By Larry Dignan  |  Posted 2005-02-01 Print this article Print

With 'virtual' infrastructure, will it really be possible to automate your technology operations? And manage them remotely? Not yet. But plan on it.


Virtual People?

Niraj Patel, chief information officer of GMAC Commercial Mortgage, is the first to admit that automating technology can be a little disconcerting, even to technologists.

After all, if GMAC's network and data centers really run with minimum supervision, Patel may not be needed. You could hire a manager who's good at toggling the controls and put the rest on autopilot.

Fewer servers mean fewer people to manage them. Is a CIO really necessary?

"The crazy part about virtualization is that if we don't step up and do it to become more efficient and offer better service, we can be outsourced," Patel says. "Of course, as I'm doing this, I'm wondering if I'm driving this to be driven out."

Patel, however, sees no choice. If you don't add value and provide technology services cheaper than a services company, he says, you're going to be "ADP'ed," a reference to the firm that handles payroll for companies on an outsourced basis.

Is morale an issue? You bet, says Lenny Monsour, general manager of hosting and infrastructure at Inflow.

But Monsour says you have to train people to think like a business analyst to find value, and then use technology to increase revenue.

According to Patel, retraining a coder to become a project manager is critical. His staff is required to take management classes every year, and GMAC has partnered with Penn State University for ongoing training.

But there's not a lot in the academic world to teach an employee to think how virtual technology should work. So, Patel has had to improvise.

His method: "firehosing." It works like this. Say a project manager is used to managing five projects at a time. You assign him 15. "You just open up the faucet and push more work," Patel explains. "With that much work, you have to think of a different way to get it done."

The overload forces project managers to delegate work, automate manual tasks and revamp processes. "The downside is people do drown," Patel says. "But most step up in our culture."

Will technologists automate themselves out of the picture? Probably not, according to Monsour.

"You can find parallels to manufacturing," he says. "Manufacturing today still requires manual effort, but the skills are designing and then supervising the systems and becoming more scientific in getting new efficiencies. I.T. is the same way. The benefit will be in creative thinking."

Business Editor
Larry formerly served as the East Coast news editor and Finance Editor at CNET News.com. Prior to that, he was editor of Ziff Davis Inter@ctive Investor, which was, according to Barron's, a Top-10 financial site in the late 1990s. Larry has covered the technology and financial services industry since 1995, publishing articles in WallStreetWeek.com, Inter@ctive Week, The New York Times, and Financial Planning magazine. He's a graduate of the Columbia School of Journalism.

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