Is This the Age of the Network Para-Professional?

With more networks being distributed to the edge and installed remotely to support IoT, there is an emerging need for non-IT workers to locally maintain and supervise these networks.

Is This the Age of the Network Para-Professional?
(Source: Pixabay)

There are paralegals and paramedics. Both provide critical skills and have the ability to tackle many routine tasks so that attorneys or doctors don't have to do them, even though these paras are not as fully trained or licensed to practice in those professions.

Now with the steady deployment of networks and edge equipment to remote reaches of the enterprise, the idea of the para-professional is pertinent to IT, too.

For starters, IT in itself has limited resources and bandwidth. Even with the plethora of automated and remote tools that are available today, IT can’t be in all places at once.

As an example, sharing a screen to troubleshoot an issue, or even trying to walk someone through a problem from afar, doesn't always work—and it presents the question of whether it might be possible to train non-IT employees in enough network and security fundamentals so that they can perform a number of routine functions, such as resetting a router or maintaining network security.

With the growth of edge networks in particular, there are opportunities for manufacturing supervisors, field office managers, and work-at-home employees to manage their own day-to-day IT. It's not out of the ordinary to expect a manufacturing supervisor to ensure that robotic equipment and other vital IoT are stored away in a locked, physical cage off the floor when it is not in use—-or to expect a remote office manager to check that a network router or printer is up and running, and that sound security practices such as secure sign-ons and approved authorizations are in effect.

However, it is out of the ordinary for IT to expect non-IT employees to perform IT-related tasks without the proper training and backup.

How can IT train and work with non-IT employees to ensure that proper edge network security and network health are maintained while at the same time assuring that these para-IT’ers get prompt and effective IT help when they need it?

#1) Define a clear division of labor

Clearly defining the division of labor for edge networks is the first thing that should be addressed. For example, it might be reasonable to expect a manufacturing supervisor to ensure that sensitive equipment is properly locked and stowed away in a physical cage at the end of the day or to reboot a router if it acts up—but there will still be issues, such as a new server installation, or calibrating the security configurations on end IoT devices, where IT should be called in to do the work.

Knowing who is going to do what and when remote employees should be calling IT is the first order of business.

#2) Secure agreement on the division of labor

Once you have a network maintenance plan developed, it is important for remote non-IT employees who will be performing para-IT, and for IT itself, to enthusiastically buy into the plan.

At first glance, securing buy-in might seem difficult because you are asking non-IT employees to take on extra IT work. However, if these employees see that the work is very doable, does not unduly distract them from their other job responsibilities, and can expedite network and operational performance because they don’t have to wait for IT, it could be a welcome breakthrough!

The caveat, of course, is that IT properly trains and supports these non-IT workers in the tasks they are to perform and that IT is there to back them up when they have questions or need additional help.

#3) Train para-IT workers

A non-IT employee should not be expected to step into a para-IT role without the proper training. This training begins with exposing non-IT personnel to IT policies and procedures that are relevant to the networks and the IT that they will be maintaining. The next step is teaching them the fundamentals of how to ensure the health of their networks and IT assets. This training should be done by IT in an in-person, hands-on mode, with IT actually showing each para-professional IT worker how to perform the various network maintenance duties they will be responsible for. It is not adequate to just point someone to a Web page and expect them to go from there.

Once training is completed, IT should regularly check in with edge para-IT workers to see how things are going and if there are questions. Para-IT workers should also have a central IT point of contact whom they know they can reach at any time of day.

The bottom line for a non-IT employee who agrees to take on some IT responsibilities is that he or she knows that IT "has their back" and is there for them when they need help. This builds confidence and a strong working relationship.

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About the Author(s)

Mary E. Shacklett, President, Transworld Data

Mary E. Shacklett is an internationally recognized technology commentator and President of Transworld Data, a marketing and technology services firm.

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