Remove IT Conflict

Your IT Department likely has contempt for you or best case is just indifferent. The reason why is that any feedback you give is negative and what measurements do you really use to judge IT performance?

There are always the same 3 plays for someone in IT:

1) Grow a department.
2) Fly below the radar and keep status quo.
3) Learn something new and move on in 2-3 years.

The first play goes like this: upgrade the infrastructure often starting with cabling/bandwidth, implement some new technology, get some licensing, add desktop and application people, and then rule the fiefdom. The second play is to latch onto some technology while avoiding change and guarding legacy knowledge until termination or retirement. The third play is often the most confusing for businesses as all seems well until the player suddenly turns in their resignation one day. The really scary thing is that each type of player may wake up suddenly and decide they want their own business, wreaking havoc on themselves and unsuspecting customers before understanding they have little chance of success or happiness with a hyper-competitive market and limited business/sales/marketing/financial knowledge.

No scenario described above really has any advantages for business. So it’s time to take control and recognize your situation. After all, IT is your number 4 business cost after salaries, rent, and taxes/insurance. The following are a few general tips:

  1. Know the cost of IT personnel. You should pay student interns no more than $10-$15 per hour and the rarely occasional one-man-show “consultant” only $30-$35 per hour. Ignore Salary Surveys and look up the real wages reported by the state for IT positions. Demand a relevant Bachelor Degree and current certification or adjust earnings down. Check references and ask for a copy of a W-2 to verify previous salary. Much of these same things should be done when picking a vendor.
  2. Measure IT to reduce cost or increase sales. Don’t have IT report to Accounting. Accounting has no understanding in this area and should be focused on business valuation, shortening accounts receivable, increasing credit lines, and reducing debt/taxes. Ideally, try to tie a portion of compensation to reducing cash outlay over time or increasing revenue. Also, there should be some built-in retention so things like bonuses are lost on an early exit. Know that you get what you measure and you should have an easy and regular way to review monthly to quarterly.
  3. Focus on business and not technology. Your IT staff would much rather help improve the business than do mundane tasks or risk livelihood implementing new technology they don’t know. Instead of having IT struggle for time to update and maintain the environment or before hiring that next IT staff person, consider managed services for better support at less cost. Ensure business continuity, lessen IT staff involvement, and reduce storage and tape costs with online backup. Spend less for hardware with virtualization or maybe eliminate some portion of IT infrastructure with cloud computing.

Like anything in business, you’ll find there are some things you need to stop doing and others that have been completely ignored. For certain, you can keep blindly spending money or embrace your IT and move the business forward.

Don’t Lose a Quarter

It’s year-end and time to reflect on your performance. When I ask most people how they measure IT, there is always either a blank stare or a 15 minute Obama-like answer. The tendency is to get caught up in the holiday rush, have a much-needed break with family and friends, and then get steam rolled by year-end/year begin just to realize in Q2 you’ve made little progress and generally do nothing until something major breaks.

Here are 3 simple things you should do now, so you’re not in the same predicament at the end of 2010:

  1. Draw a picture of what you have on the left and what it should look like on the right. Don’t worry about too much detail like IP addresses, but rather versions of OS and warranty expiration dates  of equipment. List a few problem bullets in the upper left and wins in the upper right above the changes in the environment you show on the right like removal/migration of systems. Whenever IT is a topic throughout the year, refer to the picture.
  2. Create a spreadsheet with columns for the next 5 years and list down the side software licenses and other categories like servers and workstations. Tip – You’ll usually want to buy new workstations for a third of your fleet each year so there is not a huge cash outlay every 3 years. It’s common to have a detail page for each category. License agreements are usually 1-3 years and warranty on equipment is generally 3 years. Now you have a tool for no surprises and a format to quickly add  total cost of ownership for new business requirements.
  3. Make a list of projects. Then rank them and schedule by quarter.

With these 3 things, manage the BUSINESS of IT by dollars, date, and informed knowledge of issues.