With summer upon us, many organisations are planning for holiday cover and IT departments are more stretched than ever. Unlike some areas of the business that may work 9 to 5, Monday to Friday; networks, application and storage just keep on running. Yet for many firms, the ability to attract and retain IT staff and especially security specialists means that there is often little available slack to take over the reins. A better, long term option is needed!
With senior IT specialists potentially away, one of the biggest issues is ensuring that the people taking over responsibilities have the right skill set, and that they understand escalation procedures in the event of a service impacting issue. Most organisations will have break-fix maintenance contracts in place in case of a hardware breakdown. However, many of the most difficult problems to overcome come from software, configuration changes or the patches issued to fix security vulnerabilities. A recent survey from EMC found that 49% of all unplanned downtime is down to software issues while the average business experienced more than three working days (25 hours) of unexpected downtime in the last 12 months.
Keeping it secure
Security is one of the most challenging risks. Although staff may need to take a break, cyber criminals are continually looking for new vulnerabilities to exploit; while software vendors are issuing patches to thwart them. In the event of an emergency patch being issued, the Heartbleed vulnerability of 2014 being a prime example, IT departments need to react quickly to patch affected systems before they are successfully exploited. One solution is to employ short term IT contractors. However, this is not always ideal as it requires time for these new hands to get up to speed on the systems and procedures of the organisation, and the cost is often prohibitive with day rates well in excess of £500 not unusual. Another option is to put junior staff in an acting senior role to cover any absence. With this approach comes the risk that if something untoward happens, they simply don’t have the skills to deal with the situation. Or in some cases, lack the authority to even enact the fix such as taking critical systems offline to apply a needed patch.
Even after the holiday season passes; the challenge still remains. Many organisations are moving to more flexible hours to satisfy the needs of teleworking staff and international business processes that span time zones. The end result is that even though the supposed ‘night shift’ may be less busy, the core competency of IT skill sets need to be readily available.
A better option
In response, some organisations with deep pockets and regulatory constraints, such as financial services, may well run to the expense of doubling up IT staffing levels with dedicated out-of-hours teams. However, for the vast majority of midmarket organisations, a more sensible approach is to use a managed service approach that can cost effectively take over the bulk of day-to-day time consuming tasks such as device and application monitoring. In addition, if there is a staffing shortage or incident; these managed services can be ramped up to meet short term requirements and then turned down to reduce expense. A good managed service will retain and make available the skilled staff that are needed on certain occasions, and economies of scale of the shared model means that you only need to pay a fraction of the 24/7 staffing that doing it in-house would incur. This approach can be particularly beneficial in overcoming the skills shortage in areas like IT security and networking by freeing up time and allowing in-house IT teams to focus on activities that add value to the business.
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