Cyber Security

Published on March 24th, 2015 | by admin

Information Technology Advisory Councils

Governmental bodies seem to be great at creating advisory councils. A particularly interesting one is the Information Technology Advisory Council (ITAC). Even the President of the United States has an ITAC, although technically it’s PITAC.  Many state governments have them too, as well as a large number of universities and colleges.

An ITAC brings together expertise and vested interests to determine which technologies to pursue and how they should be applied.  This is especially important when looking at long range projects that may span several technology advances.  Knowing and being able to predict the best path to follow can provide many strategic advantages.

But do ITACs make sense for companies that are already heavily vested in Information Technology (IT)?  If so, are they a best kept secret?  When looking at an educational institution, that has groups made up of students, facility and administration, it’s easy to see that having representatives from each of these groups on a council overseeing IT would be beneficial because each of the groups have their own vested interests to ensure that the technology meets their needs.

Most companies aren’t too different from their government/educational counterparts, especially large companies with individual departments working on separate projects.  Who makes sure that an Operating System (OS) upgrade won’t render an important application useless because that vendor hasn’t yet created a version of the app to work with the OS version the company wants to deploy?

A day in the life of a company without an ITAC may go something like this: IT management informs the company’s management that support for Microsoft Windows Server XXXX is ending in a few months, so the company needs to upgrade to the latest version of the OS. The planning is completed and IT management notifies all the departments of the upgrade as well as the upgrade schedule for each department.  At this point, the IT department learns of all the critical applications that can’t be run on the latest OS version or that no testing has been done to determine compatibility.

To most departments of companies that aren’t IT providers, computer systems are a tool to get their work done, and many managers of such departments could care less about why an upgrade needs to take place.  Their view is that the services they provide to customers are the primary reason the company exists and an OS upgrade shouldn’t interfere with that.  The view of IT by such managers is that IT is there to fix the computers and printers when they stop working.

But ITACs are a great way to have representation from all departments.  It’s also a great vehicle to bring in outside expertise for major IT projects.  Upgrade planning should begin with input from each department on which applications they run.  Their initial assignments would be to contact application vendors to determine any known issues or concerns with the planned upgrade.  With enough lead-time, many vendors can provide assistance or step-by-step procedures to safely complete the upgrade.  Sometimes, if a vendor hasn’t previously tested their products on the new platform, they may be willing to use samples of the data subsets to conduct testing with the new platform.

While the example above brings great value, the true value of an ITAC is in long range planning.  Having a venue where departments can share their pursuits of new product or service offerings at the earliest stages provides the opportunity to engage the IT department at the onset.  In many cases department leadership knows what they want to accomplish, but not what the best tools, hardware or support is to ensure a successful deployment.  Additionally, they usually don’t know what other department’s needs are and whether or not their needs align.  In many cases an application can be selected that can be used by numerous departments, spreading out the purchase costs as well as ongoing support.  If the IT department can standardize one application instead of two or three that provide similar results, the benefits go well beyond the initial cost.

IT departments have to provide support, as well as security upgrades, for all applications on their networks.  When they’re supporting four different computer aided design programs that provide the same solutions, IT support costs shoot upward.  And it’s not the IT department’s responsibility to dictate which program should be the standard.

By moving application purchase decisions, network capacity designs, and upgrade decisions to an ITAC where departments are properly represented, the percentage of acceptance across the company is greatly increased.  Departments not only feel like they have a say in IT management, but it provides a means of determining potential impact the changes might have on high priority deliverables that could be affected.

Knowing all company priorities and commitments, through the use of ITACs, provides the ability to properly plan upgrades and changes with the least amount of negative impact possible.  It’s another layer of visibility that can pay for itself very quickly.

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