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SmartAdvice: Get Rid Of Outdated Systems To Increase IT's Value

Streamline 'pain points' before investing in new technology, The Advisory Council says. Also, plan supply-chain improvements now so your system is ready for RFID's efficiencies.

Editor's Note: Welcome to SmartAdvice, a weekly column by The Advisory Council (TAC), an advisory service firm. The feature answers two questions of core interest to you, ranging from leadership advice to enterprise strategies to how to deal with vendors. Submit questions directly to

Question A: As an overworked IT manager, what can I do to reduce my workload while maintaining high availability and good security?

Our advice: Security, data storage, and network access have been the focus of much technological innovation recently. Most vendors, however, target large enterprises with deep pockets and highly knowledgeable IT staff. Many technologies remain too expensive and dependent on proprietary technology for the average IT shop. Fortunately, there are lots of simple and inexpensive ways to improve systems administration, network availability, and application security.

Before investing in additional technology, assess the real "pain points" -- for example, processes and systems that take an inordinate amount of administration resources with little productive gain.

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  • IT staff education -- Sometimes things that pundits take for granted haven't been conveyed properly to the rank and file. I recently worked with a midsized municipality and found, to my dismay, that the poor IT director was so buried in work that he had given every municipal employee the same password -- the name of the city. He also had inappropriately given a technician who was installing a data-protection service administrator access to all of his servers, and promptly went off to lunch. A large number of enterprises aren't paying enough attention to industry-standard security policies simply because they're ignorant.

  • Legacy hardware -- Just because equipment is fully depreciated doesn't mean that it's cost effective to keep using. Many vendors won't support a server system beyond a few years. Desktop and laptop units are rarely supported more than a year after they go out of production. Do your company a favor and scrap those old PCs with 200-MHz processors, 2-Gbyte disk drives, and antique printers.

  • Proprietary or legacy software -- Companies often become dependent on proprietary systems that have become hopelessly obsolete. Check to see how often reports are actually generated or read. Review the data structures. I worked with a company to replace an 18-year-old legacy system where more than 40% of the data records were either unusable or no longer valid. Fully half of the in-place processes were redundant or simply unnecessary.

  • Overly complex system-management processes -- Often, overworked IT staff never get around to automating repetitive, resource-consuming manual procedures such as user-account creation. Automating these types of processes will not only reduce administration overhead, but improve accountability and reduce data-entry errors. Don't reinvent the wheel. Other network administrators have encountered the same issues, so look for readily available packaged software or shareware.

    The best way to improve IT efficiency is to keep systems and skills current. Look for unsupportable legacy hardware and complex proprietary software that have outlived their usefulness. Replacing these low-hanging fruit with modern systems will make a significant difference in the ability of your IT organization to deliver value.

    --Beth Cohen

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