Ottawa Valley SAGE

Providing a forum since 1998

Dec 20, 2008 - 6 minute read - Comments

IT is not a place to cut your budget.

It’s amusing in a way. For years I’ve been sounding off on how any well run IT shop is not a profit center for a company. It doesn’t have to be a major drain on the resources, but IT is not a place to make money unless you sell IT services, but then your own IT is still a cost center.

A good IT shop will reduce your cost of doing business, but it does take investment in the function. You can only get by for so long on ancient equipment and used parts. The infrastructure has to be refreshed occasionally or you run the risk of having something critical fail and not only is it no longer made, the parts do not even exist any more. If you have a critical service or provide one to an external customer, you should be providing some level of high availability. The ten year old server in the corner that has been serving email without complaint is eventually going to blow a disk if not something else. It happens.

Investing in good staff and making sure there is adequate coverage since people get sick, go on vacation, or have external influences affect their jobs is just prudent business practice. If you are large enough to require a dedicated IT staff, you need to start with two as a bare minimum for the previous reasons. This is not a place to shave the budget or your problems will be more than just the technical problems that caused you to need IT staff in the first place.

Technologies are not a means to an end. No product is going to be a magic bullet, nor is it going to actually fix anything. You can buy whatever you want, but without a skilled staff who understand it and can adjust it to your business model, you are doomed to be unhappy and feel like you were let down by the technology. Computing systems are not mind readers, they do what you tell them, not what you want and the default installation is usually a lowest common denominator of functionality. It’s amazing how many people say “I didn’t know it could do that!” in shacked amazement when you show something that is a whole menu item deep. Again, skilled staff who understand the system will bring forward the functionality and make it available. Training is also necessary.

Let me digress a moment and bring up my favorite example of a technology begging to be a solution to everything: Microsoft Office. It’s a word processor, a publishing system, a spreadsheet, an accounting package, a presentation maker, training document system, email client, information organizer, a database, it slices, it dices, it juliennes fries. It’s the Ginsu AM/FM Quartz Barbecue Clock Radio with Turbo boost and independent suspension. According to a number of items posted over the years, most people use less than 10% of the functionality of MS Office. Given my own relationship with it over the past 24 plus years (yes, I know Office as it exists today isn’t 24 years old), I’d have to say I haven’t expanded beyond a lot of the basics I used all those years ago. I used MS Word 1.0, replacing WordStar with it. in ‘88, I started using Excel instead of Lotus 123 or VisiCalc. You get my drift I’m sure. I don’t use any of the fancy stuff in PowerPoint, it’s a replacement for a foil or viewgraph (archaic terms here). I only picked Office because it is currently a solution desperately looking for a problem to solve. Lets face it, it solved the initial problem a very long time ago and is now trying to justify it’s upgrades and features.

I use many incarnations of these technologies and they all have their good points and their bad points. People with mad office skills can do things with the program that I have no concept of. It’s impressive and occasionally I ask how they did something. It’s nice to be able to expand your bag of tricks. Training will get you there. My skills with it remain basic because I have had no training and as a result I am ignorant of what it can do. I learn from others more skilled. Which circles back to my comment earlier regarding training being necessary. We now rejoin our regularly scheduled diatribe already in progress.

…network technologies, virtualization, operating systems, web servers, database systems, etc. all require an investment in training as well. If you do not, then you are not leveraging what they can do for you. Your technological investment is not performing to the promise you were given. Sometimes it’s under trained staff, sometimes over zealous salespeople, not enough time to roll it out properly… The reasons are legion.

The thing here to remember is that IT is an investment and in some eyes a necessary evil. Taking a little longer to make a technology decision will probably pay off. Investing in your staff probably will. Outsourcing your IT seldom will as the people you are outsourcing to are not your people. They will give you generic IT service, not something catered to your environment. They will want to impose their procedures onto you, as that way they can send in any resource to do the job. Limited problem set, limited solution set.

I’ve been sitting around thinking of all the initiatives I have seen over the years and the only environments that I have seen work (and dare I say improve) are ones in which IT was considered a requirement (if not actually important) and that investing in what was necessary gave you minimal trouble. Having good people certainly helps and can make your investment cost you a lot less. IT should be considered (like security) a process not a product and all processes improve over time from a periodic review. It has a life cycle and a renewal cycle.

The real issue is that IT is not looked upon as important beyond the basic functionality. It operates counter-intuitive to most business practices. A good IT staff is invisible. They do their work and the environment runs well and you have few issues. This result “obviously” means you need fewer people at lower salaries. Obviously we have no issues. IT is quiet. Did it ever occur to those who make decisions that IT people managing 11th hour rescues and last minute saves is exactly the wrong perspective. There should be no surprises and no emergency reallocation of resources/equipment if things are being done in a proper fashion. Low activity means people are doing their jobs and are not over worked. The highly visible hero profile means jobs are not being done properly, control of the resources is sketchy at best and the people are not working on maintaining a smoothly running environment but are continuously putting out fires. Unmaintainable in the long run and frustrating for all involved.

IT will be around a long time. Why not invest in the future?

Vacation!!!! December Meeting

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