The Plug-and-Play IT Department

As virtually everyone knows, Plug-and-Play technology such as USB (Universal Serial Bus) allows devices to be plugged in on-the-fly to almost any system and used immediately without downtime or a reboot. It will also generally download and install any drivers automatically, and will (for the most part) be compatible with any like platform. This naturally refers to hardware/software connections, but can the concept of Plug-and-Play be functionally applied to your IT Department? YES!

As much as I would like to take credit for the term “Plug-and-Play IT”, the honor goes entirely to my colleague GR. It came about during a global strategy meeting that I was leading. My direct reports, the IT Infrastructure Management Team and I were planning our approach on how we would go about salvaging the mediocre global infrastructure environment that I (and by default, they) had recently become responsible for. Earlier in the day, I had spent a lot of time talking (and talking and talking) about how I thought that the key to rebuilding the IT infrastructure for our company was consistency; defining our global standards and then setting and maintaining the same expectations at all of our locations worldwide on an ongoing basis. Local variances notwithstanding, through global consistency we would be able to achieve compatibility for all of the components of IT throughout the organization, including hardware, software, people, and processes. Through more discussion, we further explored the concept and ultimately envisioned an approach would allow us to have standardized functionality; any one piece of the Company’s infrastructure would work with any other piece in the world. “Like Plug-and-Play.” observed GR. Behold, a new term was coined.

Plug-and-Play is occasionally referred to by techies as Plug-and-Pray and in our case, we kept the faith. We pushed forward in a logical and determined way, implementing new standards while advertising (and actually adhering to) them. We let the IT staff in addition to all of the Company employees know what to expect from IT Infrastructure going forward. Putting these standards into place was naturally extremely challenging and there was plenty of resistance initially, but we soon gained support both inside and outside of IT, as everyone began to experience the gradual but increasing benefits of our new approach. Over an 18-month period, calls to the Helpdesk regarding desktops, laptops, connectivity and remote access decreased significantly. System functionality and reliability increased many-fold, which allowed users to focus on their job function rather than on IT. My visits to user sites went from me providing uncomfortable apologies about IT’s second-rate performance, to the Business Units embracing IT functions and looking to partner with us to leverage IT for further business enhancement. IT became a business enabler rather than an unreliable tool that inadvertently drained the Business Units’ productivity. Not only did IT reliability increase, but our IT staff gradually formed into more of a cohesive global team. They were all now working on the same IT platform, so they could now communicate with each other, seeking advice, help and support from each other. With such coherence and increased communications, the redundancy of solving the same problem independently in multiple locations became a thing of the past.

The Plug-and-Play IT concept was also well validated when we had a difficult time hiring and training staff at a critical new overseas site. To ensure that service levels were met, we sent staff from other locations to the new site. The moment the technician walked through the door, he/she already knew what was where, how the IP addressing worked, what the desktop standards were, how the login scripts were architected and what the proxy route was to the Internet. The methodology was virtually the same, so everything from downloading patches to reseating cables was a routine matter that could be predictably resolved and get the user back on track with minimal interruption.

Although there are limitless factors and variables, and it takes a significant effort to develop and implement an appropriate standard, the strategic Plug-and-Play IT approach is one of the few ways to ensure maximum reliability and minimal surprises.