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Communicate your value to enhance your Windows IT career development

By Russell Olsen, Contributor

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A fundamental problem for IT professionals is that in almost any area of corporate IT the better they do their job, the more transparent they become in their organization. To put that into perspective regarding your own IT career development concerns, that scenario often results in comments like, "What does [insert your name here] do all day?"

If IT managers are not communicating appropriately to corporate management, every well-run IT department runs the risk of being thought of as a waste.

Clearly, causing more system interruptions is not the answer to showing the company why it needs you around. Here are a few suggestions that will allow you to convey the day-to-day value you bring:

  • Establish metrics

  • Build a resume

  • Communicate effectively

Establish metrics

Upper management often has difficulty understanding all of the complexities involved in keeping the IT engine running. Furthermore, they are often completely oblivious to the fact that you spent all night dealing with backup,

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Microsoft Exchange or Active Directory issues. The best way to demonstrate your value to the organization is to speak the same language as the business.

Business in general is very metric oriented. Are profits up? Did Q1 earnings meet projections? Are operations running at capacity? The best way to communicate your successes is to report them as a metric that can be quickly understood.

Here are a few sample metrics to get you started: server uptime by month, backup success rate, cycle time for deployment of new servers, and so on. Microsoft System Center Configuration Manager 2007 has several reports, like configuration compliance, that will put these metrics at your fingertips.

Established metrics will allow you to show improvement over time or will become a tool to discuss the need for new hardware or software.

I recommend monitoring your metrics and becoming intimately familiar with the details before presenting them to management. Once you are ready, prepare a simple message that is supported by your metrics – for example, by implementing X, server uptime has increased by 30%.

The fastest way to kill a success story is to describe it with so much complexity that no one really understands what you have done. Unfortunately, most IT successes are communicated with complexities that most business people will never understand.

Instead, think about sending a well-developed message supported by a graph to upper management.

Build a résumé

I had a boss who would periodically come into my office and ask, "What have you done for me lately?" While it was asked half jokingly, he really wanted to know what I had done. Being able to give a quick list of recent successes made all the difference. It is important to keep a list or résumé of the positive things you are doing to improve the organization. It should include past successes as well as future plans.

The following questions will help you start to build your list:

  • What were your five biggest accomplishments in the past six months?

  • What do you plan on accomplishing in the next six months?

  • What are three new technologies that would have a positive impact to your environment? For example, Microsoft System Center Configuration Manager can reduce the need to hire additional systems administrators and streamline software compliance.

  • How have you supported the business goals or mission of the company?

With those questions answered, you'll be ready to respond quickly to questions about the value you provide and will continue to provide to the business.

The questions are helpful, but just as important is the ability to track your responses and successes throughout the year. Most companies have annual performance review templates, but when it comes time to complete them you have either forgotten what you have done or you can't remember enough detail to justify putting it down. I recommend either emailing yourself accomplishments and storing them in an "attaboy" folder or using an Excel spreadsheet to track them throughout the year.

Continued education will also help build your résumé. Keeping updated with Windows Vista and Windows Server 2008 certifications will allow you to deliver value that is worth communicating to the business.

Communicate effectively

One of the biggest problems with IT professionals is their inability to effectively communicate with the business. All too often the business will question the need to fund or grow IT because it isn't fully aware of the value it provides.

Take a lesson from the marketing department and build your "brand" by appropriately communicating important information about your metrics and successes to your manager. Send it in a format that can be easily passed along – which your manager is very likely to do because it will make him or her look successful as well.

The communications should follow these guidelines:

  • Simple and to the point.

  • Easily understood by non-technical people. An email talking about GPO settings on the new server being applied through Active Directory isn't likely to do you any good.

  • Summarized with metrics. If you have recently completed an implementation of a new backup service, send an email to your manager or your customers showing that the backup success rate is at an all-time high after the upgrade. Tools like Microsoft System Center Configuration Manager help generate these dashboard reports. If you are a smaller organization that might not have a product like System Center, then use a simple Excel spreadsheet or even your event logs/backup software.

In addition, it is important to have frequent communication with your manager. When downsizing or organizational restructuring occurs, a history of frequent and open communication with your manager could be the difference between another paycheck or posting your résumé on a job website.

Russell Olsen is the CIO of a Healthcare Technology company and previously worked for a Big Four accounting firm performing technology risk assessments and Sarbanes-Oxley audits. Olsen is a CISA, GSNA, and MCP.


This was first published in June 2008

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