Managing IT in desperate times

If you're working on the fiscal 2009/10 budget right now and in the United States - expect the economy to take a few more double whammies, focus on keeping your staff together, and plan on doing absolutely nothing you can avoid, except migrating your wintel machines to Windows 7 - that's a keeper and just about worth the money.
Written by Paul Murphy, Contributor

It's hard to get your head around this, but lots of people are doing the impossible right now: revising bet-your-job IT budgets for fiscal 2009/10.

Unemployment in Michigan hit 15.2% last month, in California it's 11.5%, across the US it's 9.5%, and New York is set to try out for a new world record job loss rate by raising some tax rates to 58% of income - the only safe jobs in the United States right now are in government, and those have false floors because the tax revenues needed to sustain them once the stimulus monies run out simply won't be there.

So, some unhappy advice for my American friends in IT management:

  • if you can retire, or motivate others to retire, do - but be aware of the risks. There's nearly two trillion newly printed dollars floating around with nothing in the economy to back them. Covering that deficit will require some combination of significant inflation and vast new taxes: either way some disruption is inevitable, so retire if you can, but think twice first.

  • Windows 7 looks pretty good (it compares to Vista like 98c did to 95a). Any "Vista capable" PCs you may have can run it, and users will thank you for what they'll see as real and positive change.

  • On anything else to do with Windows, stop digging the hole. If it works, do any Win7 compatibility changes needed and leave it alone. Freeze anything you can that involves outside expenditures, especially for evergreen support, systems software, and consultants. If you previously brought in specialized expertise to help with something, find a way to train some of your own people to handle it instead.

  • If anything that costs non staff dollars or invokes risk looks avoidable, avoid it. This is not the year to move to DB2, experiment with network virtualization, merge some SQL-Server DBs, implement system wide identity management, or do anything else that's risky and expertise intensive. Have your people do what they do, focus on helping them keep their jobs, talk long and loudly about improving performance and reliability, but don't undertake anything that's new and avoidable.

  • If you absolutely can't avoid doing something, maximize your own staff involvement, incur hardware costs in preference to outside expertise costs, and be prepared to abandon previously ironclad corporate standards if that's what it takes to bring in cheaper and more functional stuff like Linux, open source applications, and Solaris.

  • Remember that the IT budget is part of the organization's expense portfolio and if you can get some of your people, paid for from your budget, working as users in user departments, everybody will be better off. The employees will have jobs, user management will have reasons to support your budget, your resume will show a smaller budget drop, and you can get those people back quickly if you need them.

    A good place to look for opportunities to do this is the user side dream projects list - look at the people you'd like to keep but can't protect in a budget crunch, match them up to user dream projects, and sell having your guys working for user management to user management and the staff involved by arguing that they're developing the expertise they'll need to really understand those dream projects.

    If next year's economic situation improves, everybody wins - and if it doesn't, well you kept them employed another year and helped them diversify their skills.

    And, bottom line? with today's economy the very best you can hope for is keeping most of your people while more or less holding the line on services - so focus absolutely on doing that, and let everything else go.

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