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No heroes: Deakin University’s IT talent management tactic

Simon Sharwood

Deakin University has adopted a talent management tactic that it hopes will improve staff retention, and also make its IT operations less reliant on “heroes” with skills no-one on its team possesses.

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We do some things a little differently to a traditional IT shop,” says Craig Warren, the University’s Operational Service Provision Manager. “We allow our staff to span a whole range of technology areas. Our systems team looks after servers, storage, data centers and disaster recovery.”

The decision to create a multi-skilled team was made several years ago as part of a strategic plan to deliver robust, reliable IT services to the University.

“We established a principle of ‘no heroes,’” Warren says. “We did not want to have to rely on people coming in at 3:00 AM to keep things working.”

This approach has seen the University spread skills around its 25-strong team. Recently, for example, it trained 15 of the team to provision storage on new arrays so that it would always be possible to meet users’ needs.

“We were finding we were a little dependent on storage specialists and did not like that idea at all,” Warren says. With multiple staff trained, Warren now feels the organisation is more flexible. “We don’t need to wait 4 weeks for someone to come back from leave [to get something done].”

Warren also feels it is important for IT staff to be hands on with core chores.

“One of our main principles that we really push as an organisation is that there are a bunch of things that a central IT team should do and do well. That includes backup. Backup is not glamorous, but we really push hard that if you want to be part of a quality IT organisation you have to do the boring stuff really, really well.”

Doing so, he adds, impressed management.

“You get a great deal of credibility with important people in the organisation: we were presenting to our CEO and we were able to tick off things like security and plagiarism and disaster recovery. If you knock off the fundamentals you can get to the more interesting stuff.”

Warren feels the team’s talent management plans also help it to retain staff. Admitting that private enterprise can often outbid the University in terms of salary, he feels his multi-skilled team may find their work more stimulating and therefore more attractive.

“People will leave you for money but they won’t leave you for a job that will be boring.”