Today I had the opportunity to listen to a discussion about cloud computing and virtualization of IT services: “The Future of Enterprise IT Architecture” with representatives from Cisco, VMware, and Barquin. Now most non-IT government workers, like myself, probably would think, “Why in the world would you subject yourself to something like that?” But fortunately I did because I now realize how critical these issues are to supporting the work we are trying to accomplish in government.
Many of us in local government are in a transition phase leading up to a point of significant change in the structure of our computer networks. In the early 1990s, when computers were first introduced to our workplaces, few were formally trained on document or email management. In many cases, the typewriter was switched out for a computer, a few short lessons were given on how to use the mouse and open a word processor and save files, and people went about their business. And many local governments did not have formal IT staff as we do today.
We have now become so used to the benefit of having information digitally stored that we are increasing our digitization of all paper documents while at the same time we are realizing it is getting more difficult to find specific documents or files. All those years of using computer systems with no formal direction or guidance are catching up with us. So non-IT staff are meeting to determine how they can save and share even more through the use of computers. And they are trying to decide how to better organize their files to find them in an easier and faster manner. We cannot continue to function without some formal information management system.
And while we are all meeting and storing and saving, somewhere in the closets of our organizations IT staff are toiling away trying to keep servers running and answering our demands for files and documents. Years of emails sent with attachments to multiple people who all ended up saving the same attachment somewhere on the network has decreased available space. People who could not find data in the current file structure made new folders where they could store the information and easily find it often duplicating files already stored. All this inefficiency in file management and increasing demands on the system cause IT staff to juggle the ever-decreasing space on the network just to keep it all going.
At budget time, IT will ask for more servers and often due to decreasing revenues and competing interests they will get denied. They go back to the closet wondering how in the world they will keep it all going, while non-IT go back to their meetings wondering how they can put even more information on the network. This is what today’s meeting caused me to realize – there is a disconnect between the IT and non-IT staff. IT is not conveying to non-IT the correlation between what they are asking for and how it can meet the needs of non-IT groups.
Of course, being an engineer, I try to relate it to my own field. It is the same as if a council person or mayor told public works to fix a road. If we responded by saying, sure, we will need a paving and grinding machine, 200 tons of asphalt, and about 10 laborers, they would quickly get frustrated. They do not need to know about the specifics of what we need to fix the road – they just want the road fixed and need to know how much it will cost. So at budget time we just submit a cost for fixing road X.
The IT disconnect is the same thing – we need to be able to store and manage files. If IT needs to buy servers or reconfigure the network to do this, we don’t need to hear all the details. We just need to know can it be done and how much will it cost. Use terms we can relate to. This is a change from the way many IT departments operate. Computer systems are like roads in that both form an infrastructure on which we rely. IT will experience more success in getting approvals for system upgrades if they can re-structure their budget requests and we can view them as more like a typical public works capital improvement program. Network upgrades can become capital improvement projects that are named to meet a specific need with all individual component costs included in one project cost.
So instead of asking for 4 new servers, routers, and other IT equipment, the line item is under IT capital improvement and reads “Document storage and management improvement project.” Everyone in the organization can understand this and can relate to how it will directly benefit them.
So as you can see, the cloud computing/virtualization discussion was actually more about how we can better operate our agencies and manage our information because these tools can provide the means by which we can accomplish this. An IT person must have come up with the title.