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Broaden the Scope of Resiliency Planning to Include Training and Skills Development

Resiliency Planning


In pursuit of efficiency, progress and automation—in both the workplace and home—we’re building increasingly complex digital networks, software and methods. This infrastructure requires significant training and skill to maintain.

Our economic progress and quality of life has never before required the capture and transfer of so much knowledge from one worker to another. Smoothly passing our remarkable systems on to the next generation of IT workers is arguably the biggest challenge facing companies today. However, our ability to create and deploy new technology regularly outpaces our investment in the far less exciting task of documenting the steps that those who follow us will need to take to maintain, enhance and modernize what we’ve created.

Capture Institutional Knowledge

IT professionals change jobs more frequently than other skilled workers (bit.ly/2pfQdsc). Employee turnover typically rises during periods of economic growth, which is also when companies are more likely to invest in new technology. Most new technology must interface with existing systems that were developed years ago. The people who understand how that can safely be done are increasingly difficult to find. If they still exist in your enterprise, you need to capture their knowledge now.

Resiliency is a trending topic online. Dozens of vendors are ready to provide you with solutions for disaster recovery, cloud computing, backup, encryption, security and hardened facilities. Far fewer people engage in “turnover preparedness” (i.e., cross-training staff members and capturing expert knowledge), which is a critical aspect of resiliency.

Our company regularly gets calls from new IT managers who have recently taken over environments where very few notes exist about the software applications in use, scheduled jobs, automated processes or business users (who expect everything to work). Depending on the temperament of the new manager and the company budget, the tendency is to either assume the legacy environment should be replaced or hope nothing critical fails before the manager becomes familiar with their inheritance. Both approaches are costly, risky and time consuming.

A Universal Problem

If you spend most of your time talking with IBM i clients and the business partners who earn their living serving the IBM Power Systems* community, you might think an aging workforce and skills shortage is unique to our market. But companies across the globe, in every industry, are expressing concern about a shortage of skilled workers. Talk with non-IT managers of companies in the skilled trades, public utilities and manufacturing sectors. You’ll hear about the vanishing expertise required to maintain their legacy systems, interface old and new technology, and minimize service disruptions. They sound exactly like CIOs and IT directors.

IT professionals are very good at storing data that can be put in a database. We’re not nearly as good at capturing and communicating detailed explanations of how things work and what business or technical considerations caused us to design something in an unintuitive manner that no newcomer would understand. Nonetheless, we can’t afford the business and personal disruption we’ll experience if we put the next wave of technology workers in the position of having to function like archeologists sifting through our infrastructure in search of lost knowledge.

Addressing the Skills Shortage

When you face a skill shortage, you have a few options. You can raise compensation in the hope you will attract more skilled people, expand job training opportunities to develop your workforce or deploy new technologies that automate and simplify processes so that you no longer need as many workers with those hard-to-find skills. Historically, the most successful companies take this last path.

Today, that path is uneven due to the layers of interdependency and technology in our infrastructure. As a result, automating the most costly and difficult tasks of today and tomorrow requires an unprecedented commitment to documentation and knowledge transfer.

Many of us turn to instructional videos on the web when we need help with household projects. Don’t ignore the potential of video to help you capture and share intricate technical details about your infrastructure. You don’t need more than a modest budget to produce valuable video documentation. If you have experts within a year of retirement, now is the time to capture their knowledge.

In some workplaces, senior staff members may resist sharing their knowledge. Recognize this roadblock and provide financial incentives to motivate experts to participate. There’s real value to the enterprise, and your compensation plan should reflect that value.

Video should supplement, not displace, more traditional forms of technical documentation. Think about your audience and the type of information you need to convey. New hires are probably going to retain more knowledge from watching an instructional video than from scrolling through a series of lengthy PDF files. I believe that their willingness to spend time reading written documentation will rise, however, if their education begins with videos that provide an overview of the topic and technical context.

Make a Plan

Think of your turnover preparedness plan as an extension of your resiliency plan. It should include a reasonably granular description of business processes and work flow, supported departments and users, software applications in use, software and hardware interfaces, databases, data movement, data storage practices, and your use of on premises and cloud services, etc.

The rate of change is virtually certain to increase as IT becomes available to more creative minds. Does anyone read about advances in artificial intelligence and the capabilities of IBM Watson* and think we’ll need to know, capture, and share less knowledge about our data to leverage that power? It’s time to take steps to ensure your resiliency plan includes a turnover preparedness plan—one that covers the information often only stored between a few pairs of ears.

Bill Langston is director of marketing for New Generation Software Inc., and a developer of iSeries BI software. He can be reached at Langston@ngsi.com.


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