Friday, 13 July 2012

Managing the mavericks

Centralising specialist functions within a large organisation is generally the best way of ensuring that operations are run in a consistent and professional manner. For IT related functions, this is vital. Departments that are entirely focused on non-data goals like sales, manufacturing or customer services may easily become disillusioned by the IT department and what they see as excessive time, cost and red tape. This gives rise to a phenomenon I have named "the data maverick."

Data mavericks are empowered individuals who often start as average employees doing the same job as everyone else. They see an opportunity to develop their own data services for their bosses outside the formal support of the IT infrastructure. Very often the services they provide are niche activities that your IS department is reluctant to undertake. This can be a good thing on the short term, but you have to examine how they achieve their objectives. Development times are slashed by ignoring IT fundamentals like backing up the data, failover servers, data security and documentation. The department boss is delighted because all he/she sees is results. But if (heaven forbid) your data maverick was to have an unfortunate accident, their systems would not be supported by the rest of the organisation.

The rise of data mavericks must be taken seriously. They are a warning sign that your technical operations are not meeting the demands of your internal customers, or the budgets are not in line with departmental ambition. This could be due to  high internal charging, bureaucratic project control, resource allocation issues and infrastructure constraints. It has been known for IT departments to overprice on projects that they do not want to undertake. Addressing these problems is the first step, but the second must be to bring maverick processes under the support of qualified colleagues.

Your maverick may not see your point of view. They have autonomy and a certain satisfaction from being able to achieve quick, short-term wins. But they are operating without the support of the rest of the organisation, and as such are shouldering much more responsibility than the average colleague. They are likely to be on a significantly lower wage than your IT professionals, without any formal training progression.

If you can, try to include your maverick in the migration process. You have a colleague who is able to learn for themselves and develop on their own. These people can be hard to find. Move them into your IT or business intelligence function. Give them the training and the development they need to use your organisation and technical infrastructure correctly. With the right support, your maverick can become an outstanding asset.

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