An image for IT managers: Joggle all the way

juggling.jpgMichal Kapral can teach IT professionals a lot about multi-tasking, and he doesn’t even need a computer or a phone to do it.

By day, Kapral works in the Toronto office of Captivate Network, the firm that offers digital audio and video on small screens set in the corners of office elevators. In his spare time, he gets even busier: running marathons while throwing and catching small balls in the air. Last month, Kapral did Canada proud by reclaiming the Guinness World Record for joggling, or juggling while jogging. The image of Kapral in motion may be the best way to illustrate the workload IT managers face in the coming year.

The foundation of joggling is obviously knowing how to run. Without that, you’re just another clown. The metaphorical equivalent for IT managers is the network itself, which has to keep running at a consistent pace in order to deliver the services that users, customers and partners have come to expect. Joggling starts to look a lot more complicated, though, when you start throwing two or three things in the air, and so does the role of technology professionals who work more closely with their departmental counterparts.

Think of those three balls the joggler’s tossing as separate lines of business. One might be labelled “finance,” for example, another “HR” and a third “marketing.” IT departments have to spend some of their time on each of these, which you can think of as the brief moment one of the balls rests in the joggler’s palm. At all other times, those balls are in motion, supported by applications, infrastructure and services powered by IT and carried over those pumping legs of the network backbone.

The two balls in the air are not often at the exact same height, of course. Some are just a few feet in the air, where it would be easier to catch if it strayed too far out of orbit. At least one is probably at the joggler’s eye level or higher, where it is most exposed to danger. This is also true of business units who have to take technology and pursue their strategy. For a short while they’ll fight gravity, but eventually they’ll come crashing back down to depend on IT again. The way jogglers throw balls around is not a lot different from the way IT departments respond to peaks and valleys of demand from the business.

Most serious, for the joggler, though, is a stumble. This not only brings down the part of him (or her) that’s running. It also brings all three balls crashing to the ground, unless they are particularly adept at catching them in mid-fall. Business units are entirely dependent on the health of the network, which is why they may complain about help-desk response times without realizing there are bigger priorities being addressed by IT. On the other hand, there’s always a chance that a joggler will drop one or more of his balls, which also has an impact on everything else he’s doing. On his blog, Kapral answered this question directly.

“My typical drop rate these days in about one every 25K. That’s about one drop for every 18,000 catches,” he writes, adding that his 10-kilometre world record was drop-free. “I drop a lot in training because I’m usually doing tricks. One thing’s for sure: the more you think about not dropping, the more likely you are to drop a ball.”

I’m not sure if Kapral’s ratio translates into 99.999 per cent uptime, but it’s certainly not bad. When IT projects are still in prototype – or when the enterprise is doing tricks – some drops are going to happen. Once they’re in production, though, you have to stay more focused on great performance rather than the threat of failure. Kapral obviously loves joggling, which is why he’s turned out a winner. IT managers have to love what they’re doing even more, because there’s no clear finish line in sight.

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