Practical Analysis: Enterprise IT Meets Survivor Syndrome - InformationWeek
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Art Wittmann
Art Wittmann
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Practical Analysis: Enterprise IT Meets Survivor Syndrome

We can't co back to the staffing levels we knew, but how will your organization adjust as the economy slowly rights itself?

In last week's digital magazine issue we discussed the possibility of letting employees buy their own equipment, relying on technology like virtual desktop infrastructure to deliver enterprise apps. It's an appealing notion that won't work. Here's why.

While the hardware your employees can purchase at Best Buy is as good or better than you're likely to acquire for them, the service they'll get isn't. I write this as the Toshiba netbook I bought three months ago is now in its fourth week with the Geek Squad. The system had an intermittent problem--booting one time, then failing to run the power-on self-test the next.

Sounds like a loose cable or bad ROM chip, so why is it taking four weeks to fix? Well, there's the matter of 2 GB of family photos and what I've since learned is 19 GB of iTunes music, some of it backed up and some of it not. So before the $450 netbook with its $100 extended warranty can be repaired, I had to pony up another $100 for them to back it up before sending the machine to Toshiba to be fixed. Thing is, I didn't know we had that much music, and the Geek Squad took more than two weeks to tell me that I need to ante up another $60 and bring them my own external hard drive for backup purposes beyond 9 GB. Really? You Geeks ever heard of a Blu-ray DVD? 25 GB and no waiting.

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I wish that my experience with the Geeks were isolated, but it's emblematic of the unsustainable trend toward bare-bones staffing--the poor Geeks never have more than two people working the counter at the San Francisco Best Buy, where they look pathetic behind a counter built for a dozen reps. Customers line up waiting in silent frustration as the phone rings every few seconds, unanswered by an exasperated staff.

I conceived this column while at a neighborhood restaurant where it used to take 45 minutes for dinner but that evening took two hours because the kitchen staff of five had been reduced to three and the waitstaff of four was cut to two--this despite a good regular crowd. This same phenomenon is rampant in corporate America. A good fraction of IT organizations have been gutted under the false pretense that outsourced services combined with limited staff can deliver the same or better services than a fully engaged, on-payroll staff.

I get the fact that some Wall Street fat cats blew a $15 trillion hole in the world economy, and that means a prolonged period of gross austerity, but what happens next? No, we can't go back to the staffing levels we knew; the Geeks will never fill that ponderous counter again, and the waitstaff at my local restaurant probably won't have the time to sit and joke with patrons. But the status quo won't work either. Layoffs have left just the best and brightest in companies, but they wear too many hats. Keeping an $80-an-hour employee who mostly does $30-an-hour work is just as gross as the austerity we perceive. Now's the time to figure how you'll address this phenomenon as the economy slowly rights itself. While this is a game-changing recession, some concepts like customer service don't go out of fashion.

Art Wittmann is director of InformationWeek Analytics, a portfolio of decision-support tools and analyst reports. Write to him at

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