You probably do not spend much time undertaking spacewalks or acclimating to zero-gravity situations as an IT leader.

However, you probably have some experience dealing with unforeseen situations, overcoming difficult obstacles, and navigating through various clouds. Therefore, you may have more in common with astronauts than you realize.

IT executives operate in high-pressure, time-constrained circumstances, just like astronauts. Both must adapt and handle issues in the moment as unforeseen circumstances arise and both require a high level of technical expertise to manage complicated systems. Both also need for a high level of leadership and communication, whether dealing with groups of people, business units, stakeholders, or even mission control.

As a result, you may be able to gain some insight from astronauts and the tasks they carry out. Following these three tips, IT leaders can perhaps change their own digital transformation initiatives from a space walk to a piece of cake.

1. Know when to defy gravity—whether it’s in space or in IT

IT executives and astronauts both struggle with gravity, albeit gravity of two different kinds. Without escaping gravity’s influence, it is impossible to conduct space study or exploration. Additionally, this is true for IT more and more.

Data gravity is a term used in IT to describe the phenomena wherein applications get harder to manage, maintain, and migrate the more data they generate and attract. This can eventually narrow an organization’s options and hinder innovation over time.

Because it is literally part of their job description, astronauts are aware of the importance of resisting gravity. The same is true for astrophysical research institutions that depend on those astronauts to transport, maintain, and fix the tools they need to conduct their jobs. Some forms of study can only be carried out outside of the earth’s gravitational field, such as particle detection made possible by the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS). The AMS’s eventual installation on the International Space Station (ISS) was made possible, among other things, by its accessibility to astronaut crews who could regularly use and operate it.

Similar lessons can be applied by IT leaders to make sure resources are placed where they are needed to support the proper activity, when required evading gravity’s constraints. Do you, as the head of IT, have an API-driven design that enables data sharing and access across applications and systems, for instance? To improve performance or decrease latency, should you think about bringing your data processing closer to edge devices? Are you designing your systems to be as portable as possible so you can move workloads between on-premises and cloud environments without being locked into a single vendor? There is no need for spacesuits to examine some or all of these options.

2. Agility is key—whether you’re in orbit, in the clouds or on the ground

It turns out that problem-solving in space is very similar to that of IT executives working on the ground. Astronauts make quick decisions to adjust to changing needs and requirements, such as unforeseen weather conditions or equipment issues, just like their earthbound colleagues. The ability to adapt and relocate answers to the most logical location is crucial in these circumstances.

For instance, teams located both on the ground and inside the station had to come up with solutions for unanticipated equipment problems on the International Space Station (ISS). Flight control teams on the ground originally tried to restart the pump module on one of the two external cooling loops of the space station after it went down automatically in 2013, hoping to do so without affecting the crew. NASA managers ultimately decided it was necessary to replace the pump module, which is why astronauts Rick Mastracchio and Michael Hopkins carried out a series of spacewalks to finish the job. Finding a solution without endangering the mission was made possible by the ability to mobilize both on the ground and close to the point of failure.

Similar to this, as an IT leader, you probably deal with unforeseen issues related to technology, user requirements, or other outside variables. When you have the appropriate answers in place, you can rapidly adapt to the unexpected. For instance, if your new software becomes extremely successful, you might need to scale quickly, which would require migrating resources to the public cloud right away. Or perhaps you need to use a public cloud for development and testing but, for security, performance, or financial reasons, want to migrate production workloads from your premises to a specialized IT environment. Your biggest advantage comes from your ability to move work to the location where it makes the most sense.

3. Always look for ways to reduce risk

There are more parallels between IT management and space exploration safety than you would realize. For their safety and security, astronauts rely on redundant systems. Consider the ISS pump issue, for instance. While the crew carried out its spacewalks to address the issue, backup systems maintained life support. Similar to this, IT workers must constantly consider preventing single points of failure that run the danger of everything from losing crucial data to shutting down mission-critical programs. Redundancy in IT may be found everywhere, including in numerous backups, places for disaster recovery, and network connections that maintain access to crucial systems and data even if one connection fails.

Making sure teams have the necessary tools and abilities is another step in reducing risk. U.S. astronauts, for instance, undergo cross-training in a number of ISS jobs, such as life support systems, orbital mechanics, and payload deployment. They even study Russian to improve communication with other astronauts. Meanwhile, IT workers gain by using standardized technologies that are well-understood by the entire team to boost productivity and collaboration. It is simpler to decrease errors and identify problems early on when everyone is using the same tools and procedures. Additionally, consistent tools hasten onboarding and training. Team members can more easily share knowledge among themselves and expand institutional knowledge. (Knowledge of a second language is advantageous.)

Whether it’s space exploration or digital transformation, aim high

The challenges that astronauts encounter on the job, despite their distance from the earth, are similar to those that IT workers face on a daily basis. Both IT leaders and astronauts must use technology to push the boundaries of what is possible in their careers. They must also bravely and adaptably navigate unfamiliar settings, collaborate with others, and be resilient in the face of adversity. This may need IT leaders to find solutions with high levels of portability between cloud environments, implement automation widely, and standardize on a toolset that takes advantage of already-existing skill sets. (We developed our Dell APEX range of as-a-Service solutions in part due of this.)

The truth is that there is always something we can learn from people ready to push the boundaries of what is possible, regardless of whether your future is in the clouds or soon to be in a colocation facility close to you. Buckle up.


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