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The Many Hats of Today’s IT Manager

15 Oct 2015 by Teresa Meek

With businesses shifting so much of their data to the cloud and outsourcing more of their IT, what’s left for today’s IT manager to do?

Plenty, actually.

If anything, today’s IT managers have more responsibilities than they did when everything was housed on company servers.

There are several reasons for this. Technology has gotten more complex, and requires more high-level decision-making. Workers are more tech-savvy and demanding when it comes to workplace technology. And technology is now so varied and changes so fast that no one can be expected to keep up with it all except — you guessed it — the IT manager.

There’s no denying the manager’s role has changed. Often, outside providers perform once-routine, in-house functions like system maintenance and security for enterprises and small businesses.

IT managers focus on strategy.

The IT manager’s role is now more strategic. He or she sits down with executives and other stakeholders to gain an overall sense of what the company wants to do, which goals are priorities and what its resources are.

Then the IT manager sketches out an overall IT solution. It may involve moving resources to the cloud, or deciding which to move and which to keep in-house in a hybrid IT model.

For anything that needs to be outsourced, somebody needs to choose a provider —somebody who speaks geek, is familiar with the technology landscape, and knows the company’s requirements and budget.

Any idea who that might be? Of course — it’s the IT manager.

IT managers go tech shopping.

This is another new role for the IT manager — technology shopper. Though it sounds like fun — and it can be — shopping for technology and choosing a provider requires a very different skill set from running it. Today’s IT managers have to learn to be well-informed negotiators and budgeters. They need to verify sales claims, compare costs and factor in their company’s needs, not just for today, but for years into the future as it scales up — or needs to slow down.

More than ever, the IT manager needs to keep abreast of technology trends, continually analyzing innovations and finding ways to apply them before a company’s competitors do.

“Shopping for new technology is one of my favorite parts of the job, but with so many options in the market we have to concentrate our search on the best technology to meet our business needs now and in the future without breaking the bank,” says Insight’s Steve Berenter, manager of end user computing. “It is a balancing act.

“Since the technology is ever evolving, we are always in a shopping mode,” Berenter says. “We have developed processes to evaluate and certify new tech as quickly as possible to get it in to production.”

Meet the team leader.

The IT manager also needs to develop, motivate and lead a team. Here managers play a mentor role, coaching team members to develop strengths and improve weaknesses, making sure they get tasks done on time without being overbearing. Few IT managers receive training in these soft skills, and IT is a field not known for its excessive sociability.

“One thing about IT is we are always busy,” says Berenter. “I try to inject humor into most situations — a little laughter can go a long way. 

“Our philosophy is to identify ‘educational opportunities’ where we can learn something new, teach something new or streamline our processes to make things run smoother,” Berenter says. “It is so important to take classes, meet other IT professionals, and get caught up on the latest technology in the field as well as work on the soft skills.”

Berenter also stresses the importance of continuing education. “We want to take the time out of our busy schedules for formal education,” he says. “Continuous learning and education is critical.”

Meet the company gadabout.

It is crucial for today’s IT manager not only to lead the IT team, but also to get out and mingle with employees throughout the company, and proactively learn about their goals and challenges.

From accounting and HR, to sales and marketing, there's no job function not interwoven with technology. Employees who feel stymied by rules they perceive as overly stringent will download their own “shadow IT” solutions behind the IT manager’s back. That can cause compatibility issues that slow or halt other programs.

“When it comes to troubleshooting, the best methodology I follow is to put myself in the teammate’s shoes who is experiencing issues and ask myself, ‘How would I want to be treated when I am having problems with my PC [Personal Computer]?’” says Nour Fawal, Insight’s senior service technician.

“If teammates are local, I will visit them at their desk and address the issue on-the-spot, face-to-face,” Fawal says. “If teammates are remote, there are several tools that allow us to interact remotely with them to ensure their issues are addressed in a timely manner.”

It’s best if IT stays in the loop, but that requires the IT manager to be responsive to employee needs, working compromises instead of insisting on programs that make completing tasks clunky and slow.

“After I find a solution for a troubled teammate, I share the issue or concern with my supervisor to ensure it can be addressed across the board,” Fawal says.

Meet the de facto BYOD manager.

IT managers today have accepted the reality of BYOD. However, it doesn’t make their job any easier. They have become de facto managers of company information scattered across a myriad of devices not under their control.

“Many companies are looking at BYOD solutions since there is potential cost savings, and it gives employees access to hardware they are very comfortable with,” Berenter says. “However, that does come with some security concerns in how to manage data on devices that are not company-owned.”

To avoid problems, they need to train employees on Internet security and the resulting perils if it isn’t observed.

“Companies need to evaluate BYOD to help fit in with company strategies and ensure data integrity,” Berenter says. “It may not always be the best option.”

An alternative to BYOD is CYOD (Choose Your Own Device). CYOD provides a good hybrid solution between BYOD and the traditional company-owned method. It allows businesses to meet the desires of today’s workforce while protecting data.

“The company still owns the assets but provides a greater variety of options to choose when it is time for a new computer,” Berenter says. “This model can alleviate some of the information security concerns of a BYOD environment.”

Regardless of the hardware model, data security is always a top priority. IT managers provide the tools and processes to secure company data as best as possible.

“However, the most important individual in the protection of company data is the employee,” says Berenter. “We each have the responsibility to keep our data secure by following company security policies and using our best judgement to avoid any accidental exposure.”

Meet the trainer.

Training employees means having great oral and written presentation skills — yet another new domain for the IT manager. Managers need to provide comprehensible, easy-to-follow instructions or they will soon lose their audience.

There’s a completely new bundle of skills today’s IT managers need to learn. But if they do — if they can interact successfully with workers and use technology to make their jobs easier — they will be the key to recruiting and retaining talent.

Read more to gain a greater understanding of emerging technologies and how they can impact your organization.