fraction of what I get paid. But boy do I bitch if I come into an office that looks filthy. (Although, to be fair, I do go out of my way to say thank you.) So, yes, it's true, IT should be more appreciated. So should everyone else.

And - if we're being honest - then we should ask ourselves if, in general, we deliver a product that's so good that we deserve commendation for it. In my experience, this is rarely the case. In the industry - IE, when talking to other IT people - we know the difference between a good shop and a bad shop. But for someone on the outside, 99% of IT shops provide a bad user experience. We're ALL bad shops. So yes, it might be better to pat the plumber on the head - but honestly, if I'm the CEO, I really just don't have time to salve the feelings of a whiny plumber.

Re:So... providing electricity is easy, IT is hard (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46962671)

Electricity is, outside of the actual generating plants, just wires. It's not often that a piece of conducting metal... stops conducting. And when it does, it's probably because it's physically broken somewhere.

IT, on the other hand, is completely different. Yes, you have your servers (aka 'generating plants'). But the users each have a computer, too. And there are literally hundreds, even thousands of programs, and DLLs, and add-ons, and drivers and such that both the server and the client are running. ANY of those can cause a problem. ANY router between the two can cause a problem.

tl;dr- IT is NOTHING like electricity. The analogy is invalid.

Re:So... providing electricity is easy, IT is hard (1)

amosh (109566) | about 7 months ago | (#46962695)

I really, really, really hope you're just joking/trolling. Because if not, I think "electricity is just wires" is my next "the internet is a series of tubes". :-)

Re:So... providing electricity is easy, IT is hard (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46962809)

And there are literally hundreds, even thousands of programs, and DLLs

Well, only if you use Windows. Or OS/2, right? I so hated those years of OS/2 related network outages...!

Re:So... providing electricity is easy, IT is hard (2, Interesting)

BaronM (122102) | about 7 months ago | (#46962285)

Nice to see someone who gets it. I've been in the IT infrastructure business for many years now, and I think that plumbing, electrical, or another skilled trade is exactly the right analogy.

That said, the answer to the question that I've found is that the compelling story you tell about infrastructure is all about the future. Specifically, how you plan to evolve that infrastructure to support the changing IT environment and needs of the business while staying within reasonable and predictable budgets. 'Predictable' can not be overemphasized.

At any time, you should be able to tell the business managers what your infrastructure will look like in 1, 3, 5 years, what that will cost, what alternatives you have considered, and what the major risks are.

Re:So... providing electricity is easy, IT is hard (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46962287)

The problem is that if it runs without issue, then there is a tendency to assume that IT is just doing nothing, and the top brass will start cost-cutting by dropping headcount, outsourcing jobs, and so on.

Pennywise, pound foolish, but that is how a lot of companies work.

Re:So... providing electricity is easy, IT is hard (3, Insightful)

amosh (109566) | about 7 months ago | (#46962433)

This has never been my experience. This sounds like the kind of thing a lot of people SAY happens - but I've worked at enough places, in and out of the server room, that I question whether it actually DOES happen. Does IT need to justify its budget? OF COURSE. Everyone does. Every single department, every year. But in most places I've been, IT budgets go in one direction only - up. (And in the federal space, where I've been working recently, they go up hugely, for a terrible product.) And I've never been in a functional company where the people making the budget decisions don't recognize that infrastructure has value.

The best IT shops - the few and far between where things truly "run without issue" (and I've never been in such a place, though I was in one or two which were pretty close) are like that because management DOES recognize the need for the proper investment and support for these mission-critical systems. Frankly, I'd LOVE to see a counterexample. While we love the idea of the bastard systems engineer who keeps his systems running like clockwork despite being hated and despised... that's not the reality. If things are working well, it's because there's support at every level.

Again, your mileage may vary - and if you have been in a shop where this was in fact the case, I'd love to hear the actual story.

Re:So... providing electricity is easy, IT is hard (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46962401)

No, it's because management is likely to treat them as disposable and excess expenses that need to be cut. Being boring and dull is not necessarily cheap, it can be quite expensive, and to the average person, they don't care, even though they should realize that somebody has to care.

And no, the submission didn't indicate that providing electricity was easy. They indicated it was thankless when it worked normally, but only when bad things happen do people care.

So yeah, the question is actually premised on the opposite direction than you think, and the driving force is probably a thoughtless management that wants to be dazzled or it shuts off the money tap.

Re:So... providing electricity is easy, IT is hard (2)

amosh (109566) | about 7 months ago | (#46962445)

But the OP didn't suggest that the money tap was being shut off - just that they weren't getting their RDA of head-pats.

Re:So... providing electricity is easy, IT is hard (1)

afidel (530433) | about 7 months ago | (#46962781)

Think about it - in all the time you've worked in IT, how many times have you seen the electricity in a building just go out, without explanation? Now, how many times have you seen major server outages, costing more than a million dollars in lost productivity?

Uh, my infrastructure has a MUCH higher uptime percentage than the local grid, we've had to send home the entire main campus workforce 3 times in the last 2 years due to power issues, we've had to do that once in the last 8 years due to IT issues (SAN meltdown due to poorly designed switches).

Re:So... providing electricity is easy, IT is hard (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46962803)

Think about it - in all the time you've worked in IT, how many times have you seen the electricity in a building just go out, without explanation? Now, how many times have you seen major server outages, costing more than a million dollars in lost productivity? For me, I have never seen an electrical outage not related to a major disaster that kept everyone out of the building anyway. I have seen at least 5 outages that led to $1m or more in losses - and three of them were for stupid, easily preventible things. (Really? You upgraded both the primary and backup SAN at once, and killed the entire network for six hours when the patch turned out to not run properly?)

We have power go out at least three times a year, in our mid-atlantic US coast business park, and at least five times a year in our Boston location (happened just this morning in fact).

We average much less than one business-impacting server outage a year. Now that we've got our redundant virtualisation infrastructure humming, we expect that number to go down.

Does that make us heroes? Because our bosses don't seem to think so.

An origin story (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46962161)

... about how the DNS server grew up without its parents and went on to become a tycoon that dispenses vigilante justice at night.

damn right (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46962167)

Damn right they expect a functioning system. If it does not function, you failed. How are your expectations of your plumber, your HVAC guy, your electrician, your Doctor, your mechanic. All services that have considerable cost, they are professionals are are IT folks, be professional, live up to the expectation!

Emphasized money you saved or made for the company (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46962193)

Example: Systems installed or modified which will cut expenses and/or increase capacity for generating revenue.

It's best if you can express this in real $.

Otherwise, report in terms of how you are supporting management's current goals.

If you're just sitting there keeping systems running, then you should just be happy you're getting a paycheck.

.

ITT: Amateurs with daddy issues. (3, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46962203)

WHY WON'T YOU LOVE ME, CHIEF DADDY OFFICER?

Pay attention to meeeeeeeeeeee!!!!!!!!!!!111111eleven

Some sour lemons (2, Informative)

mwfischer (1919758) | about 7 months ago | (#46962211)

Don't listen to all these bitter pricks.

Execs know the job of IT is to maintain systems and to increase work-efficiency through collaborative technology.

Instead of being boring "yeah everything fine, piss off" announce internal initiatives and goals that even a commoner can understand. Talk about important milestones or stories of exceptional (and actual) personal achievement. If you track your hours, announce how many man-hours were placed into a particular project. Show me the numbers.

If you fall into that "we work hard" crying bullshit, fuck you. My cat works trying to get that god damn dot with no results. I want to see results that people OUTSIDE OF IT actually like. If you did something that took 5,000 hours and everything sucks and the users don't like it... why did you do it in the first place? That's when the inquisitions start.

Re:Some sour lemons (2)

bobstreo (1320787) | about 7 months ago | (#46962289)

Don't listen to all these bitter pricks.

Execs know the job of IT is to maintain systems and to increase work-efficiency through collaborative technology.

Instead of being boring "yeah everything fine, piss off" announce internal initiatives and goals that even a commoner can understand. Talk about important milestones or stories of exceptional (and actual) personal achievement. If you track your hours, announce how many man-hours were placed into a particular project. Show me the numbers.

If you fall into that "we work hard" crying bullshit, fuck you. My cat works trying to get that god damn dot with no results. I want to see results that people OUTSIDE OF IT actually like. If you did something that took 5,000 hours and everything sucks and the users don't like it... why did you do it in the first place? That's when the inquisitions start.

And include metrics like hours/money saved by efforts, improvements to the corporate bottom line. Metrics about improved efficiency. Metrics showing things like help desk calls by technology. THEN you make the pretty graphs. You could work on some initiatives like providing dashboarding for anything THEY think is of value so they can just look at nice green and red buttons on a single screen.

I'd also like to suggest examining the users that have submitted the most (non value) Help Desk tickets to see if you can have them killed, umm I mean downsized.

Re:Some sour lemons (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46962391)

metrics like hours/money saved by efforts, improvements to the corporate bottom line.

Down that road lies sorrow. IT is a cost factor. Nothing IT ever does directly saves money, because IT only enables others to work better/faster. If you use metrics that include the improved work of others, you're going to be perceived as stealing their glory. And that's if things go well. If, for example, the efficiency improvements enable more slacking and don't result in an actually measurable bottom line improvement, you've made your appreciation dependent on those slackers by using metrics which depend on their performance. Obviously don't even think about blaming them if that's the case.

How do you tell a compelling story (5, Funny)

sideslash (1865434) | about 7 months ago | (#46962215)

How do you tell a compelling story about IT infrastructure?

Once upon a time, there was a filing cabinet. This was no ordinary filing cabinet, for it sat beside a large server rack, and every day it gazed longingly at the shiny, blinking machines and wondered what it was like to be in the cloud storage business.

How's that, OK for a start?

Re:How do you tell a compelling story (2)

AthanasiusKircher (1333179) | about 7 months ago | (#46962355)

How do you tell a compelling story about IT infrastructure?

Once upon a time, there was a filing cabinet.

How about inspiration from last year's winners of the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest [bulwer-lytton.com] , such as this gem [bulwer-lytton.com] :

What the Highway Department's chief IT guy for the new computerized roadway hated most was listening to the 'smart' components complain about being mixed with asphalt instead of silicon and made into speed bumps instead of graceful vases, like the one today from chip J176: "I coulda had glass; I coulda been a container; I coulda been some bottle, instead of a bump, which is what I am."

Re:How do you tell a compelling story (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46962713)

Great, now can you explain to my boss why I'm laughing hysterically? I can't speak, laughing too hard.

Re:How do you tell a compelling story (1)

jonyen (2633919) | about 7 months ago | (#46962667)

Hmm, intriguing...please continue.

It's like ANY structure that needs maintenance (1)

AthanasiusKircher (1333179) | about 7 months ago | (#46962217)

I don't know how you tell compelling stories getting into actual details without jargon and descriptions that will probably cause management to shut down and stop listening. ("He's going on again about some electronics crap I've never heard of...")

But one can easily create analogies. Your infrastructure is like your house, for example. You need to maintain the shingles on your roof, paint the wooden siding on your house, caulk up the cracks when they appear. Occasionally, you get a rotten board and you replace it. You get a leaking roof and you patch it. Occasionally, you need to deploy more extreme measures when the rats get in or termites are in the walls -- but if you put out the bait traps first, you might avoid expensive repairs to begin with.

Is it possible to do nothing on your house for a little while and it will keep functioning? Sure. But the longer you go without painting the siding and patching the roof, the deeper the problems get as wind and water and mice and termites start eating away... and suddenly you're stuck taking out a home equity loan just to do repairs.

I don't know if this is the kind of "story" you're looking for, but you can probably come up with some sort of analogy using anything that requires regular maintenance to explain what you're doing. It may not be the kind of language you'd use in an official report, but if you're chatting with the management, it can at least get across the necessity of the kind of work needed in the background to keep stuff working.

To this "story," you can add the use of graphs and visuals. "Look at this trendline -- this is how much money we start to lose if we didn't do X, but we implemented a new policy, and now look at the savings!" Emphasize measures of "efficiency," and make comparisons to what would happen if you didn't pay attention to whatever routine things you do (with graphs illustrating the difference).

Visuals + compelling (though potentially inaccurate) analogies in plain language will generally get your point across to non-tech specialists.

What is the objective? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46962223)

Do you need their admiration in order to boost your confidence? Are the other kids mocking you? AFAICT you're meeting your objectives, and you perceive your job as dull, so you're not stressing about missing funds and stringing together inappropriate hardware to keep the system going for a couple more months. What is the problem, exactly? If you need an adventure, go bungee jumping.

Save them money... (1)

HaeMaker (221642) | about 7 months ago | (#46962233)

Churn the network, storage and server vendors to constantly reduce costs. Money talks.

Who Cares (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46962239)

No one cares.

You think you should get a medal for doing your job correctly?

This "everyone gets a trophy" generation is out of hand.

HEY EVERYONE, GIVE ME AN ACHIEVEMENT FOR PROPERLY FILLING OUT THE SLASHDOT CAPTCHA.

Change the Conversation (1)

Lonboder (3630313) | about 7 months ago | (#46962301)

Infrastructure is boring and complicated. It's like a bridge: it takes smart people, good engineers and science to build one, and then ten-thousand people a day drive across it and most never notice. To really appreciate it, you need to have a great deal of specialized knowledge.

Your management doesn't care. They care if the bridge falls down, but not if it stays up. So, change the conversation. I bet there's a ton of stuff you do that they -do- care about. Have you saved money? Have you delivered a new business intelligence metric? Have you made the office environment nicer to work in? Have you automated a process and saved some labor hours? Have you made sure all the higher-ups have the best new tech gadgets?

Your management cares about the core business operations. Learn from them what they think about, what's on their minds. Read the same trade journals they do. Learn the buzzwords. Then proactively think of IT solutions to business problems. If your IT department isn't cash-positive, think about how it could be.

If all you really do is infrastructure, you're boring and replaceable. Strategically locate yourself closer to the center of the business, get off the fringes, and participate. That's what will get you seen and appreciated.

You're fucked, and here's why (1)

DigiShaman (671371) | about 7 months ago | (#46962305)

If the IT Infrastructure is working, then why are you needed?
If the IT Infrastructure has problems, why are you not fixing them for what we are paying you?

Many companies despise the IT dept because it doesn't generate revenue. It's a parasitic requirement knowing they must sink money to maintain and keep up with the rest of the business world. Queue the worlds tiniest violins.

Re:You're fucked, and here's why (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46962405)

Queue the tiniest violins? Don't you mean cue?

Re:You're fucked, and here's why (1)

FatLittleMonkey (1341387) | about 7 months ago | (#46962643)

No, he means queue. Coz it's one damn thing after another.

The key for management is relevance. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46962311)

You did what we expected says a lot. But it will never get you the gold star. two things that will are 1. relevant comparisons to industry standards, competition (if known or possible) or to well known organizations; and 2. identifying specific activities that prevented particular issues in the news this month.

For instance: All systems and applications have been updated and retro-fitted to prevent any vulnerabilities to the Heart bleed bug.
Or
We have 98% uptime across our network with x number of computing man hours. This is greater than the industry standard of 96.5% and even better than X competitor who only had 94% according to industry insider news.

First-Responder's Award (1)

SethJohnson (112166) | about 7 months ago | (#46962331)

Give out an annual award to someone on the IT staff who jumped on more Severity 1 tickets than anyone else. When everyone else wanted to be in bed asleep, this person was the one who tirelessly answered the pager and ran into the burning buildings to rescue the crashed servers. The holder of the award is your best first-responder. Having this plaque on the wall reminds management of the crises that were resolved in heroic fashion.

Sure, there's no award for the person who prevented drama from happening in the first place. But that's kind of the way it goes with heroes.

The only thing is... (1)

pigiron (104729) | about 7 months ago | (#46962341)

to do it for less money.

Re:The only thing is... (1)

afidel (530433) | about 7 months ago | (#46962837)

Sure, compare the cost of what you host to what it would cost on Amazon/Azure, if you're doing things halfway competently it's not hard to beat those rates by a few hundred percent =)

Make it look/act like this (neat) D3.JS based info (1)

Greg L. Huddleston (3647953) | about 7 months ago | (#46962377)

Check out this Forbes web-article re: "The Way Americans Die" as (what I beliueve) is a fastastic way to convey (boring!) information in a web-based compelling way: @ http://www.bloomberg.com/datav... [bloomberg.com] If you view-source they are using D3.JS to do the charting (in a great way, I proclaim) Thats what guys like me 'do' if you need help in creating such a thing. I say this is how 'all' info will need to go to management, eventually (but inside a mobile-tablet app) over a secure connection will become the norm over time. Just my 2 cents. Cheers //GH

Re:Make it look/act like this (neat) D3.JS based i (1)

Greg L. Huddleston (3647953) | about 7 months ago | (#46962399)

sorry spell-check greg, spell check "what I believe") LOL

easy. (1)

nblender (741424) | about 7 months ago | (#46962389)

Months since someone made us your problem: 3
Months until our budget must go up 8.67%: 7
Months until somene makes us your problem if we don't get our budget increase: 8

Keep a running tally of crisis reported by others (1)

sandytaru (1158959) | about 7 months ago | (#46962473)

From Slashdot, or any other place where people complain about horrible incidents that should have been prevented, but weren't (e.g. lack of power backup plan takes local hospital offline for hours, or severe data breach costs local company their customer's trust.) Of these stories, keep a list of the ones YOU took the appropriate steps to prevent. Then tidy these numbers up into a graph that shows the total number of potential incidents versus your total number of actual incidents. The ratio should be good, if things are boring.

This puts it in concrete numbers that you're doing your homework and preventing the fires from even starting.

IT Infrastructure Measurements (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46962475)

The first step is to determine the purpose of the reporting: (why do they care?).
  - Educate: Help them understand what IT Infrastructure is and what they are getting for the money.
  - Persuade: Identify gaps or issues (under the covers) and secure support to improve.
  - Inform: Put the one negative event they see within context (1 change of 1000 fails), show progress over time
  - Update: Provide progress on key activities, or the status of measures which they care about (best if linked to other business or corporate measures)
  - Explain: Answer key questions like in house vs. partner vs. cloud, how much do we spend by business unit or by business platform

The second step is to provide information which supports the purpose, here are some samples:

a) Industry Baselines. Look at how you compare with your peer groups ($ spent, availability, density). This also ensures that your targets are appropriate and provides context. (for what they are paying, what are they getting and how does it compare to similar sized entities)

b) Measurements: Go beyond availability:
  - Service Delivery: What are the services you provide, how long do they take, and is that within the business' expectations
  - Incidents: Number (by severity), time spent, first call resolution, etc. Split out hot button areas (ex. customer incidents, security incidents, etc)
  - Defects: Speak to the value of patching (issue prevention). Highlight responsiveness to events (such as the recent heart bleed event)
  - Non-IT time: Such as resources seconded to projects (what is the actual amount of resources working on IT operational activities)
  - Training and Development: To ensure it is getting done (often lost in the effort to get better at the others)
  - Utilization: What's your density for virtual servers, how much capacity do you have available (disk space, network bandwidth) - both save surprises later when a small project requires a major infrastructure overhaul because you are at capacity
    - Degree of standardization and costs of deviation (often occurs as a result of vendor "special" requirements)
    - Cost Models - Charge back (to various internal divisions or user groups if you do it) or Show back (how much of your infrastructure costs - are tied back to a platform or service)

c) Risk Profile: Identify infrastructure health (currency / availability) in terms of risk (ex. Green is vendor supported now, under maintenance, etc. Yellow is off support in X months, has had recent incidents, or is generally showing cracks and we should be planning to fix it right now. Red is off support now, has risks which are difficult to solve, etc). This can justify time spent patching, reviewing event logs, etc. It's tough, but also look at measuring the proactive (how many issues were overted, how much downtime was avoided, etc). For example, if event X occurs then Y business system could be down for up to Z hours. (Ask them what that means from a business impact perspective in terms of lost revenue, operational costs, etc.). This is where business continuity / disaster recovery programs get buy-in.

Hope that helps.

Start with... (1)

sootman (158191) | about 7 months ago | (#46962483)

Start with, what is the hard work that you're doing, and why -- specifically -- are you doing it? Installing patches? Writing scripts? For what reason? And never just "because that's what we do" or "because that's just what you do to keep things good" Describe everything as "What we did" -> "Why we did it" with a specific goal for each action. "Installed Acrobat and Java patches to keep desktops secure against 4 new exploits found this week." "Wrote a script to deploy patches in an automated fashion to reduce the risk of errors during deployment that would lead to downtime." "Added 10 TB to the SAN to provide necessary amount of redundant storage to meet current needs." I mean, some of the stuff will never sound exciting, but if the reasons you're doing them are understandable, that should help. If you're lucky, some of the things will be exciting with a big payoff: "Wrote a new bookkeeping app to cut the time needed to process timecards by 50%."

In all honesty, it is like trying to describe what a utility does, or what any normal person would do in their day-to-day life. "Replaced carbon in filter to prevent people from getting sick from drinking water." "Put gas in tank so I would continue to be able to drive places." "Cleaned my room to make it easier to find things later when needed." Maybe not exciting, but if it's understandable, that's a start. For everything you do, there needs to be a result, and the result should either be a benefit, or a necessary action to maintain a certain level of functionality. Spell it out every time.

Yes, it'll sound to yourself like you're just finding 100 different ways to say "I did my job because it needed to be done", but if that's what you need to do, that's what you need to do. I have to do the same kind of BS for my yearly job-performance stuff -- setting goals and then assessing myself. It's painful because my job just boils down to "Do whatever my boss says needs to be done", but I have to phrase it like it was my magical idea to get data from one system into another. "Created and implemented a plan to move data from A to B so the accounting department could continue to function" -- ugh. But it's what they want to hear.

I hate to tell you (2)

nospam007 (722110) | about 7 months ago | (#46962499)

...but nobody ever reads those.

Car analogies! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46962505)

Lots of them...

Tie it back to the business (2)

TechMcZorTron (3647959) | about 7 months ago | (#46962511)

Having produced these for many years, the compelling story management wants is how your department impacts the overall business.

Tie your report back to the business because that's the only thing management cares about: people, time, costs, risks, major or significant projects / changes, future plans to improve the business or reduce costs and risks.

Develop metrics so that you can show how well you're doing on your current SLA's, downtime, hours / incident, etc. You can provide a graph week over week to show improvements. You can also show how user / customer incident volume goes up over time, and how much time you're spending on specific projects.

Specify new goals - "reduce SLA response by 5%", "build new system to mitigate this new risk you guys made"

Your in the drivers seat to show how you're doing the best for the overall business.

Give them the worst case scenario (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46962515)

Present them with some situations that you alleviated and what the consequences would have been if things hadn't been handled correctly.

Here's how you tell a compelling story. (4, Insightful)

hey! (33014) | about 7 months ago | (#46962521)

You talk about something the listener wants to hear. Things that interest them.

It's simple in principle but tough in practice because you need to know your audience. The only way to do that is to listen to them. What are *they* talking about? What are they trying to get the company to do? Use that to frame your story. So if it's trying to cut costs, tell them a story about how you successfully cut costs; or even better, how you *failed* to cut costs and but then later on figured out a better way. If they're pushing some management theory, show how you are putting it into practice, and how it's going to solve some long standing problem you've been struggling with.

There's not a "clear bright line" between effective communication and kissing ass. Superficially it looks much the same because both involve getting the audience to connect your story to something significant to them. The difference is in what you intend the audience to take away. If they come away knowing something about IT they didn't know before, that's solid communication.

Communication requires some shared frame of reference; a common model to which the symbols you are exchanging refers. I learned that on the first page of my data communications theory text, and it's true for human communications too. To communicate effectively with an audience you have to speak in their language. If you don't, everything you'll say just sounds just blibber-blabber to them, even if they're a *smart* audience.

That's another simple-sounding principle that's hard to put into practice. If you want to communicate unfamiliar information to someone, you have to bridge the gap and familiarize yourself with their mental landscape. Imagine a cosmetologist is tasked with explaining to you how to select and apply make-up. If she talked to you the way she'd talk to another cosmetics geek, you wouldn't learn anything. If she related it to something you already understood, like the OSI network stack or the 3SAT boolean satisfiability problem, you might learn something. But it would be a lot of work on her part; it's a lot easier to pretend you understand what she's talking about and hope you come away with something.

Management cares about the bottom line (3, Insightful)

Just Brew It! (636086) | about 7 months ago | (#46962589)

If you're primarily focused on meeting the letter of "service level agreements", IMO you've already entered what I'll call "metrics hell" -- a desolate realm where meeting some (more likely than not) ill-conceived measure of "performance" takes precedence over actually helping your users get their jobs done more efficiently. Closing helpdesk tickets within some predefined timeframe is meaningless in the grand scheme of things if you haven't actually solved the users' problems.

Ummm...how bout tell them what you did? (2)

MillerHighLife21 (876240) | about 7 months ago | (#46962623)

So...bear with me here:

- If your team worked their tails off to make sure things ran smoothly...tell them what you did to make it run smoothly and why it's helping.
- If your team kept the lights on and averted disaster in some way...tell them what your excellent monitoring facilities helped to detect in advance and exactly how you prevented the problem before it started
- If your team responded to tickets / infrastructure requests from development and helped other teams reach their goals...tell them how you did that

Is it so much of a stretch to not just say "Well, nothing died. You need not know why." and actually tell them WHY everything runs so well?

In company meetings and reports you aren't supposed to be humble. You're supposed to brag on yourself and your team because whoever is giving the report is the sole advocate for why your team is valuable. If you have somebody who is not doing that, then you need somebody else representing your team at these meetings.

"if the log roles over we will all be dead" (1)

spads (1095039) | about 7 months ago | (#46962645)

xx

You need someone with a liberal arts degree (1)

Larry_Dillon (20347) | about 7 months ago | (#46962655)

Engineers are great at math but you need someone who excels with language.

The only way to get noticed is cost... (1)

ruir (2709173) | about 7 months ago | (#46962723)

Start billing other departments. No seriously, track projects and maintenance tasks to a bare minimum so you are able to do some mock calculations how much you would cost if you were outsourced. That is the only language they understand.

If you can't dazzle them with brillance, (1)

RatherBeAnonymous (1812866) | about 7 months ago | (#46962757)

baffle them with bullshit.
            - W. C. Fields

Day 47 (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46962849)

Today was our 47th day of uninterrupted service without any unplanned maintenance. Our highest yet to celebrate this blessed occasion we are happy to announce the results of our tech games. We drew names from a bucket and pitted those. Involved in a controlled environment against penetration tests and various stagger failures. Bill sadly was the first to down when our Houston office was hit by a meteor and allowed his service to be interrupted. We have notified his family that he has been euthanized in his preferred method. This concludes our 47th day of faithfull service and hope that you accept our loss of Bill as tribute to inspire the rest of us about the cost of service interruption. Sincerely, Game Master

Focus On Your Customers (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46962853)

Assuming management will go for it, do a survey every quarter which identifies (from the customer perspective) the positives and negatives of the services that IT provides.

Take the results of the survey and identify the five areas in which you do well. Also Identify the five areas which you do most poorly. Define continuous process improvement (CPI) plans to address the areas you do poorly, and clearly document the areas in which you do well. Each month, provide a rolling update on the progress of the CPI and each quarter, after the new survey has been completed, report on your progress.

N.B.: This will only work well if you *actually* improve service from a customer perspective. However, if you do this correctly you will improve IT's standing in the organization, and give top management a rollicking good story each and every month.

Posting anon so as not to lose my mods on this thread.

Since upper management are usually Republicans... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46962899)

don't bother. Their kind is too stupid to understand what we do. More than likely, they'll revert back to their violent tendancies and lash back out at you. It is dangerous to attempt o engage their kind. Just cash your pay check and don't attempt to interact with them.

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