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Leveraging Information Technology in Tough Economic Times

We are definitely in tough economic times.  It seems there is news of major layoffs and staff reductions daily.  Instead of fueling the fires of doom and gloom, I want to present more information that can help your Information Technology department and therefore your organization operate more effectively and efficiently.   Below are a few things business leaders can do to protect their enterprise today.  These seemingly simple steps can create momentum which should be carried into the future operations as things improve.

Don’t Throw the Baby Out with the Bath Water

During a recently presentation to the local Project Management Institute chapter on the topic of Guerilla Leadership I referenced the comedic writings of Scott Adams, of Dilbert fame.   Scott Adams writes of the “Great Lies of Management”.  Some of my favorites are:

  • Employees are our most valuable asset
  • We reward risk-takers
  • We don't shoot the messenger
  • Training is our top priority
  • Your input is important to us

These are especially fitting in tough economic times.  Some of the first budget line items to go in challenging times are training, promotions and rewards, travel, research and development, and hiring.  Cut a little deeper and infrastructure investment and staff are usually next.

Why are companies quick to discard $100,000 in employees versus $100,000 in equipment when there is no one to run it?  Are our employees our most valued asset?  These questions are rhetorical.  We know a $100,000 piece of equipment, dumped onto the market, will not fetch $100,000.  Additionally, it is recognized that employee cost include taxes and benefit that must be added to the direct salary cost.

What truly happens when companies lets a significant number of employees go?  The company loses the tribal knowledge.  Working in Information Technology for over 20 years I can attest to the lack of documentation within organizations.  All too often the project team is moved to the next assignment and the final process documentation is never completed.  There are a few industries that out perform the pack usually due to government mandates.  The average firm is letting knowledge walk out the door every time there is a significant staff reduction.  Just as important as “what button to push” is “why did we decided to push that button”.    

Opportunities for improvement include improving documentation, periodically comparing the “why” question against the current strategy for alignment, reviewing the documentation for lessons learned, and ensuring that cross-training is happening within your organization.

Go Back to Kindergarten – Share

If you are like most operations you have two problems that live under the radar.  First is a shadow IT department.  You know the group of wizards that seem to out perform your IT operations at every turn.  Second is the unnecessary duplication in hardware and software.

Shadow IT is bad for an organization.  Usually shadow IT does not operate with the same expectations.  There is generally a weak appreciation for security, standards, and documentation.  Several companies have gotten into trouble with duplicate financials.  If your auditors are getting different numbers than the management team then you have a problem.  Can you say Sarbanes Oxley? Maybe it is unauthorized application that punches holes in your security.  If the guys in the corner are that good, then embrace them, make them part of IT, while allowing them to remain with the business unit.  Prop them up with the tools and techniques to come out from the shadows.

Duplicate environments often exist because no one wants to give up their relative small feature for the sake of the whole organization or we fail to look around the organization for similar applications before acquiring another.  Many times I hear that consolidation is too disruptive, but consider the total cost of ownership in maintaining two similar environments:

  • Duplicate data stores leading to confusion
  • Duplicate licenses, maintenance, and support agreements
  • Two different support organizations
  • Additional integration and reconciliation
  • The opportunity cost of carrying a duplicate environment

Do you ready need two toasters?  Consolidate your environment where practical.   

Do Things Right and Do the Right Things

As the advisors sit down at our weekly production meeting and discuss the work ahead we often analyze the tipping point for various companies.  Usually we are called after a major breakage in a process.  In some cases, these organizations have received advisory services, but have held off executing the recommendations.  We pause to question, why is it never enough time / money to do it right, but there seems to be enough time / money to do it over?  We need to invest that small, incremental amount of time / money to ensure things are done right the first time.  I truly mean invest.  This type of investment pays dividends in the long run.  It eliminates the cost and interruption of the do over.     

Psychologists will tell you that people generally will not change until there is an immediate negative consequence.  You may listen if your doctor tells you to loose weight or stop smoking.  You are more likely to act if your doctor says you will die within six months if you do not loose weight or stop smoking.

This economy has us in the immediate consequences mode now.  Your company’s survival depends on the ability to change.  Start securing your company’s knowledge through documentation and cross training, optimize your environment through consolidation and sharing, and investing in doing things right and emerge stronger as this economy turns around.

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