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Big Challenges In Small IT Shops

You think you've got problems stretching your multimillion (or multibillion) dollar IT budget? How hard do you think it is to stretch a multi-thousand-dollar IT budget? That's what many IT leaders in smaller organizations are faced with. At InformationWeek, we write a lot about issues faced by CIOs at large companies. But IT managers in small- and medium-sized businesses face huge challenges, too.

You think you've got problems stretching your multimillion (or multibillion) dollar IT budget? How hard do you think it is to stretch a multi-thousand-dollar IT budget? That's what many IT leaders in smaller organizations are faced with. At InformationWeek, we write a lot about issues faced by CIOs at large companies. But IT managers in small- and medium-sized businesses face huge challenges, too.As I was reporting on an InformationWeek story this week about new Web-based business intelligence tools from Datawatch, one of the software vendor's executives stressed the point that many small and midsize businesses just can't afford the thousands upon thousands of dollars it costs to implement BI tools that require a data mart.

That doesn't mean small and medium-sized businesses don't have lots of data sitting around that could provide valuable insights about customers or getting a competitive edge. It just means that it's challenging for these smaller organizations to tap into that information.

Besides money being tight, many of the people leading the IT mission at smaller companies don't have impressive-sounding titles like "chief information officers" to put on their resumes. Those folks are often more like chief bottle washers, one-man or one-woman IT armies that handle it all. If the office copy machine jams, that's their problem, too.

And just because these smaller shops have less money to spend, less IT-staffpower, and probably a lot less glamour, that doesn't mean there's any less need for these tech leaders to vigilantly stay up on trends. For some, there's even more of a need to be creative, especially in strained economic times like now.

"Open source has been a godsend for small organizations, you can find what you're looking for" without enormous licensing fees, says Thom Jones, systems manager at Isthmus Publishing, publisher of Isthmus, a 30-year-plus old weekly newspaper in Madison, Wis., with a circulation of 61,000. Among the open source technologies Isthmus uses are Linux, Apache, and "anything that's good out there, we give it a try," Jones said during a recent interview with InformationWeek.

So far, the weak economy hasn't had a big impact on Isthmus, but the 45-person company is in a wait-and-see, be-ready mode, and that's true for IT, too, says Jones.

"As a small company, we can be flexible," and make necessary changes if the economy does get even worse, he says. That includes keeping a close eye on third-party relationships that supplement what Jones can handle in-house.

"We're starting to look at contracts, if there's anything we can do to cut back" he says.

But for smaller organizations like Jones', cutting back on IT staff is a lot more difficult when you can count all the members of your IT team on one hand.

If you're a leader in a small or midsize IT organization, tell us about your biggest woes these days. Think those problems are much different than the issues CIOs at larger companies are facing?

Let us know what's bugging you.

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