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The value, not cost, of an IT employee

In this new age of IT, determining an admin's worth is less about specialized skills and more about being personable.

This article can also be found in the Premium Editorial Download: Modern Infrastructure: Internet of Things coming to an infrastructure near you:

The biggest challenges with modern data center technologies -- and the biggest expenses --are the people in IT.

We constantly worry about getting the most bang for our buck with server, storage and networking hardware. How much latency does that switch have? How many cores are in that server? But we never stop to consider if we're getting the most value from our staffs.

What makes an IT employee valuable? Traditionally, it was their extreme technical competence, their ability to quickly solve a technical problem or adeptly avoid it altogether. The focus is changing, the cloud removes a lot of the pieces that require specialized skills. Organizations are finding value in administrators who aren't as deeply technical but have more people skills.

Can IT professionals communicate well with others, both verbally and in writing? Do they work well on a team? Do they possess and demonstrate emotional intelligence? The answers are scary for traditional IT shops, because they are generally "no." Traditional IT employees have no practice in these areas, and existing IT management doesn't train them to become adept in people-centric processes and activities.

Newer generations of IT employees have these skills, partly because younger workers value them more and partly because human resources are explicitly looking for people with these skills.

What does this mean?

There is a tremendous value in training existing staff members in people skills. Organizations that want to be compatible with emerging technologies and practices will find a way to do this, and soon.

Organizations are devaluing their employees by not properly accounting for staff time. A private cloud vendor recently computed the exact break-even point in an Amazon Web Services bill, finding it cheaper to run its own, on-premises private cloud infrastructure -- around $7,000 per month. But as with many cost computations in IT, it ignored staff time.

Cloud infrastructure, like AWS, represents new ways of accomplishing tasks. You still need to be a sys  admin to some extent with AWS, but do you need to be a database admin when there is a database service you can subscribe to? Database administration is a specific, highly-technical skill. Imagine if you AWS bill is $50,000 per year higher because you use Amazon's database services; It's much better than losing $150,000 in staff time every year.

The same goes for developers. One thing I love about the DevOps movement is that it aims to maximize "time on target." For example, container technologies such as Docker minimize the work it takes for developers to make an application deployable. They also minimize the time operations staffers need to deploy and maintain an app. The developers can keep moving forward to achieve business goals without distractions.

Any IT cost analysis should include staff time as part of its computation. If it isn't a direct cost, it's an opportunity cost.

This was last published in December 2014

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"Newer generations of IT employees have these skills, partly because younger workers value them more." Forgive my lack of EQ, but I'm going to have to call BS on that one. Do you have anything to back up this highly generalized statement? It's not my experience at all, and I would wager money a survey would not back up this contention.
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My experience is that our IT department is very stereotypical. Most of the employees don't have great "people skills" or "soft skills". The managers in IT enjoy managing technology, but are not interested in managing people. There really is a night and day difference when I look at the management styles in IT, and the management styles of other departments in the company.
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