Sunday, March 19, 2017

The traits of a “modern” IT Professional

work

I recent wrote a piece on

The modern way of collaborating with Microsoft Teams

which highlighted the change from traditional work with IT systems to the very different ‘modern’ world we see today. It is a world where the user controls the provisioning and access to information is no longer a linear affair. The article also highlighted a number of challenges for IT Pros and Admin when it came to working in this modern world. I thought that I'd take a moment and talk about the major changes that IT Pros and Admins need to make themselves to also successfully transition into this modern world as well.

Firstly, this modern world is all about software as I have talked about before here:

Software will eat the world

This means the focus for anyone, whether they are in IT or not, should be software. For traditional IT Pros,. this means a transition to the world of technologies such as PowerShell to manage and maintain systems. Software provides the ability to automate repetitive tasks and create consistent repeatable processes that just about anyone can run. However, IT Pros should not just stop when it comes to PowerShell, they should also be looking at services like Microsoft Flow and PowerApps to automate and connect data sources to make users lives easier. In short, you now need to know how to assemble software not hardware to solve business problems.

Another factor about living in the world of software is “trusting the algorithm”. Services like Delve and Yammer have underlying intelligence to surface what a user needs to see based on their activity. There is nothing to configure with these underlying services, software just makes it so. Understanding this process and being comfortable with it is a must as there is now far too much information, from too many sources, for a single individual to be able to process it all. Social networking algorithms prioritize what unique information is presented to users without the need for any configuration. IT Pros will need to get comfortable with services in which they can not adjust every feature and setting but they still need to understand how they operate at a high level. 

IT Pros must adapt to working in parallel, on different projects, consuming information from different sources not just traditional emails and other linear sources such as file shares. Yes, there is way too much information to be across everything all the time. This is why you need to be far more selective and only consume sources that provide you with the premier information you need. In many cases, apart from algorithms, these sources will be individuals within your social network who are staying abreast of the changes you also need to follow and distilling the abstract into the practical. Thus, follow the people rather than the information and let them lead to where the best information lies. You need to leverage the power of social across many sources and be pro-active in seeking out information rather than just waiting for it to hit your inbox.

You also need to get comfortable with the fact that users information is going to reside in many different inconsistent locations. This will include the traditional places like emails and network shares but today it will also mean in various SharePoint Teams Sites, OneDrive for Business, Yammer, Teams, Groups and more. Users can put information in a variety of places for a variety of reasons. Thanks to Office 365, this will all fall under a single compliance umbrella making management easier. It no longer means files are on a single network share where they once used to be tightly controlled by IT Pros. There is no longer a need to macro manage each individual information repository. IT Pros have to be comfortable with the user being responsible and desiring that now. IT Pros need to manage the next level up, the Site Collection in SharePoint, the complete Service like Yammer, etc. and Office 365 overall.

One of the reasons users implemented Shadow IT is because IT Pros where too rigid and restrictive in the way they managed and allocated technology resources. In the end, these resources are for users to get their work done. If users hit a road block they simply find a tool on the web and work around the impediment. IT Pros have to get back to serving their users, enabling the tools that they need and giving them guidance on how and why the services should be used. They need to change their role to being an enabler of technology. As I have said before, IT Pros need to

Stop making their users feel stupid

, understand and accept how users want to get their jobs done today.

Being an enabler means keeping things simple and adding value. This means an IT Pro can no longer simply 'resell' a product by merely adding margin and passing it along. That is simply being an overhead. The requirement is to move from being a 'reseller' to a 'consultant' who helps users get their work better thereby making the overall business more profitable.

Many users are yet to fully comprehend the features and benefits of all the services like Office 365 and Azure. It is therefore important for IT Pros to help the users enable the systems as they become more comfortable and educated on how they can help them perform their jobs. This means understanding the technology that users have access to and what is available as add ons. If you believe the end of the opportunity with a customer is email migrations to Office 365, then you are missing out on the huge revenue opportunity of implementing services that comes with products like CRM, Project Online, Intune and Microsoft Mobility and Security that extend the base functionality of Office 365.

All of these above things are important to help IT Pros make the transition into the modern era of support, however by far, the most important in my mind is the discipline of deliberate practice.

"The key to pursuing excellence is to embrace an organic, long-term learning process, and not live in a shell of static, safe mediocrity" - Josh Waitzkin

Many IT Pros have failed to keep their IT knowledge current, to the point where most users know far more about the systems they use than resellers. This is because that IT Pros have not carved themselves out regular time to study, learn, update  and use the latest in technology. It isn't hard to do, but the secret is to make it a deliberate practice, not something that you say you'll get around to and never actually do! Remember, doing random things only leads to random results.

I am amazed at how many resellers for example don’t use a tool like OneNote! I live in my OneNote every day and in there is all my training resources. It lists the things I've done as well the things I have scheduled myself to learn. The great thing about using OneNote is that it will sync information across all your devices seamlessly so you can keep learning anywhere. Most important, however, is that since you know how to use OneNote yourself you can then sell that expertise to customers to help solve their business challenges. Here a good example of what I implement initially for customers to get the using OneNote for themselves:

One of the ways I use OneNote

You can’t sell the stuff unless you use the stuff.

Thanks to the Internet there is a wealth of free information available to IT Pros to learn at their leisure. Places such as Microsoft Virtual Academy, recorded Ignite sessions on YouTube, Technet libraries are all available for free, just to mention a few. There is simply no excuse when it comes to availing yourself of the information and developing your knowledge. Every Microsoft partner receives a bounty of free resources from Microsoft. Most get access to all the products they are selling to their customers for free, such as Office 365. How many actually take full advantage of that?  Not just the basics but the full suite of services Office 365 provides?

There is also the opportunity to interact with product specialists directly via social media and the Microsoft Tech Community to mention just two, that doesn't even cover other online communities such as LinkedIn, Experts Exchange and more. Relevant information is now delivered freely by social means in parallel from a variety of sources.

There are lots of changes IT Pros need to make to remain relevant in the modern world but these are the most important I believe. In summary they are:

  • Embrace software
  • Embrace adhoc and parallel access methods
  • Become more user focused
  • Practice and learn deliberately

There has never been more opportunity and need for skilled IT Pros into today’s technology environment. Doing things the same way and expecting different results simply doesn't make sense. So do today what others won’t so tomorrow you can do what others can't. That is your key to future success in this industry.