The good news is that your company is firing on all cylinders. Growing revenue means the business is investing in additional staff, product development, sales and marketing, and, very likely, new hardware and software to support it all. But inevitably, rapid growth can strain various aspects of the business as they struggle to align with shifts in strategy, more aggressive goals, and new headcount. And sometimes these challenges give rise to risks and vulnerabilities that have crippling implications—even as the company’s growth and potential seem unassailable. Nowhere are such growing pains more strongly felt than within the IT department; and nowhere, perhaps, can the consequences be as dire.
During periods of fast-paced growth, IT is often overwhelmed by massive projects and/or technology implementations that support expanded product or service offerings, enable better customer service, and fuel worker productivity. But sweeping demands upon IT frequently means it falls behind on some of its more mundane—yet still vital—responsibilities relating to purchasing and supporting individual users’ needs.
How do you know when IT isn’t keeping pace with company growth? The biggest clue is that users start making their own technology decisions, effectively circumventing IT. Individuals and business units will do what it takes to move the business forward, and if IT response times are dragging or there’s a lack of established processes, they will go it alone. Especially now, with the availability of cloud-based products that seemingly require little-to-no expertise to implement, it’s never been easier to cut IT out of the process. After all, if IT doesn’t need to manage it, why should anybody care?
It’s easy for IT and executive leaders alike turn a blind eye to this state of affairs—that is, until the inevitable fall-out occurs. This usually takes one or more of three forms:
- Support issues. When employees implement software without (and sometimes even with) the involvement of IT, issues can arise on the target PCs, often relating to compatibility with other applications. For example, cloud-based applications frequently have plug-ins that cause problems and increase overhead on machines. We recently experienced this with an Outlook plug-in our sales team implemented to help with their workflow; on a number of machines, Outlook began running very slowly and, in some cases, crashed.
- License compliance issues. Any time software is purchased and/or installed without authorization, the potential for drifting out of compliance increases significantly. That’s because most companies have a centralized manner of storing, tracking, and accessing purchasing documents; if an audit were to take place, how would those responsible for licensing account for such “backdoor” purchases? Furthermore, the average employee is generally not well-versed in the licensing implications of more complicated installation scenarios. What happens from a licensing perspective when a business unit spins up a bunch of virtual machines with SQL installed? Anyone who can’t answer that question shouldn’t be doing it .
- Bandwidth issues. Especially with the rise of cloud-based solutions, more and more data is being passed across the network, often leading to unanticipated network congestion. One common culprit is cloud-based storage. Imagine a department wants to back up its data, but can’t (or doesn’t want to) wait for IT to add the request to its endless list of software packages to research, test, and implement. So the department begins backing up several terabytes of data to the cloud every day. This can have grave implications, including bandwidth and connectivity issues for users across the enterprise.
So what is the answer for IT departments struggling to keep up? The strongest piece of advice I can offer is for IT to get out in front of the business and proactively communicate. A key component of this means establishing processes and procedures for requesting, purchasing, and implementing software. Secondly, deployment of a software asset management tool that can inventory and reconcile installed applications with license counts can go a long way toward revealing if more copies are in use than are currently accounted for. Finally, it’s imperative that IT educates employees about the potential hazards related to purchasing and installing software outside documented procedures.
As with any other IT project, it takes time and effort to develop and implement processes that pay off in the long term. But investing a little time up front will go a long ways toward staving off the inevitable headaches and significant time spent cleaning up messes later—and will set the stage to effectively support growth well into the future.