• IT Management is Not the Place to Practice Your Life Hacks

    Everybody is looking for a life hack these days. Whether it is a series of photos showing you how to use your toaster on its side how to create a phone stand out of an old cassette case, there are millions of ideas out there that people have come up with to make their lives easier and their pocketbooks heavier. I was a fan of the idea of use a bread bag clip on the bottom of your flip-slops to keep them together longer. Life hacks like these showcase the ingenuity of the human race and redefines the old adage that “necessity is the mother of invention”. However, this is also used as an excuse for poor IT management.

    In the last week, I have visited with two different companies who are considering using B2 Technology Solutions for their IT service, yet have the same story. What I learned from both of these visits was that they thought they had a great deal in their old IT person only to learn they were soon abandoned and unprotected. In their cases, both of their IT companies were sole-practitioners who up and left southwest Florida for greener grass. While cost-based decisions like that is certainly not a new story to the business world (sole-practice outsourcing companies have a long standing reputation for being unreliable), it is always painful.

    Experience with Cheap Failures

    I spent a good ten years of my professional career in web development. I even started as a solo web designer/developer and had a small business building church websites. It didn’t even last a full year, but thankfully I did not leave any of my clients in a lurch. It is absolutely normal and even expected that a person would leave one opportunity for another they feel is better in some way. We cannot blame people for making decisions like this and it has become more and more commonplace in the last few years thanks to the latest major economic downturn in 2008.

    After making the decision to start working for a larger web development firm, though, I learned the impact that solo-practitioners have on the businesses they leave behind. Even those who leave in the best way still leave and the companies left behind are forced to find a comparable solution in short order who can help them while in a position of vulnerability. To name a few:

    • Previous outsourcer had them spend a bunch of money and used up budget/available funds for a transition
    • Previous outsourcer was not as good as advertised and left company with major holes in security that costs a lot for new outsourcer to fix
    • Previous outsourcer cut corners (such as reusing licenses) for company’s sake, but left them in a legal/moral limbo and at risk
    • Previous outsourcer did not keep good records of licenses and subscriptions, basically forcing company to have to start all over.

    IT Management Disasters

    These are specifically IT management issues, but they are fairly universal in context. One company a while ago that I met told me about the time they were left without their outsourced IT department and learned very quickly that all of their accounts were locked and inaccessible without them. The word horror is very apt in situations like that. Or take this IT management disaster in an article from Infoworld.

    In the pantheon of outsourcing horror stories, the $4 billion deal between the U.S. Navy and global services provider EDS stands out as one of the most horrific. It started back in 2003 when the Plano, Texas, vendor beat out the likes of IBM and Accenture for the contract. The deal was to manage voice, video, networking, training, and desktops for 350,000 Navy and Marine Corps users. But just one year later, EDS was writing off close to $350 million due to its inability to come even close to fulfilling its obligations.

    The reasons behind the failure are complex, but suffice it to say that one of the major causes behind the debacle was that EDS, perhaps anxious to win the prize, never realized that the Navy and Marine Corps had tens of thousands of legacy and custom applications for which it was expected to either integrate or rip and replace. An EDS spokesperson said at the time the company’s goal was to get the number of legacy apps down to a mere 10,000 to 12,000.

    While there was plenty of blame to go around at EDS, the Navy took its share of blame as well. One of the major issues with the Navy was that the buck stopped nowhere. There was no single person or entity that could help EDS determine what legacy applications were needed and what applications could be excised. EDS, for example, found 11 different label-making applications, but there was no one who could say which 10 to eliminate.

    Being thrifty and finding awesome life hacks is a great thing, but making bad choices purely for the sake of cost is almost a guaranteed failure. I am also not trying to say that it is automatically a bad idea to hire a solo-preneur, but have they been properly vetted? Are there official contracts in place to protect both parties? I do recommend looking into larger IT firms before going with an individual for your IT, though it will most likely cost a bit more. Sometimes, doing the best thing for your business is fully thought through, proper IT management. That can take some time, investment and effort.

    Please Make Good Choices with your IT

    As much as I have considered pretending to be Marty McFly while riding my bike, holding on to a car while riding is not going to accomplish my purpose of exercise and will most likely get me killed while trying. And please never use a straw to test for additives in your gasoline – it will not do your body good. Sometimes we need to be willing to put real effort into things and just make sure that the job is done right; not fast, not cheap. Before you go pouring coffee into ice cube trays or going crazy with Sharpies, coffee mugs and your oven, make sure to ask yourself this question. Why?

    Necessity is the mother of invention, not thrift. Don’t make the choice on cost alone, but on the decision that will truly fulfill your need.

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