IT organizations: Stop firefighting, set long-term goals

Firefighting is the operative mode for many IT departments, short-term approaches lead to panic.

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This article originally appeared on the BeyeNETWORK.

The other day I sat down and chatted with a fellow technician who worked in the IT organization of a large company. I mentioned topics of interest to him, such as Sarbanes-Oxley. There was no reply. I started to talk to him about unstructured data. Again, no reply. I mentioned proactive, predictive performance for information systems. No reaction. I mentioned a global data warehouse. Not even a look of recognition. 

Finally, in desperation for a conversation, I asked him what they were doing in their shop. The answer was – “all we do is put out fires. We are firefighters.” 

He went on to say that he felt like he was a hamster on an endless wheel. The faster he ran, the faster the wheel spun. There was no end in sight. 

How do organizations become engaged in this firefighting mode? There are many reasons why this can happen. The shortest answer is that organizations have looked at nothing but the short-term approach for so long that they no longer have a long-term perspective. 

There are a variety of reasons for organizations taking a short-term approach. Some of these are: 

  • budget – budget is allocated for only the immediate and obvious set of needs. Anything else is not considered. This attitude ultimately ensures that organizations will spend MORE on their IT budget, not less,
  • plugging the hole in the dike, rather than building a new seawall. In this case the organization does not see that there is a correlation between things breaking and a faulty infrastructure.
  • listening to vendors. It is true that vendors can give good advice. But at the heart of any advice given by a vendor, there is a profit motive for the vendor, first and foremost.
  • not understanding and recognizing larger trends. For example, siloed systems.
  • as John Zachman would say, “you do the design while I do the coding”. This is like trying to build a house without referencing the blueprint. 

It is fair to say that there are a lot of other contributing factors to an IT organization being in a state of panic. Lack of a unified vision is only one reason why the IT organization is in a constant state of upheaval. Some of the other contributing factors are: 

  • Too much complexity. Today’s technology is much more complex than yesterday’s technology. Not only do we have a myriad of parameters for controlling today’s DBMS technology, but half of those parameters conflict with or override the other half, and no one knows which ones they are. 
  • Too many systems. Not so long ago, database administrators took pride in being able to manage and control their systems. But one day, those one or two systems grew to 200 or 300 systems. It simply was not possible for anyone to control any one particular system.
  • Too much technology. Every time a new application or technology emerges, there is a learning curve. A person can master only so many learning curves in a lifetime.

 There are compelling reasons why many organizations have reached the saturation point for proactive processing and thinking. All we can do is react. 

The image of being in a purely reactive mode is reminiscent of boxing in which the fighter is punching the bag suspended from the wall. The noise sounds like a machine gun going “blatta – blatta – blatta“nonstop. Stated differently, “its’ no fun being a punching bag.” 

What do organizations have to do in order to reach a reasonable state of balancing short needs and long term goals? Some suggestions are: 

  • Educate management. Management needs to be informed just like anyone else. But educating management must be done subtly and carefully.
  • Understand architecture, such as the Corporate Information Factory (CIF). The CIF looks ahead to what lies beyond the immediate horizon. In addition, the CIF shows how others have solved a similar problem. This is always welcome input.
  • Understanding major trends. In many cases it is not obvious that there is a relationship between many end-user requests for maintenance and a data warehouse. For example, having a data warehouse allows the end-users to do things for themselves, thereby alleviating pressure on the IT development and maintenance staff.
  • Choosing the best alternative. Doing a careful analysis of a database in order to add an index may improve performance by 10%. Removing dormant data from a data warehouse may improve performance by 1000%. If you need massive performance enhancements, it is important to not waste time on techniques that will yield minimal results. 

There is no question that it is uncomfortable for everyone in the IT organization to be in a constant state of panic. The good news is that there are alternatives to this mode of operation. It may seem unbelievable, but those organizations that operate in a panic mode actually choose to operate that way.

Bill is universally recognized as the father of the data warehouse. He has more than 36 years of database technology management experience and data warehouse design expertise. He has published more than 40 books and 1,000 articles on data warehousing and data management, and his books have been translated into nine languages. He is known globally for his data warehouse development seminars and has been a keynote speaker for many major computing associations. Bill can be reached at 303-681-6772.

Editor's Note: More articles, resources and events are available in Bill's BeyeNETWORK Expert Channel. Be sure to visit today!

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