bird's eye view of a football field
In many ways, the strategy football coaches use to inform their NFL picks is the same as the strategy integration specialists use to improve their IT environment PHOTO: Martin Reisch

The NFL draft finished on Saturday, with millions of football fans collectively holding their breath as they watched. Those picks could either raise their team’s playoff hopes or cement their dominance. 

For coaches, it’s the culmination of hundreds of hours of scouting, watching film, debating and deciding what talent gaps are most crucial. 

The strategy the coaches use isn't all that different from how integration specialists run and upgrade their organization’s IT environment. In fact, looking at how coaches approach the draft offers insights that can help integration specialists do their job better. 

Here are some of the most important parallels between the two roles:

1. They Set Priorities

Football coaches spend countless hours poring over their team’s weaknesses and needs, and must set priorities for the draft. Will they pick a running back or QB in the first round this year? 

It depends on the team’s needs and overall strategy. Does the coach want to run the ball more or throw? What position does he need to draft to complement the rest of the team?

In the same way, IT has to set priorities among applications and hardware. What technologies or applications will help them best achieve the organization’s end goal? If a system fails, what are the business-critical applications that must be fully recoverable and what are the ones that can go unrecovered for a few days without major impact to the business? 

2. They Study Performance History

The NFL combines are crawling with scouts obsessing over every hundredth of a second in a 40-yard dash and every rep on the bench press. Coaches will study game film to learn a prospect’s strengths and weaknesses, call former coaches for a rundown on their work ethic and injury history, and speak with past teammates about the prospect’s temperament and personality.

Coaches must have a complete understanding of who a prospect is both on the field and off to ensure they’ll mesh well with the rest of the team. 

IT must do the same for their organization’s environment: previous integrations, M&A activity, application dependencies and other history all affect the current performance of the systems. 

By deploying discovery tools, IT can grasp the fundamentals of the production environment, factors that will be crucial to any decisions about future integrations. IT must evaluate, identify and choose the best technologies or applications for their environment, from proof of concept to regular testing of disaster recovery plans. 

3. They Adjust Strategy Based on Resources

Once the draft concludes, football coaches evaluate and identify the best players for each position to create a new starting lineup. They assess and plan for depth, how their new players will support their strategy and complement teammates on the field.

The same must be done for new applications and hardware in an IT environment. M&A might force IT to maintain two environments, use the best elements of both or do a complete overhaul of the environment to unify the data and applications. Any integration should involve discovery of application dependencies and how new hardware, applications or services will affect what’s already running. 

4. They Prepare for all Contingencies

Football coaches need to develop new plays to accommodate added players and to get the most out of their new draft picks. At the same time, they also need to plan for everything that could go wrong — if the left guard gets injured, for example, what’s the plan for protecting the QB’s backside?

The integration of IT systems and applications will affect any disaster recovery plan. IT must take a new and holistic look at the systems to ensure they’re fully recoverable in the end. If integrating systems during M&A, they’ll have to remap the applications from both companies to accommodate new dependencies they didn’t have before. 

And once a comprehensive disaster recovery plan is in place, it has to be tested regularly to ensure it’ll work if disaster ever strikes. 

Just like coaches drafting new players, IT teams integrate new technology through thorough research and testing, knowing the history of systems and preparing for both the best case scenario and the worst. By taking a page from the coach’s playbook, IT can make every integration a smooth success and every disaster fully recoverable.