Building Your Own IT Community

On the August 7 Virtualization Security podcast, we discussed how people in virtualization, security, compliance, data protection, storage, and networking—and everyone else in IT—should form their own organizational communities to improve overall communication and establish easy access to experts in those fields. This thought came out of a conversation I had with @jtroyer about whether or not IT should be a community instead of seeing its various components as silos. Even to this day, we are seeing more silos and fewer communities. The lines have just been drawn differently.

In some organizations, lines have been drawn between IT and IT Security, DevOps and Security, or even DevOps and IT. In each case, there is a growing need for team members to work together, as a community within an organization. Perhaps this is a good approach to getting involved: join an internal community and use the  communication tools needed to be a part of that community, whether it be Security, DevOps, Agile, IT, or any other silo. In general, the top-down approach is to dotted-line cross-function teams, so that the teams are together, but the chains of command stay the same. And this may work quite well for highly regulated industries; however, for others it may just be confusing, depending on why the dotted lines exist in the first place. And this does not build a community. Instead, it builds fiefdoms, with people not knowing how to get an answer if it is outside their team or expertise. They may even waste time looking for the answer.

On the other hand, if we build communities, ideas and responses move freely where they need to be. Questions can be asked quickly, and if there are answers, they can come through any of a number of communication paths. As we discussed, even lurkers within communities contribute, either by learning something new or perhaps contributing privately. This is not a bad thing, but a good thing. Everyone gets to participate to their comfort level.

However, communities of this nature are often formed bottom-up, with an eventual top-down directive to participate or use the tools that make the community valuable. In order for an IT community within an organization to work, three things must be present:

  • Need: There must be a need for team members to communicate with each other more quickly than usual. Email may be fast, but not everyone can look at it all the time. Not everyone is in the same office, either. Perhaps there is a need to foster communication across geographic locations. Or there may be a need to use communication tools to stay in touch because everyone is on the phone working with customers, or in meetings working on solutions. A need must exist.
  • Culture: There must be a culture of openness and communication. A culture of sharing. A culture can be created based on need, but generally one culture cannot be forced upon another. Nevertheless, such a culture should exist among the core people of the community.
  • Desire: There must be a desire to communicate using community-style tools. Humans are social animals, yet we often do not want to put ourselves out there. An IT community based on various communication tools allows us all a chance to participate. The desire to participate can be infectious and should be rewarded with vibrant communities.

If all three of these items are present, then it is possible to form a community. This community can use IRC, Yammer, IM, Skype, Twitter, message boards, etc., or a combination of these tools. The technology involved is not all that important. What is important is to start communicating within IT and beyond IT. An IT community fosters openness, communication, and the willingness to ask and answer questions.

I have participated in an IT community before. The need was there due to geographic dispersion of employees. A culture of sharing and working together already existed in my small team. The desire to communicate was also there. Once we started, other teams picked up our tools and joined the conversation and the community. This sort of grassroots approach became important to all of the teams, as it allowed them to speed up response time and get the job done faster and more efficiently.

That is quite a goal for an IT community: to foster communication to improve response time and efficiency, sharing our expertise as part of the discussion. Does your organization have an IT community?

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