What proactive IT means, and how you can achieve it

Are you proactively, or reactively, managing your IT? The distinction is important. Proactive IT means you have control over the future direction of your IT, which can help you make technology a strategic tool for your customer. With reactive IT, you are simply dealing with issues when they come up and not able to do any planning.

To define a proactive IT team, it helps to understand what a reactive one looks like. In short, they don’t see problems coming, and only become aware of issues when they have a material effect. This can often leave the team scrambling for a fix.

A lack of planning leaves these IT departments disempowered. They leave themselves without time to make good decisions, and that can cost them dearly in money and downtime.

In IT, as in all things, a stitch in time saves nine. By managing their assets and processes, IT professionals can reduce the time they invest in operational tasks, and concentrate instead on tactical and strategic ones. Rather than firefighting and constantly fixing things, they can make decisions that affect the business more profoundly.

Becoming proactive

One critical step to becoming a proactive IT department is to target the low-hanging fruit first. Analyse which tasks staff spend most of their time on, and ask questions such as, “Are they always dealing with the same end user problems or system faults?”

A list of such problems then gives you a platform from which to develop automated solutions for dealing with them. This is where a technique like scripting comes into its own—especially when combined with remote management. A script that can solve a common endpoint registry issue or fix a recurring client database problem will save an IT department valuable time—along with employees’ sanity.

The smartest IT departments will move beyond simple scripting into workflow automation and IT service management (ITSM). Competent ITSM defines key IT services such as email account management and network bandwidth provisioning, it also documents the IT infrastructure underpinning them. A centralized management system can ensure their healthy operation, and warn of emerging problems.

All of these concepts qualify as automation solutions, and they’re gaining traction. In its 2017 State of IT survey, IT community Spiceworks found that after mobility and security, IT automation technology was the third most widely adopted tech trend—30% of IT pros used it, and another 19% planned to.

IT teams can also refine their processes to help prevent problems. For example, a mature asset management process will give an IT department valuable insights into service contracts that are approaching renewal, and equipment that is reaching end of life. Critical assets may need more responsive service contracts, or even onsite replacement options. An up-to-date and comprehensive asset database is a critical tool here.

Another critical process is change management. This involves planning system changes and executing them according to strict workflows, with proper checks and balances. It’s a vital process that even the big boys get wrong. When Amazon recently brought half the web to its knees, a “fat-fingered” admin typing erroneous commands was the root cause. That should never have happened.

The transition from reactive to proactive IT takes time and forethought, but the result is an environment free of cumbersome operational IT issues. Previously common problems won’t surface at all, because automation tools and well-defined processes prevent them.

Proactive IT isn’t just about good planning, though; it needs vision. After freeing yourself from operational issues, you’ll need the skills to engage. Your executives must be able to talk to business managers in their own language. You’ll be helping them to make strategic IT decisions that will positively affect business processes, or even create new ones. For a team used to tinkering around in the engine room, this may be the biggest challenge of all.

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