In today’s fast-paced, constantly evolving banking environment there is an increasing demand for IT administrators to play a larger and more strategic role with community financial institutions. This demand, largely driven by increased regulatory scrutiny, is requiring IT administrators to stay abreast of the latest technology and security solutions in an unprecedented way.
IT administrators are responsible for performing a variety of tasks including network monitoring, patch management, and malware protection, among others. They must maintain the day-to-day tactical activities and keep up with new technologies to ensure the bank’s network remains functional and secure, all while putting out fires and trouble-shooting everyday problems that arise within the institution.
While there is a business need to have IT administrators assume a more strategic role at the bank, they often have limited resources and only so many hours in a day. Below, I have outlined a few key areas that can help IT administrators make the transition:
The transition to a more strategic role requires new skills and a different understanding of the institution and its goals. Instead of thinking about what do I need to accomplish today, IT administrators must begin to think about what needs to be accomplished within the next year; what are the financial institution’s main business objectives; and how can this be achieved with the help of the IT staff? Think of it as playing chess and always be thinking of your next move. Asking the right questions allows the IT admin to understand the big picture and focus on what will most impact the bank’s long-term goals.
Have a Balanced Skillset
IT administrators should expand their focus beyond the technological side of the bank to include a focus on compliance and how it impacts the technology solutions the institution must consume. By aligning compliance requirements, IT admins can better apply their technical expertise to establish themselves as an indispensable part of the institution’s staff. For example, consider how your technology solutions supports your business continuity plan (BCP). Will your current solutions help to achieve your goals outlined in your BCP and restore critical business functions in the event of a natural disaster?
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Gain Senior Management Support
To become a true, strategic contributor requires buy-in from management. IT administrators need the support of senior management and must be able to get the management team involved with the technology, security, and compliance aspects of the bank. Participating in IT steering committee meetings presents an opportunity for the IT admin to provide new ideas and information and communicate the importance of the board and senior management’s involvement. These quarterly meetings typically cover the bank’s strategic IT roadmap to include: the current IT situation, ongoing technology projects, as well as pending (and emerging) security and compliance issues. This is the ideal time to meet with the management team and showcase a well-rounded skillset that can benefit the bank.
Understand Evolving Technology
IT administrators should do research to truly understanding how technology is evolving and how new technologies and products can benefit the financial institution. One example is the evolution of email and email platforms. In the past, it was common practice to host email in-house. However, new technology has made email a more commoditized product, and it is now very common to have a third-party provider host and manage email platforms. While IT admins may recognize this, they shouldn’t assume others within their institution do as well. Understanding and sharing this knowledge is a strategic move that can save the financial institution money and additional resources in the future. A strategic thinker recognizes the significance of this and in turn, encourages senior management and the board of directors to move in this direction.
A financial institution’s IT department bears a host of responsibilities, but often has difficulty in maintaining adequate staff to complete the work. Recognizing this need, knowing when to build a team or outsource, and then selecting a trusted IT partner who can help alleviate the day-to-day pressure is a strategic move that can benefit the entire organization. For example, many IT administrators partner with third parties to help with the time consuming task of patching security vulnerabilities on the network. Having the additional support enables IT personnel to concentrate on the overall direction of the bank’s IT initiatives, meet regulatory expectations, and focus on how the bank can continue to advance in the industry.
Take Advantage of Resources
All too often, IT administrators become so entrenched in their day-to-day work that they neglect their own professional development. The good news is that there is a wealth of resources available today, such as industry white papers, blogs, news articles, user conferences and tradeshows, as well as peer groups and other networking opportunities, all of which can help with staying abreast of the always evolving areas of technology, compliance, and security. It is important to justify the budget and time for participating in these type of activities.
In conclusion, having an impact on the overall IT strategy of the financial institution requires a unique set of skills paired with a strategic way of thinking. Increasingly, IT admins are being challenged to think in new ways and apply their knowledge beyond what they have historically been asked to do. By building on their established foundation of technical knowledge to foster a deeper understanding of the banking business and knowing when to hire or outsource IT administrators will increase their contribution to the institution’s success.