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Crisis Survival Kit: 18 IT Mistakes To Avoid + 15 IT Best Practices

Slashing costs is important for business survival and IT is often a ripe target, but making the wrong choices about when, where, and what to cut can spawn new problems and even increase costs. Don't make these mistakes -- and consider these tips for the "right" way to do it.
Slashing costs is important for business survival and IT is often a ripe target, but making the wrong choices about when, where, and what to cut can spawn new problems and even increase costs. Don't make these mistakes -- and consider these tips for the "right" way to do it.This economic recession isn't the dot com bust, but being oblivious to history can doom one to repeat it. Some of the IT cuts that business made in the wake of the dot com bust were crippling and bear reviewing. Theresa Lanowitz, formerly with Gartner, but now with voke, authored a report that called out some IT mistakes from the last slump. Be warned.

  1. Outsourcing To Cut Cost - Outsourcing was viewed as a panacea, however, many IT organizations spent more money because of poorly planned and implemented outsourcing schemes.
  2. Lack Of Innovation On The Vendor Side -- This led to lack of innovation and education on the IT side. IT organizations were in turmoil because spending was dramatically reduced, and software vendors stalled new products and focused only on necessary items. IT did not have the leverage with either the line of business or vendors to demand new technology to support very real issues.
  3. Poor Quality -- The reduction of IT spending saw the demise or vast reductions in QA organizations. Many IT managers and even consulting organizations viewed "quality" as extraneous and something anyone could do.
  4. CFOs Made Business And Technology Decisions -- Technology decisions were simply made on the basis of initial purchase prices with no regard to how the decision would ultimately affect the business. The CFO-led purchasing power elevated a person in the organization who had no technology awareness to a level of ultimate and final decision maker. The impact from CFO-led purchasing decisions was far reaching and long lasting.

So those are the mistake to sidestep in a downturn, but what about the non-crisis induced missteps -- the kind of day-to-day issues that, collectively, shoot your IT in the foot. CIO Magazine offered up it's list of the 14 Most Common Mistakes IT Departments make. The point of these is they are IT issues rather than business issues, but that makes them all the more important to recognize in small and midsize businesses where the line between IT and business is often blurred (if it exists at all). Click through for more detail, but here's the top line:

  1. Projects lack the right resources with the right skills
  2. Projects lack experienced project managers
  3. IT doesn't follow a standard, repeatable project management process
  4. IT gets hamstrung by too much process
  5. Not tracking changes to the scope of the project
  6. A lack of up-to-date data about the status of projects
  7. Ignoring problems
  8. Not defining the scope of a project
  9. Failing to see the dependencies between projects
  10. Not considering Murphy's Law
  11. Giving short shrift to change management
  12. Incomplete project schedules
  13. Not pushing back on unreasonable deadlines
  14. Poor communication with project sponsors and stakeholders

That's a long list of what not to do. What about the best practices, the smart tip -- in other words the things you should be doing to make IT effective in your business? What will make your IT great it specific to your business, but former Ace Hardware CIO Paul Ingevaldson nicely summarized 10 Qualities of IT Greatness. It's something to strive for.

  1. The CIO reports to the CEO or, at least, the chief operating officer, giving the CIO clout and ensuring IT's independence.
  2. An IT steering committee, composed of C-level executives from the business units, makes allocation decisions based on a defined set of priorities and criteria such as ROI. The committee is necessary to ensure that investment decisions are made in the interests of the entire company and not just an individual department.
  3. The organization spends an appropriate percentage of corporate revenue on IT, indicating the company's level of commitment to IT.
  4. A well-managed, highly visible security team is in place, since this is one of the most vulnerable areas of IT.
  5. Disaster recovery plans and processes, involving users and a documented recovery plan, are well-established and tested regularly.
  6. An ongoing commitment to training keeps IT staffers up to date. Organizations that don't train IT folks and use lots of consultants are not sufficiently focused on in-house staff.
  7. Rigid adherence to an appropriate system development life cycle, that both IT and the user community understand, is a priority. Documenting the selection process offers insight into the professionalism of the IT organization.
  8. Well defined technical and managerial career paths let all workers achieve higher pay and status. This is the only way to retain top technical people who don't want to manage others.
  9. A monthly major IT project status report is widely distributed throughout the company.
  10. The CIO participates in long-range, organizational strategic planning. If not, it's clear the business views IT as an implementer and not a strategic enabler.

But why stop with greatness? Go for the so-called IT gold. What's that exactly? According to Michael Krigsman, CEO of Asuret, the gold is achieving successful IT projects (he cites estimates that 68% of IT projects fail). The five strategies he suggests will allow this to happen:

  1. Meet Business Needs -- Every IT project must accomplish a business goal or risk becoming a wasteful boondoggle. Poor communication between business and technology groups complicates this simple concept inside many organizations. If the business side routinely criticizes your IT team, get together and ask them for guidance. While isolation brings failure, discussion is a true harbinger of success. Conversation with the business is the right place to begin an IT improvement program for 2009.
  2. Innovate -- Conversations with the business should help both sides work together with greater creativity and flexibility. Adaptability is fundamental to survival, especially in tough economic times, so being ready to accept change is prerequisite for success. Although listening carefully to user requirements is the first step, being self-critical as an organization is also necessary. Great things happen when IT embraces a culture of continuous change and improvement.
  3. Be Honest -- Denial is the handmaiden of failure and a leading cause of project death. Change is impossible until a team accurately recognizes its own weaknesses. Having done so, the team can take remedial measures that shore up weaknesses and support strengths. Objective self-appraisal is the hardest item on this list to accomplish; few organizations do this well.
  4. Align Vendors -- Virtually all projects involve the IT Devil's Triangle: the customer, technology vendor, and services provider. As I have previously written, "These groups have interlocking, and often conflicting, agendas that drive many projects toward failure." Given the great importance of these relationships, success depends on managing the vendors to your advantage. Use contractual incentives and penalties to ensure external vendors operate with your best interests in mind.
  5. Arrange Sponsorship -- Many IT initiatives go across political boundaries within an organization. For these reasons, gaining consensus among participants and stakeholders is sometimes hard. Since problems inevitably arise, a strong executive sponsor is a critical success factor on all large projects. Make sure the sponsor fully understands his or her role and is committed to active participation. The best sponsors care passionately about the project's goals. Conversely, sponsors who don't play an appropriate advocacy role when needed can kill an otherwise healthy project.

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Sara Peters, Editor-in-Chief, InformationWeek / Network Computing
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Sara Peters, Editor-in-Chief, InformationWeek / Network Computing
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