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Today's companies face fierce competition, reflecting depressing prices, increasing customer expectations and volatile financial markets. Globalization is leading to mergers and acquisitions in all industries; the digital economy is reshaping how companies compete in the future.
The primary focus of IT is shifting from backend efficiency and productivity improvements towards creating and establishing business value through strategic technology differentiation and process effectiveness. Because of this shift, several prominent come to surface when analyzing how IT has been applied to the business:
- Because of the lack of communication and coordination, a gap usually exists between the real value of a technology and how it should leverage the company towards having a competitive business advantage. It is quite rare to find companies that have teams that deal with IT strategies, projects and key decisions.
- It is not unusual to hear that an IT project has failed to meet expectations because of unrealistic expectations from top management and a lack of abilities, from MIS, to effectively match the information technology with key business opportunities. Information technology does not provide business value by itself; it has to be derived and applied in respect to business requirements.
It complicates the matter further when technology is rushed or applied by brute force -- it makes things even more complex, frustrating for end users and much more expensive to manage and maintain. Old and cumbersome processes combined with new technologies still end up as cumbersome processes, now complicated by the technology.
Strategic Team Planning
With the enabling technology changing at e-speed, it is now even more critical to have defined team planning because of its increasing impact on competitiveness and business results.
Companies should prepare team strategies and execute them in support of strategic enterprise-wide initiatives, taking advantage of business planning cycle and with full involvement and commitment of top management. The framework of such strategic team process needs to include vision, strategy and implementation action plans.
This activity helps in changing the traditional reactive IT work (which responds only to urgent organization demands) to a proactive focus, which strategically provides the blueprint for IT development and application as a basis for new business initiatives. Within this context, it is extremely important to align team efforts to IT strategies. And teams with the proper preparation are usually more eager to lead those projects then to those considered technical hurdles.
How do you know which employees will be good team members and which won't? Who will be people-oriented and who won't? Who will challenge authority and who won't? Every IT team includes different personalities. Here are some of the common personality types and attributes to be aware of:
- Diplomats: They like to make sure there is agreement with all. Nothing can really get started until every detail is agreed upon in advance. Unless there is agreement, they are not as likely to get started on a project. With a little extra mentorship and project planning skills, this type of team member can be shown that with proper planning, everything doesn't have to be agreed upon in advance to the last detail.
- Along for the ride: They are the ones who seem to be just waiting for retirement. They never speak up in meetings, and almost will never make any suggestions or take the lead in a project. These team members can take a considerable amount of a manger's time to motivate with no visible results. For these team members, they usually have something they are very attached to doing. If this is beneficial for the project, then get them more involved with extra training and recognition of their efforts in their interest area.
- Power players: They like to have things their own way and definitely have issues with authoritarian managers. They like to work, are workaholics and can be highly productive. Most of all, they want respect and recognition. Give them challenging work, be direct in communicating with them, but avoid talking to them about their failures and reward them appropriately.
- Team players: They usually have a strong sense of company loyalty and seek to make others happy. They are usually the first to volunteer for extra work and will readily admit to their mistakes and will suggest corrective action. They liked to be readily thanked and appreciated. Give team players serious problems to solve but let them be creative. Don't offend them, as they can sometimes become overly sensitive, irrational and unforgiving. Reinforcing their need for security earns their trust and respect.
When defining an Oracle team, proper planning is required and is very similar to methodology used when preparing a strategic business plan. When creating the team plan, a manager should include defined activities that cover these points:
- Define, maintain and refine a team plan.
- Outline and set defined team goals and targets that meet the business requirements.
- Define, deploy and maintain an operations plan.
- Define, deploy and track team performance indicators.
- Define a team process improvement strategy.
- Define and maintain a team recruitment, retainment and resourcing plan.
- Conduct plan reviews and process improvement audits.
Defining the team
Organizational structure for Oracle teams should follow the basic principles in preparing any high-performance organization: requirements, structure, tasks, decision hierarchy, people and reward.
As companies change from traditional command hierarchies to flattened, team-based management, managers are faced with increased complexity in their jobs. This complexity rises from two sources:
- Distributed open systems computing technologies quickly enable newly empowered employees to make enabled business decisions. These technologies require greater sophistication to manage distributed relational data, multidimensional data and object relational data with an assortment of tools from a multitude of vendors. To achieve this sophistication, managers must adopt techniques, tools and processes that keep a dynamic blueprint of where the data is coming from and going and how to manage and protect it.
- New distributed team-empowered organizations add complexity. Prior to distributed open systems computing environments, a database administrator (DBA) typical talked with a few technicians supporting a single operating system and a couple of programmers supporting the transaction processing application. Now the job of the DBA is much more complicated by contacts with a greater number and variety of people. A typical DBA in a distributed open systems team-based organization must deal each day with groups in many functional areas, including network management, application management, system management, helpdesk and training.
To deal with the complexity and accelerated business competitiveness, managers not only need to maintain a constant line of communication to their team, but also with the project sponsors and top management. In addition, regularly scheduled meetings should be held with the project sponsor and user community to make sure the team is in sync with business objectives.
Determine who is the final authority
In any project, conflicts will arise. At these times, the manager should promptly address any issue before it distracts the team. The manager should take initiative to consult with others and quickly arrive at an agreeable solution. At the beginning of the project the conflict resolution process should already be defined instead of waiting until questions arise.
Assisting the team in dealing with change
Most people view change with varying degrees of trepidation. For the enlightened professional, change can be a tremendous opportunity. During times of crisis, new leaders usually step forward to meet the challenges.
In moving forward in today's e-business paradigm, Oracle professionals need to get recognition from business people that they are full partners in the process of redefining the way the company will do business in the future. To ensure success, and to show their own commitment to the business, the manager also needs to devote their best resources and should also be assisting to enabling the approach from beginning to end.
Consequently, it is important to establish a project methodology in which all the roles and responsibilities are defined and explained. All current and newly joining team members need to be educated in the planned approach and methodology to ensure that everyone is operating in unison as in parallel or opposed to each other. If consultants are used, they should have a proven track record of success and a proven methodology before they are added to the team. If consultants cannot provide added value in planning methodology, gathering and defining data requirements, or a required technical expertise, then they should not even be considered.
Included in the team planning is ensuring that there is top level commitment and support for an Information Technology infrastructure to support the new business opportunities. This infrastructure includes computing platforms, networks, local and distributed databases, as well as new business applications.
Factors critical to team success
- Adaptability: Organizing the team for the ability to change as business needs dictate while maintaining the production environment and servicing the user community.
- Availability: Team members must be prepared to respond rapidly to issues at any time.
- Control: Team members should own and control the metadata, data definition process and access to the data.
- Tools: Utilizing fully functional integrated and open tools is now a must for supporting fast-moving projects. No longer can managers depend upon the ability to find and hire additional skilled resources.
- Maintain excellent communication: Good teams communicate regularly. This communication may take the form of regular team meetings or more informal communication. Regular team meetings usually work best in the early and late phases of a project. E-mail is also a very useful tool for team communication. E-mail should not be used to replace regular team meetings but can be used to help communicate changes that may impact others outside the team. This helps ensure that everyone knows about the change, and it provides a record of the change.
- Continually build the team dynamic: Building a good team means building good team relationships. Managers should set time aside for the team to get to know each other, as well as help facilitate opportunities for social interaction. These may be Friday lunches, informal get-togethers or recreational events. When conflicts arise between team members, deal with the conflicts quickly and directly. Don't allow conflict to fester and spoil the team dynamic. If the conflict involves features or functionality of the application, or how it should be supported, let the entire team decide how to make it work.
Team attraction and retainment
The supply of qualified and available candidates reached an all-time low in 1999 with there being a reported 500,000 unfilled software job openings in the U.S., and, by 2003, 1,150,000 unfilled software job openings. Coupled with this is the allure and enticement from dot-com startups poaching companies' team members each day. Consequently, it is more important then ever for managers to be empowered to retain the teams they have.
The standard search in today's IT market for a three- to five-year experienced candidate is a minimum of six months. With these statistics in hand, it is already a given that a project will more then likely be delayed because of an already difficult hiring market that will only get more difficult. And groups in the lowest supply are those like the Generation-Xers who think and act differently than previous categories of employees. What can managers do to help attract and retain team members?
- Managers need to make sure they are creating an environment that impresses candidates and makes them seek the team and company out .
- Managers need to communicate to candidates that there is a professional organization with clear direction and need for their skills.
- And most importantly, managers now need to help "sell" a company's assets to candidates as opposed to just giving a standard interview.
When it comes to retaining team members it is important to follow a few simple guidelines. Below are a few useful techniques that can utilized:
- Explain the "big picture," and help them understand how their task impacts the team and the company.
- Give them the ball and let them run with it. Don't micro-manage. If they can find a better way, let them think out of the box and try it.
- Provide cross-training opportunities. The more they learn, the happier they are. Offer not only job-related training, but also team building, leadership and people skills training.
- Mentorship -- teach them what you know, how they need to improve and how to do it.
- Outline future advancement opportunities and/or how to advance in pay and benefits.
- Occasionally schedule fun activities, and if you reach goals, celebrate them!
- Reward what you want repeated. If they reach a goal, show it. Give a handshake, a spot bonus, a promotion, a party to celebrate, tickets to an event.
- When a mistake has been made, tell them, don't shout. Explain the error and how to correct it. Provide regular feedback, positive or negative, at least weekly.
How a manager attracts, retains and motivates employees usually provides an indication of their advancement in their own career.
Recruiting new team members
When recruiting new team members, gone are the days of stacks of qualified applicants. Now a manager is lucky if the HR recruiter understands the team role to fill let alone have any resumes on file that fit it. So when a possible candidate is located, it is important to follow a few simple guidelines when recruiting and interviewing potential candidates:
- Address in a timely matter any of the candidate's concerns.
- Don't try to get the candidate as cheaply as possible -- instead make a competitive offer that makes accepting the offer an easy and quick decision.
- When appropriate, relocation packages should be "cost-neutral," thereby not causing candidates any additional expense to move from their existing company to yours.
- Move quickly after an interview and give immediate feedback. A verbal offer should follow within two to three days confirmed in writing via express mail.
- The offer should include coverage of the full opportunity including a full disclosure of all benefits, vacation time and other information deemed important by the candidate.
- The offer should be extended by the hiring manager portraying sincere interest in having the candidate join the team, followed by HR for any benefit information deemed important.
The best way to lose a candidate's interest or lose a candidate to another offer is:
- Give an offer only as a salary figure, with no discussion of benefits, bonuses, relocation and vacation.
- Expect the candidate to relocate themselves.
- Get upset and rush a candidate to "take it or leave it" who requests additional information in order to make a decision.
- Extend the offer with a cold, HR-type "just filling another slot."
- See how low an offer can be made.
- Wait three to four weeks after an interview before making an offer.
Team member roles
The typical core group for an Oracle team is an application developer, application administrator, data administrator (DA) and the database administrator (DBA). But with the added complexity of today's e-business initiatives, it is important to have on the team or to be in sync and constant communication with the system architect, system administrator, network administrator, desktop administrator, security administrator and Web administrator.
The development staff is responsible for the design and creation of the various programs making up the business application. Developers should be familiar with forms, PL/SQL, JAVA, 3GL languages and client/server development skills. Developers should work closely with the business analyst, application administrators and the DBA. Application developers know and use concepts, techniques and tools that model and access managed data.
The application administrator has an in-depth knowledge of the use of the applications. The application administrator is responsible for the configuration of the application from the user's viewpoint, enrolling end users and trouble-shooting problems for the help desk. The application administrator role works closely with the business analyst's, developer's, DBA's and desktop administrator's.
The DA translates business requirements for information into modeled designs for managing data. A DA should possess business knowledge, technical knowledge and techniques to design, develop and sustain managed data. A DA should have knowledge and use of data modeling tools used or planned for use, and the ability to write stored procedures, SQL/DDL and SQL/DML.
The DBA translates modeled designs for managing data into physical implementation. The DBA's role is to also support the database management software used by the company business application systems. Qualifications for the role of DBA are also quite diverse. A DBA must posses technical knowledge in the sense of the interpretation of database design models. The DBA must also posses a knowledge of the security, data retention and disaster recovery requirements of the company. Business skills such as multitasking, analytical skills, active listening and oral and written communication are significant requirements as are technical skills in computer operating systems, network operating systems and database management software specific to those used or planned for use by the company. A DBA should also be familiar with software tools and languages used or planned for use by the company to produce stored procedures, SQL/DDL and SQL/DML. A DBA should also have an understanding of the tools used to test, monitor, tune and administer the company databases.
Types of Oracle DBAs
As scope, size and complexity of systems expand, the DBA role can be broken into several areas of responsibility or specialties. For smaller organizations, this may not be necessary, but in larger organizations DBAs tend to be broken out into areas of specialty.
- Database operator: The database operator provides manual monitoring of the database console, tape mounting and critical jobs. The database operator verifies backups or archives ran correctly, restarts the backup or archives if necessary and monitors the available free space in the backup and archive directories. The database operator can be supported by existing staff or filled utilizing a third-party tool.
- System DBA: The system DBA role is critical for the initial database architecture, for new projects or application upgrade analysis and for capacity planning. A system DBA not only has experience with Oracle and advanced features such as replication, parallel servers and partitioning, but also a background in system and network architecture. Without the role of a system DBA, many organizations later find themselves against a wall with I/O, performance, storage management, backup and capacity problems.
- Application DBA: The application DBA provides database modeling support and development of the logical database. The application DBA develops the applications' architecture, performs SQL tuning and supports the applications. The application DBA works closely with developers, the system DBA and business analyst.
The system architect develops the conceptual architecture and framework. They perform the design and overall flow of the application, how the major features will work and how the user will interact with the program. They are responsible for documenting the architecture and distributing copies to everyone on the team.
The system administrator is responsible for server maintenance and configuration. They install, upgrade and tune the operating system. Responsibility for implementing the backup/recovery plan falls into systems administration, as does the development and implementation of a disaster recovery plan. The system administrator works closely with the DBA and the network administrator.
The network administrator is responsible for the network architecture, maintenance, performance and monitoring of the network. The network administrator works with WANs, routers, subnets, etc. The network administrator works closely with the DBA, system administrator and desktop administrator.
The desktop administrator is responsible for the PC network at the workgroup level, setting standards for LAN software and hardware and testing and configuring the network software on the client and file servers. The desktop administrator maintains file servers and terminal servers and trouble-shoots PC and LAN issues. The desktop administrator works closely with the systems administrator, DBA and the network administrators.
The security administrator is responsible for all aspects of the information technology architecture, applications and hardware technology to insure the company's data is secure and protected.
The business analyst is responsible for implementing the applications and facilitating any transition required from legacy systems. The business analyst has in-depth knowledge of the business functions of the corporation and other areas of the system. The business analyst works with project management, developers, end users and the application administrators.
In today's e-business environment, maintaining high availability, optimizing performance and delivering consistent service are essential components to the success of the business. Nonstop round-the-clock operations are demanded for today's Internet-enabled global business. If application response time degrades, then companies may incur a direct financial impact on their business through customer loss, lost business opportunity or the loss of critical business data. Attaining 24 x 7 x 365 high availability, fast response time and delivering service are absolute requirements in today's Oracle e-business environment.
The question fresh in the minds of CIOs, CTOs and IT managers is: What will be the impact of e-business on the enterprise? Recent studies have shown that poor Web site performance and outages put an estimated $4 billion or more in e-commerce at risk every single year. E-business places a new complexity upon the enterprise with its additional interdependencies and service expectations, and with this comes added risk and work. With such critical roles, organizations need to have a clear understanding of the role, and how it enables their business.
When assembling an Oracle team, it is important to be inventive.
When creating an Oracle team there must be commitment to providing resources (cash, time, people, etc.) to allow the team to function and do its work. The manager must be committed to the continued training of the team members as well as committed to implementing the team's recommendations and seeing them through.
In return, the team members need to actively participate, listen attentively and respect other team members' opinions. They need to be willing to build on others' ideas and be responsible for meeting the goals and objectives of the team.
Steve Lemme is Director of Marketing on the Board of Directors for the Independent Oracle Users Group. He is also the VP of eDatabase Management Solutions for Computer Associates International and author of the new book "Implementing and Managing Oracle Databases." Steve has more than 10 years of experience with mission-critical Oracle system architecture and e-business multi-tier enterprise computing.