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What happens when people leave?

Dec 11, 20033 mins
Data Center

* The loss of human expert systems

The root cause of most downtime problems is typically not in the individual components that the IT staff supports. That would be too easy.  Rather, root causes of problems seem most often to lie somewhere in the complex interrelationship between hardware, software, and staff that a company now relies upon to provide the technical underpinning of its business processes. 

In an era when large companies increasingly rely on super applications – apps that rely on multiple (and often, distributed) other applications in order to do their work, this often creates a strategic dilemma for many organizations.  Unfortunately, this problem will far exceed staffing costs.

What is this problem? Simply this: companies rarely take steps to ensure that the intelligence of this system is actively and sufficiently secured for their corporate use over the long haul.  What will happen when key staff, with irreplaceable skill or knowledge sets, resigns, retires, or for any reason departs? At most companies today, the answer would be that their knowledge leaves the company with them.  When this happens and the experts’ expertise is not captured, the business-critical processes that those people maintained become extremely vulnerable.

I frequently refer to “human expert systems” when I make presentations.  My audiences often scratch their heads when they first hear this term, but most pick up on the meaning pretty quickly.  For even the slowest of them, the light dawns when they think of how movable (as in moving out of the company) the humanware at their site is.  Most don’t start to squirm though until they begin to consider that along with this mobility of personnel may go a mobility of the inner workings of their complex IT systems.

The key point here is that it is now high time for IT managers to go beyond the simple understanding that their staffs are an integral part of the overall IT system – I think even the slowest of us understand that at this point.  It is now time to realize that if key staffers’ knowledge isn’t captured somehow, any IT processes that involve inter-system complexities are likely in jeopardy.

If you are not prepared to think about this exposure in strategic terms, think about it in terms of operational expenses.  Training expenses for replacement personnel go well beyond the cost of courses, and are typically undercounted. This expense also includes, in addition to travel, lodging and classroom expenses, the concept of opportunity cost, which in this case refers to the hourly value (in support of either revenue generation or IT efficiency) that a company loses when the trainees are in a classroom and not on the IT floor.

Considering this, attendance at a two-day course costing $2,000 may have an actual cost to a company of 10 times that amount.

Look around your office.  If you are using Visio charts, whiteboards and spreadsheets to manage your systems, you likely have a very real problem looming on the horizon.  These items are fine in their place, but they are only descriptions of knowledge, and are not the knowledge itself.  This might be a fine time start thinking about automating your processes.  Unless, of course, you can count on the eternal loyalty and good health of your senior staffers.