Chris LaPoint

Commentary

Training on the go: How to keep up with a changing IT landscape

Like a photographer trying to capture the last vestige of light over the Sierras, federal IT managers are looking at a changing landscape. Their world is being heavily influenced by outside forces that they’re not used to and do not understand.

That’s because the federal IT landscape is in a seemingly unending state of flux.  Data center consolidation has become commonplace, BYOD and regulatory compliance requirements continue to evolve and the integration of legacy and new technologies remains a challenge. In addition, the move toward virtualization and software-defined data centers (SDDCs) is stirring hurricane force winds within agencies.

On the surface, this creates more flexible operations. But look more closely at the photo and you’ll find some unsettling images beginning to take shape, including a widely dispersed and increasingly virtualized military that’s trying to manage networks while on the go, handle massive amounts of data, fulfill security requirements, and more. 

To get a handle on this increasing IT complexity, IT managers must take a panoramic view of their environment, step outside their comfort zones, and become educated through:

Tools training. Federal IT managers used to dealing with switches and routers still need to know their “bread and butter,” but they also need to expand their knowledge base. For example, as cloud-focused policies become commonplace within agencies, managers need to understand how the move toward the cloud may potentially impact the networks they have done so much to establish. Tools training must go beyond everyday tools, and delve into how these tools connect with other solutions in the network. If this does not happen, managers run the risk of becoming too myopic, and may fall even further behind. Vendor training can help, but may not effectively address all of the concerns of agencies’ networks, which are becoming increasingly heterogeneous. Therefore, managers should also depend on…   

On-the-job training. Training with military IT experts – who can be deeply ingrained in the intricacies of networks that employ a wide variety of solutions – can be incredibly valuable, particularly for new staff members. This can be an opportunity to shadow IT veterans and managers who may be responsible for different tools and possess unique skill sets. New managers can learn from these contacts, and gain a better understanding of how disparate solutions can effectively work together.

Self-training. A recent survey by my company, SolarWinds, indicated that 24.5 percent of public-sector professionals are learning about technologies on their own time. They’re visiting online forums, engaging in distance learning sessions, interacting with others in their fields, and perhaps even reading articles like this one. Many are focusing on technology areas that are not directly related to their current responsibilities but could be as time goes on. To encourage this, organizations can offer incentives and promote attendance at user group meetings and conferences where managers can learn about new technologies and how they can be used in their current networks. 

It should be noted that it’s not just the staff that needs to evolve, but federal IT hiring strategies as well. When looking to backfill roles or expand staff, managers must begin looking at different skill sets to complement those of the people they currently have. In the meantime, they may consider using software automation tools to bridge the gap during any training or ramp-up times.

Regardless of how organizations approach training in today’s virtualized military, the picture is clear: To deal with evolving requirements and technologies, federal IT managers and staff must expand their viewpoints to focus on tools and methodologies they may not be immediately familiar with.

About the Author

Chris LaPoint is vice president of product management at IT management software provider SolarWinds, based in Austin, Texas.

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