I recently received a copy of DKR: A Royal Scrapbook as a gift. As you have probably figured out by now, I am a huge University of Texas fan and receiving a gift like this book is a special to me.
The book chronicles the life and coaching career of what I consider one of the greatest college football coaches of all time. It is a book I will certainly pick and read many many times. Darrell Royal was known for espousing words of wisdom and the book is full of his quotes. While the quotes were typically spoken in the context of football, many of them can be thought about in a much broader context.
During my first read through the book, I came across one particular quote that as soon as I read I knew it was the start of a blog entry.
“Climbing is a thrill. Maintaining is a bitch.”
The quote was said in the context of the thrill of building up a winning football program and the huge challenges that must be overcome to maintain that football program at a consistently high level. Recent football seasons have proven that to be the case – just look at the recent struggles of USC, Auburn and my beloved Longhorns. All three have gone from being National Champions during the past decade to having average or below average teams in the past couple of years.
However, when I read it I thought about the challenges faced everyday by IT organizations. On a frequent basis I read white papers about the percentage of an IT organization’s budget and resources that is spent on day-to-day operations versus spent on implementing new technology to improve and benefit the business. Many of these papers peg that breakdown at around 80% on “keeping the lights on” and 20% on moving the business forward. I recently heard the CIO at Dell proudly state that they run around the 70-30 mark.
When you see figures like 70-80% of IT resources being consumed on maintaining the existing environment, you can see how one could agree with the idea that “maintaining is a bitch.” I know I can relate to that idea.
Maintaining a complex IT environment is challenging. While many technologist want to ignore the existing and just focus on the thrill of rolling out the new technology, I think there is value in having staff that see the value in maintaining what is already installed. Especially when that staff takes the concept of maintaining to a different level of not just being content with the “as is” but instead look for ways to make the maintaining more efficient and more effective.
I have worked with many talented technology professionals that were consumed with just working on new stuff. They never wanted to spend time on maintaining what was built. It was build, build, build all the time. During my stint in the Big 4 Consulting world, the climbers were everywhere – me included. We were all about the thrill of the implementation.
However, as I moved out of the consulting world and into corporate IT, I started to appreciate the maintainers. This appreciation grew when the economy slowed down and then dipped, and then dipped again. While talented, many of the “I just want to work on new” employees in our IT organization were near the top of the list for staff reductions. Meanwhile the “maintainers with a twist of efficiency” types became the rock stars of IT. Even as business picks up, I still find these employees to be extremely valuable. In my eyes, employees that are finding ways to maintain the technology environment in more effective and efficient ways are not only brining stability to the business, they are also innovating. They are finding ways to reduce the cost of maintaining so that there is more capital available for pure innovation.
Now don’t get me wrong, businesses need technology climbers. The climbers take us to new heights through implementing bold new technology. However, once we reach those new heights, we need to the maintainers to keep as from tumbling back down the mountain.
Is maintaining IT a bitch? I think so. I am just happy that some people like dealing with the “bitch.”
Oh and one more thing: Hook’em Horns!!