An Agile approach to Systems Administration: BizOps


By Martin Golder

Here at Simply Business, we like to step outside of the normal convention of the way we do things. We’re showing the world that insurance can be an industry to work enthusiastically for (honestly!). By working like a lean start-up we can work faster, more efficiently and more enjoyably.

SysAdmins and Agile

Nothing here echoes this mentality more than in the technology team, who back in 2010 switched from Waterfall to Agile. You can find more information on our amazing transformation here, but in this article I want to talk about a side of the technology team that hasn’t been previously covered with regards to the adoption of Agile – Systems Administrators and the behind-the-scenes work that goes into IT infrastructure and support.

Back when I first joined the company in 2008, it was that clichéd format: the IT team sitting in a corner of the office, surrounded by an invisible wall you dared not cross. If you needed help, you had to email through and hope someone would respond in a timely manner, or if you felt senior enough you would order someone come fix it immediately.

Fast forward to 2014 and the whole company has caught the Agile bug, from finance to analytics to marketing. IT now has a consistent presence throughout the company. We’re sat in amongst everybody, we operate a helpdesk which we regularly present findings on, and we keep track of stats of ‘hot tickets’ (more on that another time). We attend daily stand-ups where we communicate anything we’ve been up to and what we have coming up to the entire company. These topics might include systems to make IT more efficient for people, or perhaps a problem that has recently arisen as a priority.

The birth of BizOps

The goal of all of this has been to make our role as Systems Administrators more transparent. People are more liable to understand that we haven’t picked up a low priority helpdesk request straight away because we’re working on something fundamentally part of the bigger picture to help make everyone’s lives easier – for example, we could be working on a large project to migrate onto a new file server that will be faster and more reliable than the existing one, and this might take priority over less urgent requests, such as removal from a mailing list.

With this transparency also comes renewed co-operation between the business and IT. DevOps is a term used widely for this new emerging breed of SysAdmin that works closely with Developers in particular to collaboratively integrate new services and systems with all parties agreeing and working towards the same final end goal. But where do typical IT support and business infrastructure fit into this? The combination doesn’t quite fit into the current definitions, so we’ve re-purposed the term BizOps and defined it to mean collaboration between Business and IT Operations.

Values

Below, I’ve outlined what we define as our values towards a more collaborative and Agile approach to Systems Administration & IT support:

  • Satisfying our colleagues is our top priority
  • Working collaboratively with our colleagues from all areas of the business
  • Keeping everybody involved regularly updated
  • Delivering self-service solutions to empower the customer
  • Implementing automated solutions to streamline processes
  • Don’t build the machine, keep things simple
  • Having an attention to detail and progressively improving
  • Being approachable and favoring face-to-face over email
  • Regularly reflecting on how we can deliver a more effective service
  • Never being afraid to try something and welcoming change

This is the first in a line of articles sharing our story of how we approach IT here at Simply Business. We’ve got some topics in the pipeline but if there is anything in particular that you’d like to hear more about, let us know in the comments below!

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