IT infrastructure is not given enough importance in most organizations, although it provides the foundation for service support and delivery, as per IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL), known to provide industry-standard best practices for aligning IT services with business needs. According to Ben Booth, IT director of market research group Mori, IT infrastructure is the key to connectivity and security. All businesses tend to focus more on roles that are directly involved in revenue and profit generation such as business development, CEO, COO and pre-sales. There are other functions that provide vital, if indirect, support to revenue generation, and IT infrastructure is one of them. While IT infrastructure is generally an overlooked department, there are skills within this domain that organizations would do well to put more emphasis on because if harnessed well, these skills can potentially redefine how business is done. (To learn about companies' interview processes, see The Craziest Tech Interview Questions - And What They Might Mean.)

What Is IT Infrastructure?

IT infrastructure can be defined as a collection of physical and virtual resources that supports the IT environment in an organization. IT infrastructure provides ways to move data between locations such as storage devices and servers as well as client/server or external devices such as external hard drives or USB drives.

IT infrastructure can connect to its users in various ways. For example, it can be hosted in one or more data centers and connected to multiple users in different environments through access devices. IT infrastructure may also be hosted in the cloud and can adjust dynamically based on user requirements. IT infrastructure provides a suitable platform for all necessary IT applications and functions in an organization. It is also being redefined with the advent of the internet of things (IoT) as more devices are getting connected.

Why Infrastructure Skills Are Important

In a study, the IBM Institute for Business Value and Oxford Economics observed that seven out of 10 organizations believe IT infrastructure enables competitive advantage and optimizes business performance. When an organization is at the startup stage or is relatively small in size, it can afford to employ a basic IT infrastructure. Employees can have desktops or laptops, simple phones and a router for reliable internet connection. Delivering services and communication with employees, vendors and clients is typically accomplished through cloud applications that allow you to share files over the internet, such as Evernote, Dropbox and Google Apps for Business. However, as the company grows in size and operations, complexities increase and it can no longer rely on basic infrastructure or basic cloud services for communication and delivery. The main issues are growing size of operations and information security, and so are system interruptions due to inability of the existing system to manage loads.

Data shows that since 2012, attacks on smaller firms are up by 300 percent because of weak security policies and technology. So it is important that companies should proactively envision the issues and topics that might arise in the future and plan for upgrading their IT infrastructure. According to the IBM Institute for Business Value and Oxford Economics, “Less than 10 percent of companies report that their IT infrastructure is fully prepared to meet the demands of cloud, mobile, social and analytics.”

IT Infrastructure Skills – Often Overlooked

IT skills have not been given as much importance as they should by many organizations. Note that there are no fixed rules governing the setting of designations based on these skills. Companies can create separate designations for each skill or mandate a designation to perform multiple roles. In real-life situations, the latter happens more often.

Process Management

Process management entails planning and execution of all IT infrastructure and support-related processes. It also deals with alignment of processes to support the business goals of the organization.

In most companies, there is usually no dedicated process manager and the IT support processes are generally planned by the business roles and executed by the IT support staff. However, dedicated process management skills can greatly benefit an organization by improving efficiency.

Problem Management

Problem management is all about having a deep knowledge of issue life cycles as well as fixing issues and planning to prevent their recurrence.

Many organizations confuse this skill with that of standard troubleshooting skills of regular IT support personnel. However, this is a rather inadequate assessment of problem management skills. Unlike IT support, whose main concern is troubleshooting, problem management requires deep issue life cycle knowledge, gathering data about such issues, and workarounds and plans for the prevention and troubleshooting of issues.

Organizations do not tend to have a specialized role that requires a high level of problem management skills, and instead make do with IT support personnel. However, general IT support personnel are often unable to accurately predict and prevent recurring issues, which impacts an organization’s budget and productivity.

Analytical Skills

In IT infrastructure, a lot of weight is given to personnel who are competent in computer networking, data organization and structures, and have hardware and software skills. However, one of the key skills that is quite often not emphasized is analytical skills.

In IT infrastructure management, it is imperative that analytical skills be given due weight, simply because it involves the ability to conceptualize and simplify or solve problems that are complex in nature.

Collaboration

Earlier collaboration was all about tools like desk phones, chat clients and video conferencing rooms. However, in the present age, this has moved to an all-new level.

Now, collaboration is concerned with meeting rooms that have full HD features, applications on smartphones that can mimic one’s office phone and provide chat applications, and shared project management tools that work seamlessly with other tools like calendar and mail. Having skills in collaboration management is extremely important these days in the “work from anywhere” culture that we have.

Mobile Device Management

The use of mobile devices, like smartphones, laptops and tablets in an enterprise work environment is seeing a gradual increase. Most enterprise applications too consist of smartphones or web apps that are used by employees. Companies that have adopted the BYOD methodology are also finding that vulnerability of their infrastructure is a key issue.

Mobile device management, in this respect, is an important skill to have, as many such vulnerabilities can be alleviated by specialists in this domain. (To learn more about mobile device management, see Mobile Device Management vs. Mobile Application Management: The Big Fight Continues.)

Corrective Actions

Organizations need to review how they view the aforementioned skills. While it is understandable that part of the organization’s attitude toward these skills is driven by budgetary and financial considerations, it is worthwhile to seriously assess the long-term benefits that these skills can bring to the organization. For example, fixing recurring issues impacts productivity, delivery quality and time. A plan to permanently address such issues can improve productivity, delivery quality and efficiency.

Conclusion

Budgetary and other financial considerations play an important role in not hiring people with the above specialized skills. Organizations also tend to empower existing, unqualified personnel to fulfill such specialized responsibilities. As a result, organizations face unnecessary financial, customer satisfaction and productivity issues. IT infrastructure is a support role, and it seems that because of its nature, it is taken for granted. Organizations react only when issues or escalations occur. Specialized skills should not be confused with other, general skills, and organizations need to think long term when they are drafting their IT policies. Investments in IT infrastructure can enable organizations achieve greater productivity and quality services.