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Server Room Skill Sets

If there was one term that captured what it takes to be a successful Server Room manager it is resiliency - the ability to anticipate, adapt and respond in ways that maintains or speeds up performance. There is a direct connection between resiliency and the ability of IT to support key business objectives.

In other words, the best managers don't give up. They look anywhere and everywhere to solve problems – vendors, customer support, their associates, the Internet, whatever it takes to resolve the issue.

When it comes to quantifying Server Room skill sets, there are numerous sources for advice. One expert is Celerity Works Mike Lisagor who is the author of The Enlightened Manager and organizer of the annual government Program Management Summit produced by the 1105 Government Information Group.

Perhaps the biggest challenge for IT leaders is to differentiate between technologists who can and can't transition into competent Server Room/Data Center managers.

In a recent conversation with 1105  Government Information Group Custom Media, Lisagor stressed the following: “Perhaps the biggest challenge for IT leaders is to differentiate between technologists who can and can't transition into competent business managers. The former will be a management nightmare while the latter can help an agency navigate the rapidly changing IT governance landscape with enlightened management.”

Seven Skills
Increasingly the management skills needed be an effective Server Room manager encompasses much more than technical knowledge according to Lisagor.

Successful managers at any level need intangible skills such as: treating people with respect; being honest as to project status; being a good listener; keeping in sight what the overall mission is and prioritizing technology implementation within budget and cultural realities.

Here is a summary of seven skill sets that will set you apart:

1. Be Stakeholder Savvy
Connect with stakeholders at all levels and departments within your organization including program managers, technical managers, contracting staff and senior executives. This will give you access to the organizational intelligence you will need when you must deploy resources to meet competing goals. Be an active participant and you will develop the business savvy you need to succeed.

Also be willing to work at any hour, IT often means the flexibility to work non-standard hours and be available 24/7.

2. Set Reasonable Expectations
Organizations are looking to IT to deliver solutions. Don't over promise and set expectations properly so that your management and users understand how much the solution will cost, how long it will take to deploy, and exactly what it can and can't do.

3. Be In Charge Of Your Budget
Be ready to discuss topics such as ROI and TCO with program and contracting staff. If you understand and can explain both the upfront and long-term costs of technology solutions, you'll be better able to guide your organization in making technology choices that will positively impact the business. Managing your budget involves looking not only at expenditures, but also at expected returns.

4. Be A Trusted Technology Advisor
Be a realist as to what current and new technologies can do and not do. Say “no” to technologies that won't fulfill the organization's missions - no matter how “cool” they are. Do this and you'll be seen as a credible source for technology advice and heighten your strategic value to the organization.

5. Get Credentials, Gain Practical Experience
Education and certifications such as MCSE, CCNA or CompTIA A+ matter.  So do security specific certifications. A mix of Linux and Windows server abilities is extremely desirable.

The talent pool is deep, so you need to be able to compete. In government, you can take advantage of reimbursement programs for training opportunities, but if you must invest in certifications on your own- do it and you'll quickly realize the return on this investment in your career.

Getting practical experience can be a “chicken and egg” dilemma. So, don't be afraid to get down in the trenches. Build a server from scratch, which requires researching component capabilities, analyzing price/performance data, choosing brand or vendor, dealing with power, cooling and other “green” factors, and troubleshooting problems.

6. Be Tactful and Patient
Hone the skills that allow you to navigate smoothly through your organization. Often you will need to explain technology to non-technical staff and talk about the pros and cons in language they can relate to. Being patient is an absolute must. It can make or break your career as issues and problems often take much longer to solve than anticipated.

7. Be Optimistic - Mix management and IT skills
Come to work each day with a positive attitude. This will take you far. As you move higher up in the organization, the emphasis moves toward a mix of IT, management and other skills.  Many of the issues faced have little to do with IT systems directly, such as power and cooling. If you want that senior management position you'll need knowledge - or at least an understanding - of areas outside of IT, such as facility management, engineering, and probably corporate politics and PR.

“The need for management to communicate with those around them has never been more pressing. The rapid growth of technology has increased work complexity and the need to coordinate with many individuals located in multiple places and organizational units,” Lisagor told 1105 Government Information Group Custom Media.

“Every manager can make a difference, and the more enlightened the manager is, the more enlightened the organization will be.”