Modern Middle Manager
Primarily my musings on the practical application of technology and management principles at a financial services company.
Chapter 6 - Executive's Guide to IT

Wednesday, July 02, 2003  

This is the book review I'll never finish, which is too bad because it's an interesting read for someone who's growing his data center at a small company rather than starting my career in a large corporation. Many of the best practices I'm inventing on my own (or stealing from others because, hey, it's less work). The book is helping me to achieve that goal.

Chapter 6 discusses the use of hardware and software standards in IT organizations -- how to define them, how to agree upon them and how long they should last. The authors make one major point -- the more standardized and homogenous the computing environment, the easier it is to manage. They develop guidelines for creating standards and identify decision factors that should be used to lend some objective weight to the decisions. One of the biggest points made in this chapter is to get senior management to buy into this process because of a point I'll make in a couple of paragraphs.

With a staff of five, I know where they're coming from. We enforce hardware and software standards primarily to keep support down and stability up. We have a standard desktop platform with standard software. We have a standard PDA. We have a standard digital camera. All of these standards exist because I don't want to waste my staff's time or the end-user's time learning 12 different ways of accomplishing the same goal. It also minimizes security breaches and the side-effects of untested programs. Standards will change over time as technology changes, but we aren't about to rush ahead of the curve on the desktop. Yesterday my desktop support staff member dropped his quarterly report on my desk showing that we have reduced support calls by 49% over the last year by enforcing tighter standards on the desktop with Windows 2000 group policies and migrating several of our end-users to thin client computing using Citrix Metaframe XP. We have a running bet that he will have reduced support calls by 51% year over year at the end of December. I hope he wins and, by enforcing desktop standards company-wide, he probably will.

The data center is little different. We have standardized on one server vendor (and only four models within that vendor's offerings), one network equipment vendor, two operating systems, one networking protocol (OK, two really, but only because we're forced to) appliances where general-purpose servers aren't needed, one development environment with three or four languages depending on whether you think scripting engines count as a language. It's all just within our span of control at this time.

Naturally, exceptions occur. The goal is to limit them. Exceptions normally occur at our company because of two reasons. The number one reason is that new products or services are needed and the only vendor we can afford or that suits our needs brings on yet another hardware & software platform. Our bank accounting system is such an example. The application fit our needs and our budget but only runs on the AS/400, which is a new addition to our data center and requires my staff to learn another hardware and software skill set. Sometimes that can be avoided by running heterogeneous environments in an ASP mode but that wasn't an option in our case. C'est la vie.

The number two reason is that senior management makes, in my opinion, a bad political decision to keep someone happy by allowing them to have their own software. Example: one of our salespeople came on board with her contacts in ACT. The expectation was that those contacts would be migrated into our CRM and that no new prospects would be placed in her ACT program. That didn't happen. When we upgraded the salesperson's PC, that program was taken off. We refused to reinstall it because it was non-standard and it has a copy of existing customer data outside of our CRM. The EVP of sales made the decision to give it back to the salesperson anyway, over my protestations. So we have a separate database floating outside of company control that will leave here with the salesperson if she quits, thus allowing her to easily prospect as competition. This is why senior management gets bonuses -- they must be much more clever than I to see a different end result. Ahem.

The next chapter is about standardizing and organizing IT Operations. I'm halfway through it and should have something more in about a week. Stay tuned!

posted by Henry Jenkins | 7/02/2003 04:23:00 PM

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