Moving Up the Operations Management Ladder

A systems manager with four years of experience writes that hisinterests have shifted from hands-on technical work to managing thebusiness of IT operations. He'd rather be doing strategic IT planning,managing technical teams, budgeting, dealing with vendors and so forththan managing the computers themselves.

The reader (who we'll call Sam) has already enrolled in some MBA-levelcourses and wants to know what position he should pursue next to helphim toward his immediate goal of attaining a mid-level IT managementrole.

Sam has already done a good job of identifying the training andeducation he needs to make the transition to management. High-levelbusiness courses will help him to start looking at the big picture ofhow IT contributes to sustaining competitive advantage and enabling hiscompany to reach new markets, communicate more effectively withcustomers and operate more efficiently.

Concurrently, as he has also determined, Sam needs to seek a positionthat will provide him with on-the-job exposure to dealing with thesesame big-picture issues. With four years of IT experience behind him,and no place to go but up, he has a number of options. The only limitsto what he could do next are those imposed by the current state of theoverall job market. The present economic uncertainty - particularly thenumber of mass layoffs across the country - may impede his progress inthe near term.

That said, Sam's best bet for a transitional position from hands-onsystems manager to a more tactical and strategic management role is tostay within the operations arena, where he can leverage his priorexperience as he seeks new responsibilities. (Later, once he reaches hiscurrent goal of mid-level manager, he should consider branching out intoother areas of the IT organization, such as networking andinfrastructure or IT research and development. In the long term, anyonewanting to reach executive-level IT management will needcross-functional IT experience.)Within IT operations are a number of distinct functional areas, such asdisaster recovery planning and execution, capacity planning, storagemanagement, and more. Sam should choose one of these areas to pursue, asany one of them will fill in one more piece of the big picture,introduce him to new colleagues and potential mentors (key to movinginto management), and offer him new responsibilities and technicalchallenges.

Disaster Recovery

The disaster recovery team is responsible for developing IT contingencyplans that will restore systems functionality and business operations inthe event of a catastrophe.

Disaster recovery analysts, manager, and consultants must work withrepresentatives across all areas of an IT organization to determinecritical IT resources (including systems, applications and data) andformulate a plan for restoring them in the face of a catastrophic event.

Moving into this area would simultaneously put Sam in a high-visibilityposition and expose him to how other areas of IT function, put him incontact with the most mission-critical aspects of IT in his specificcompany, and offer him the opportunity to make an outstandingcontribution to the organization.

In that regard, moving into disaster recovery would be a solidtransitional step toward IT management.

Capacity Planning

While capacity planning is certainly critical to the long-range successof an IT organization, it requires technical know-how that Sam may ormay not have in his skills arsenal. Capacity planners must monitor andtrack systems performance statistics, and based on these forecast the ITresources (systems, networks, infrastructure, etc.) that will berequired in the future. So, capacity planners must be able to performstatistical analyses in addition to understanding forecasting andsystems performance issues.

If he has, or can acquire these skills, a stint in capacity planningwould also give Sam a different take on the big picture, exposing him tocritical long-range IT issues and the intersection of IT forecasting andbusiness planning. And because, like disaster recovery, it crosses allareas of the IT organization and the business, it's also a good area forfurther developing a network of colleagues and mentors.

Storage Management

Storage management has suddenly become so high profile that it'stempting to think of it as just another fly-by-night IT buzzword. But,don't give into that temptation. Storage management has long been acritical IT function, but since it's not very glamorous and hastypically been viewed as rather perfunctory, it hasn't traditionallyreceived a lot of buzz.

Data warehouses, ever-growing networks, and large and largerapplications have sent storage requirements soaring into themulti-terabyte range. Consequently, a number of new storage technologieshave emerged, such as SANs (Storage Area Networks), NLT (near-linetape), Fibre Channel technology (a communications technology thatconnects devices on a SAN) and more.

This might not be an area Sam would want to stay in for long, and itwould likely require him to get some technical training. But it could beuseful to his management quest because it ties directly into capacityplanning and disaster recovery, and also because system performance isonly as good as the input/output. And again, it offers yet anotherperspective on the big picture that will be essential to Sam'scontinuing rise.

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