If I'm feeling lazy, my day will start around 8am with black coffee and a mailbox of backup and maintenance notifications. If I'm not feeling lazy, I'll slope in around 9am after being good and going to the gym, by which time the notifications will have been attended to by our lead support analyst, Mat Giles, who will also have changed the tapes in our LTO rack. Yes, tapes. Mercifully, we are in the process of moving to cloud backup as part of our transition to becoming fully-hosted with a managed service provider (which if you came to my talk at the Housing Technology 2018, you will have heard all about…).
Once we're both happy with the overnight tasks, Mat and I usually discuss any interesting Freshservice support tickets. Although this helpdesk application is ITIL-aligned, Coastal is a ‘systems thinking’ organisation, therefore we have a duty to look at the demand on our service through Vanguard's revealing spectacles, and this drives us to handle tickets in a specific way (if you want to hear more about this, please get in touch).
By now, the rest of the team will be in, and what a team it is. I feel very lucky to share my day with such dedicated and talented people (cringe-worthy but true). Amy Kelly works with Mat as a support analyst, Kathryn Banfield as an infrastructure analyst and Rhian Waygood as a business analyst, and joining her in the business analysts’ circle are Kevin Hedges and Pete Warren, and then Shane Griffiths works alongside us all as the head of IT; note the absence of hierarchical phrasing: we do genuinely work alongside one another.
Being a pretentious sort, I love to write aphorisms and when I coined ‘a team ascends to excellence through democratic influence’, I felt truly moved to think of our team and how we evidence democratic influence every day: listening to each other in gatherings, allowing everyone to suggest, to feedback, to question and to challenge in safety. It really works.
With my review of Freshservice over and until any tickets come my way, I'll chat with whoever might need a conversation before starting their day proper, and then move on to Asana, the application in which we manage and collaborate on all IT strategy projects and tasks, picking up on where I left things the day before.
Asana helps us achieve complete visibility of all aspects of strategic delivery, from current progress on known work, through to future potential evolutions and (how to phrase it?) diversions! It’s key for an IT team to have both oversight and evidence of existing workloads at their fingertips. Everything must be visible and reportable. We strive to pour as much data and thinking as we can into the application: pipeline work, knowledge sharing, live-meeting captures, conference blogging, professional development reflections, interesting technology articles and so on. Both Freshservice and Asana have transformed how we work, and how the business engages with us, especially as demand on our ‘ability to implement’ increases. More and more, we are seeing the potential for decisions on products to be made outside the IT team, often with a quick meeting and a credit card, only then for the real work of integration to fall to IT afterwards. By being transparent about our availability, we help the business achieve what matters in a realistic and timely manner.
If I haven't emailed or spoken to our MSP project manager yet, it's very likely I will have a question or update to provide by now. We have a conference call every Monday morning and while this sets us up nicely for the week's tasks, other things will often happen or priorities rotate, so keeping on top of fluctuating obstacles and objectives is both important and fun. By the time this article is in print, we should have migrated our Hyper-V server estate to VMware using Zerto and have a substantial number of staff using Horizon View on laptops full-time, which coincides nicely with Coastal's ambitious office re-design project, enabling staff to work anywhere while disruptive works are carried out.
Several coffees later (I'm trying to cut down, again), I'll dip into HipChat, an instant-messaging app implemented by Rhian. We try hard not to email each other, so IM allows us to waffle, gossip, ask and help without saturating Exchange. When we aren't having private conversations, we'll chat in specific shared rooms, keeping subjects tightly organised.
At this point, readers might be thinking ‘Why not use Teams or Skype?’. We don’t have Office 365 on our horizon just yet because it’s very attractive to us to look beyond the behemoths to help us achieve our objectives, and HipChat fits perfectly with that philosophy. Maybe it’s something to do with having Techhub on our doorstep; the prospect of working with start-ups and off-radar innovators to help realise Coastal-tailored aims, versus settling for generic, cookie-cutter platforms, has great appeal. I met with Techhub's manager for lunch recently and we discussed the importance of looking to blockchain as an enabler of trustless transactions and of individuals owning their own data – very exciting areas to consider.
By now it’ll be lunchtime and if I haven’t been pulled into or arranged a gathering myself in the morning (which is rare), I'll probably be in one at some point during the afternoon, so as I walk around Swansea city centre I'll be thinking in advance of what clever things I can say. Or if I don't go out, I'll hop onto one of the kitchen benches and browse LinkedIn or post poems to Twitter while munching on something unhealthy. If I have time, I’ll reread passages from the excellent and highly-recommended book ‘What Poetry Brings to Business’.
When I have time I arrange one-to-one meetings with colleagues across the business, especially those I either don't know very well or perform some esoteric housing role I should know more about. If I have one arranged, I’ll revisit my hoard of coaching materials and pick out an exercise or conversation strategy to explore in the session. It’s extremely important for IT people to have healthy interpersonal skills; being able to communicate, listen, process and perceive without being dependent on prompt closure, or unambiguous apprehension of a situation, can allow, in time, for a true unearthing of what is really going on. Simply having conversations, while being alert to what is happening beyond the exchange of words, helps develop that capability.
I will most likely have had technical conversations with team members throughout the day, as I pull in their expertise and they pull in mine. Everyone has their own projects and it’s great to get involved a little in each. Kathryn, to pick one project for example, is busy deploying Aerohive wi-fi across our schemes and drop-ins; Mat and Amy are busy deploying 2FA-protected VDI desktops across a range of mobile devices while simultaneously managing Freshservice; Rhian is busy implementing PanConnect and maintaining QlikView, and has recently completed another phenomenally successful rent increases/year-end procedure; Kevin is busy embedding systems thinking; Pete is busy interrogating and reporting on our data; and Shane is busy managing budgets, strategies, contracts and us. Being part of all this great work is brilliant.
Towards the end of the day, I'll re-read any important emails I've sent and updates I've made to any projects, drink more coffee and think about what's happening tomorrow.
Mark Elias is the IT infrastructure manager at Coastal Housing.