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Since the onset of COVID-19, many articles have made reference to the Great Resignation. Employees across industries are changing jobs at a clip the world hasn’t seen since…well, ever, and IT is no exception. 

Most of the discussion has focused on how enterprises can do better to attract and retain talent, but The Great Resignation has major implications from an operations perspective that IT teams can’t afford to ignore.

More than the pandemic

The pandemic’s initial stay-at-home orders gave way to a much larger percentage of the technical population a view into what some have known all along: working from home has its benefits. Because these conditions have persisted for two years, it’s changed how companies recruit talent and where they recruit talent. 

Silicon Valley companies used to be locked in intense gladiatorial combat over a workforce in short supply, but the broadening of the proverbial battlefield to include almost anywhere with an internet connection has changed the talent acquisition game forever. Companies like Amazon, Google and Apple are no longer constrained to their major tech hubs. They are now vying for talent globally, meaning that brands without the technical cachet of the biggest players no longer have unfettered access to the talent pools in their zip codes. 

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This will lead to two phenomena: there will be turnover in well-tenured talent and companies will need to look to different talent pools to offset their losses. The first means that companies need to plan proactively for attrition. The second means that they need to quickly onboard less experienced talent without sacrificing the mission-critical services for which they are responsible. 

Single source of truth

Data center management systems sometimes use the term single source of truth. In tool speak, this refers to a system of record that is responsible for the configuration and other system data required to make the data center function. But given the reliance on manual operations and rote memorization of key commands, what if the single source of truth isn’t a management tool at all?

In far too many enterprises, the single source of truth is the architect or operations person. They have been at the company for more than a decade, and they know where all the IT bodies are buried. When there is a problem, others might begin troubleshooting, but inevitably, the process always results in an email to this technical leader. 

The skills that make them extremely valuable are the same ones that are extremely vulnerable. And while there are backup servers, backup storage and even backup data centers, how many companies actually have backup technical savants? The failure scenarios can be horrific. Worse? They can be long-lasting.

Codifying the talent

Mature operations based on platforms that codify institutional knowledge represent a sensible means to both upgrade the infrastructure and prepare contingency plans should they be needed. Enterprises should examine the IT tools landscape, specifically looking for:

  • Management platforms that serve as the single source of truth: Transitioning enterprise-critical infrastructure designs from heads to software removes a key single point of failure. This is about more than automating provisioning tasks; it’s about having those tasks documented centrally in such a way that the hard dependence on specific talent is reduced. Ultimately, the best use of this talent is focusing less on what is already in place and more on imagining what could be.
  • Reliability-enhancing solutions: While much of the past decade has been spent talking about speed, the real operational transformation championed by the major cloud properties was driven by a single-minded focus on reliability.  But of course, merely telling the data center what to do is not sufficient to guarantee that it is working as intended. Workflows need to be in place to quickly identify when and why things have gone wrong so that corrective actions can be deployed.
  • Day-2 Operations: IT infrastructure doesn’t typically resemble the set-it-and-forget-it mantra typical in some other disciplines, where change is measured in decades. Management systems need to have a heavy day-2 focus so that break-fix doesn’t feel so broken and unfixable.

The technical reasons to look for these things ought to be self-evident, but imagine fostering a work environment where time was spent on the hard problems that deserve solving. What could an IT team do if given the gift of time? How might they respond to using tooling to resolve the finger-pointing typical of most ‘mean time to innocence’ queries? 

How much more powerful would recruitment efforts be if the work environment was defined less by aging processes and manual tasks and more by a class of technology popularized in the cloud? The renaissance that is taking hold of IT operations is not only about doing things faster, and the advantages of cloud-like operations will certainly extend beyond the KPIs on the dashboards of most CIOs and VPs of Infrastructure.

Long-term impacts

The changes we’re seeing in worker sentiment and preference run deeper than the pandemic. While it is undoubtedly true that the pandemic forced a large-scale reevaluation of what is important, it is likely not true that a “return to normal” will mean that everything settles down as it was.

The expert systems teams have leveraged to streamline hybrid work and speed new hires to productivity will continue to change the way IT teams work long-term. This reliance on systems and tools should provide a common vernacular with which to manage the infrastructure, which should strengthen both the process and the culture. This represents an effective, forward-thinking means of retaining talent, long after the Great Resignation passes.

Contributed by Mike Bushong, vice president of data center product management at Juniper Networks.

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