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IT Infrastructure Provides the Foundation for IT Leadership

Even with the best people, processes and tools, you still need an IT infrastructure that works.

We've all heard of the "people, process and tools" approach to managing IT infrastructure. But even with the best people following flawless processes and using state-of-the-art tools, you can deliver poor results if the technology isn't well designed. After many years of managing infrastructure, I've developed four "operational triads" that consistently deliver better results. They encompass vision as well as strategy and are adaptable to short- and long-term business goals.

  1. Lead, organize and secure. Inspiring leaders create inspired employees. We must constantly work toward becoming better leaders. Recognizing leadership potential is a critical skill. I'm looking for the charisma and commitment that attracts top talent. Who you are is who you attract. We should provide the best possible service without undue red tape, which means working well as a team. When I saw the number of handoffs between our level-two support team and our desktop engineering team, I moved the support team under our engineering director. As a result, we've become more agile and responsive.

    We should also support security best practices throughout the infrastructure. Remote-access security, for example, typically affects teams in the network, directory services and desktop areas. So we have a separate security function to implement security best practices across all teams.

  2. Design, implement and operate. The design of our infrastructure accounts for more than 80% of our efficiency. Our engineering teams ensure that the design is sound before we implement any technologies in our operational environment. We must eliminate the good-enough-for-now thinking that justifies settling for less than 100% and never cut corners.

    We must implement our technologies and processes using best practices in the support of our infrastructure, such as with the IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL) methodology. We implemented ITIL's service desk, incident, problem and change management processes in about 10 weeks. But remember that migrating to new tools while retaining old, ineffective processes won't improve your service levels.

  3. Simplify, consolidate and automate. We must simplify for the sake of our users even when doing so is hard work. We need to find ways to provide technology services with fewer components. The convergence of data and voice services is a great example. We can leverage the investment in our data network to retire older telephony platforms, eliminating a technology and making better use of skills and training for network technologists. At Coldwater Creek, we're migrating to Cisco's Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) platform.

  4. Monitor, manage and report. If we don't monitor everything in the environment, we can't manage it. And we must manage the infrastructure through the services our customers expect. For example, we've implemented monitoring for our Web conversion rate so we're automatically notified if that rate drops below an acceptable level. Finally, we must report on the key metrics that demonstrate IT value to the company, such as our online shopping cart performance.

Above all, remember that IT leadership is a journey, not a destination. So a good map makes all the difference.

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