Thursday, September 20, 2012

Managing Information Technology & Applications

The very first six months we were in business in 1991, as President/CEO of our company,  I was asked to approve a purchase order for $250,000 for computer equipment.   I remember thinking that this was a lot of money; but at least we would not have to make additional purchases any time soon.  Back then, I really did not understand very much about Information Technology; that's for sure.   Within six more months, I was asked to approve another $250,000 and it has never stopped since then.  

Managing Information Technology, particularly for a global company, is a critical function since we need connectivity in multiple countries.   What I have learned, over the years, some times the hard way, is that Information Technology, from a cost standpoint, is a never ending black hole.   Further, the word "soon" is often associated with both Information Technology and Information Applications as in when will various hardware be installed, or software development projects be done.   The answer often provided is "soon".   The costs related to Information Technology and Applications are always more than was anticipated and it always take longer than was originally promised. 

In fact,  when I was working for another major company, various Chief Information Officers rarely lasted more than two years because they often over promised and under delivered, which is a very common mistake for those charged with managing Information Technology and Applications.   Further, the notion that buying new technology is often cost justified by higher productivity is questionable.   While there have been productivity gains over the last 10 years as a result of technology, those gains were never as much as promised. 

In our case, we finally outsourced our Information Technology Help Desk to a Canadian firm because we needed 24/7 support.   It was really the only cost effective way to achieve the level of global support that was required by our employees, customers and clients.  It works surprisingly well, or at least better than our previous internal solution, which was not a 24/7 operation.   Even so, employees are often frustrated when ever the system is down, however rarely. 

I have often said to our Director, Information Technology that I should never have to speak with him because I fully expect our IT systems and telephones to be operable at all times to support our business.   To accomplish this goal, we moved our primary data center to a co-location, hardened site and created a completely redundant secondary data center at one of our major offices just in case the primary site goes down.   In addition,  though our off shore application in India, also is supported by a completely redundant site, I even insisted on dealing with the nuclear option because of hostilities that exist between India and Pakistan, in the event of a horrible nuclear exchange.   If we had to bring that work back to the United States, we have fully functional work stations set up to accommodate temporary employees that could accomplish this back office work in case of an emergency. 

While Information Technology generally does not report to the President/CEO of a company, it must still be a topic of discussion during senior management meetings to make sure that this critical function is properly managed.  It is rare that we would not discuss both Information Technology and Information Applications issues every month.   No matter how much we spend on these functions, everyone always wants more investment.  Obviously, monies spent on Information Technology and Applications must be prioritized, however, it is a never ending process as companies seek to provide goods or services better, faster, cheaper.     

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