How Does Your Staff Spend its Time?

It looks the average IT staff spends more of their time cleaning up a crisis instead of preventing one. Our Datamation columnist looks at ways to fix that problem.
Posted February 5, 2004

Drew Robb

Drew Robb

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Where do IT staffers spend their time? Good question.

And there's a myriad of answers to that one question. And most of the answers point to the fact that a lot of time is spent cleaning up a crisis instead of preventing one or building the business. And upon evaluation, it seems that the answer to freeing up staff time is to present information and needs to them in a rational fashion before a crisis develops.

And that would be the hard part.

After years of ignoring Linux, Microsoft Corp. is taking it head on. For example, anyone reviewing Linux articles might have noticed recently that they often see accompanying Microsoft ads touting analyst studies showing that Windows Server has a lower Total Cost of Ownership than Linux. Although using Linux would result in lower expenses for hardware, software and downtime, some analysts projected that its higher staffing and IT staff training costs would make it 11 percent to 22 percent more expensive than Windows for most uses over a five-year period.

Without getting into the merits of that particular study, what it illustrates is that support far outweighs the initial cost of any technology.

For example, in file serving, IDC calculated that the Linux hardware/software cost would run $4,148 for 100 users, but the staffing and training was more than 20 times that amount -- $88,874. To cut IT expenses, therefore, the first action is find ways to improve staff efficiency, rather than shaving a few dollars off equipment leases. The other is to cut downtime, which accounted for 10 percent to more than 40 percent of the TCO on the servers in the study.

Let's take a look at counting IT hours.

Efficiency and downtime, of course, are closely related. Improving efficiency frees up time to spend on preventing downtime. And when staff aren't running around extinguishing downtime fires, they have more time for proactive system management, resulting in greater efficiency.

Consulting firm Infonetics Research, based in San Jose, Calif., conducts regular studies on how downtime affects the enterprise. Their Year 2000 report examined 85 companies with 1,000 or more employees and found an average cost of more than $32 million annually in lost revenue and productivity.

In last year's report, rather than going over the same ground as they had before, analysts looked in depth at six organizations in different industries to provide a more granular view of specific causes of outages and performance degradations.

''All areas of downtime are worth investigating, but based on the results of this research, it is likely that many companies could seriously improve their bottom line by investing in technologies that decrease the number and duration of service degradations, because they have a huge (and often hidden) impact on both revenue and productivity loss,'' analysts reported in the study.

But this leads back to the problem stated earlier. Even if you have the money needed to invest in such technologies, staff are too busy dealing with the crisis of the moment to install, learn, manage and use those tools.

''It is crucial for network managers to spend more of their management time on planning to reduce the time spent on [the other functions],'' the report states. ''This will help them to move out of the reactive fire-fighting mode and into a more proactive approach of managing their networks.''

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