Survey says: We will cut off our nose to spite our face

It's been one of those weeks where I have borne witness to a lot of decision-making that seems to be decoupled from logic. Actually, that's not true; there is logic behind this decision-making, just not common sense.
Written by Ramon Padilla, Contributor

Pardon me if I seem a little cynical this week; it's been one of those weeks where I have borne witness to a lot of decision-making that seems to be decoupled from logic. Actually, that's not true; there is logic behind this decision-making, just not common sense.

The logic I am speaking of is the old "sacrifice the future for short-term profits/gains." I guess by now I should be used to it, but it still aggravates me to no end. This week, I participated in vendor negotiations in which the vendor suddenly changed the deal in order to try to hit quarterly profit/revenue targets, knowing full-well that the changes would be a show-stopper. I have watched as legislatures around the country continue to make decisions based on short-term political goals, rather than long-term strategies, and I have read reports of surveys that claim "outsourcing saves less than claimed." It's yet another example of short-sightedness as a result of trying to maximize short term savings.

I wonder if this will ever end, and people will think about the long-term implications of their decision-making as a matter of habit? I kinda doubt it, but I know that the exception for the most part will be my Government IT fellows. Unless they're blocked because of lack of funds or political pressure, I find government IT professionals to be forward looking. Why? I think it's mostly because they have every intention of being there when plan x or plan y concludes, even if the plans span administrations. Hail to those in it for the long haul!

That being said, it seems that these days we are faced with having to think short-term because of such a lack in funding or political will. When you are forced to try and get blood out of a turnip, it's hard to think much past keeping things running and not worrying about tomorrow. Yet that is exactly what we must do in order to do the best job we can for our organization (while we watch everyone else cut their noses off to spite their faces).

So how do we face this conundrum? How do you do what is best for the organization in the long run, knowing that long-term solutions often are costlier up-front or require more work than the quick fix?

Break it down

I have a few strategies that seem to work for me. The first one is to break up the planning for a project into many short phases that over time add up to a long-term solution. Each phase encompasses what you cando with the resources you have during that time period. Imagine, for example, that your goal is to create a data warehouse for your organization, but you only have enough funding to create a data porta-pottie. Start breaking it down into chunks. Begin with the planning, and go for the whole enchilada, but phase it in such a way that you are directing much of your work within the framework of the more affordable data "cottage."

Yes, you know there are going to be scaling issues that you need to deal with, but work with the tiny increments and invest what you have in good design and planning. Do "proof of concepts" that can grow rapidly with enough funding and attention once it is garnered. Always be prepared to expand your plan into the next phase should funding become available.

Rainy day buying

Another method is to strategically over-buy just a little when you get the opportunity. Kind of like buying four cans of tuna instead of the three you need and putting one away for a rainy day. You have to be careful with this strategy, but if done right, over a relatively short period of time you might be able to assemble the thing you wanted to do in the first place, but didn't have the money for all at once.

Plant some open source seeds

The third strategy is to be flexible and do some hard work in the short run in order to save dollars and work smarter in the long run. Yes, it is harder to find staff that are experienced with open source solutions than it is to get your current expert in Oracle or Microsoft. However, if you can place an open-source gem or two in your organization and don't get caught up in staying homogenous, you might be surprised at how well you can do.

Hire the old guys

Fourth, hire the old guys! Over the years, I have hired many retired military or government workers who want to come back because they need some extra money or just want to be productive. They don't ask for huge salaries (meaning they can work for the pittance you can pay them); they have strong work ethics; and they usually have a desire to learn.

For example: Do you need a start with Linux in your organization, but you can't find someone suitable? Did you advertise for UNIX knowledge as well? It is a short leap from UNIX to Linux, and you might find the grizzled UNIX admin who was phased out to make way for an influx of Microsoft techies. Guess what? That old hand probably brings a ton of transferable experience that you couldn't afford if he or she was a veteran MCSE. Give that person a little training, and you have rock-solid foundation to build your Linux systems on. I use Linux as an example, but you can replace that with any older technology that is similar to something employed today.

Lastly, continue to be the flexible, do-the-impossible entrepreneurs that you always have been, because without you many government IT shops wouldn't function at all. My hat's off to you. Carry on!

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