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Fielding IT management challenges: Supply chain edition

As IT operations teams grapple with global supply chain disruptions and a skills shortage, they must work with IT leadership to make some tough decisions.

While much of the focus regarding supply chain delays has been on larger capital IT purchases, such as servers and switches, IT ops teams have also felt the repercussions.

In reality, current IT supply chain issues have hit IT operations hard. Any delays related to equipment refreshes or other IT projects might have a significant effect on businesses. In addition, the ongoing skills shortage amplifies these IT management challenges.

Equipment delays

One of the first IT-related supply chain issues people might notice is delays in receiving common items, such as computer mice and keyboards.

Help desk or desktop services teams might be in charge of replacing those items, but if they can't get replacements, existing devices will have to stay in service. This is a help desk issue, primarily, but if end users experience a drop in system performance due to aging equipment, they are going to call IT ops instead. In general, end users often think involving more IT staff results in faster problem resolution.

This becomes a management headache as complaints merge. It also becomes a gray area for IT managers who don't want to point fingers and must protect IT staff, as staff is another limited resource. Complaints about an issue often far exceed issue severity. As management starts to see issues escalate, they must focus on the issue itself -- and how to solve it -- rather than the complaints.

If you can't get replacement hardware from your primary vendor, look somewhere else. For example, while it's uncommon for a company to bring in Dell if they are an HP shop -- or vice versa -- these are unique times; your vendor preference might have to change. The exception is servers, which require more endpoint management. But, for most other IT equipment, a change in vendors is feasible when needed.

Not everyone will be happy, but that doesn't mean you did something wrong, as long as you are open and communicate.

Another approach, instead of replacing the equipment, is to replace the parts -- but supply chain issues also apply to components such as memory, GPUs and solid-state drives. For a smaller company, upgrades could work; however, this approach can't scale to meet the needs of a large enterprise due to the labor it requires.

Making any change inside a company is a challenge for management, regardless of the reason. Not everyone will be happy, but that doesn't mean you did something wrong, as long as you are open and communicate. When discussing supply chain issues, people focus so much on physical inventory that they often forget the notable IT management challenge: controlling the message.


The other big challenge for IT ops and management teams is the labor shortage. Despite automation, IT runs on people. Staff must write automation scripts, troubleshoot and manage automation tools. When you add this work to IT admins' general duties, being down even one person can dramatically affect the services an organization provides. Supply chain issues and a skills shortage don't offer a free pass to provide less-than-ideal customer service.

You can't buy your way out of this problem, either. Even if you have the money to throw at it, the resources don't exist. These issues highlight what IT ops teams often experience and, unfortunately, management is finding out the hard way that it is more work than they had anticipated. Organizations must make tough choices and scale back services to customers as needed.

How to address these issues

It's doubtful IT ops can make cuts related to anything that will affect key system performance or customer-facing products. That said, there are ways to alleviate some of the pressure that supply chain issues and staffing challenges are putting on IT ops teams.

Phone calls into tech support will experience delays. If you've tried to call in for anything lately, you likely heard those familiar words: "Please excuse us, as we are having longer than normal hold times." IT management can stretch resources by making wait times slightly longer.

Another place to reduce the burden on IT ops is patches. Delays to any security measure or practice can potentially give bad actors more time to attack, but patching makes it possible to safely stretch out the process -- as long as it's not completely deprioritized.

IT ops and management must work together to decide what gets cut. No one likes to wait or not get what they want right away, but we must learn to work within the confines of those restrictions.

This takes time, patience and understanding. Clear and frequent communication is key. If something can't be done in a timely manner, communicate that. IT management and staff must be open and honest -- but concise -- with internal and external stakeholders about any delays and risks, as well as the effects of the decisions being made.

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