IT Management and the St Louis Arch

I took my family to the St. Louis Arch over the Thanksgiving holiday a few years ago. While perusing the pictures, T-shirts, and post cards in the souvenir shop, a particular snapshot caught my eye. The picture was of the “final section” being put in place in October of 1965. I thought this photo pin-pointed the way many IT departments fall off the “edge”, by building one side of the “arch” only, (the immediate needs) and disregarding the long term needs. Possibly, they may build the far side only (the long term strategy), and forget the short term, revenue impacting needs. Many IT leaders fail to construct and co-ordinate the short and long term needs simultaneously.

To illustrate this concept, let’s look at this example: an organization dealt with an electronic medical records issue (EMR). Because of users inability to connect reliably, and application slowness, they responded by adding more servers, more licenses, and a bigger communications bandwidth. This solution worked for a few months, but very soon things began to unravel, because no consideration was given to the underlying flaws in design that plagued the system. These flaws were related to a slew of infrastructure, applications design, and architectural issues.

In another example, a company responded to an overheating, and shortage of power problem in their data center by adding more power and cooling capacity, only to discover that this fix lasted less than a quarter, and then disaster struck, and servers had to be shut down. In the absence of capacity planning, lack of awareness (and calculations) of power and cooling requirements, growth planning and control, and the absence of server consolidation strategy, the fix was only a band aid.

Those two examples illustrate how IT was successful in getting to solve the immediate issues, i.e., reaching one side of the Arch and saying “we made it”, but actually failed to overcome the long term issues. They fell off the “cliff” because they had not planned on a long term strategy, along with the mandatory, revenue driven short-term fixes. They needed a roadmap, to carry them over, and therefore securing the future. Not planning for long term needs in an IT department will always lead to a constant fire-fighting.

On the other hand, if an organization doesn’t deal with the short-term arm, i.e., the immediate needs of its customers, it would not only negatively impact the business, but in all likelihood the IT leadership won’t last long enough to achieve any long-term plans, and will never have the opportunity to get to the top.

A good IT organization always acts on both tracks simultaneously, and a really successful one manages to have both sides of the arch meet at the same altitude, where short-term and long-term goals meet perfectly. Short-term action should be aligned with the strategy, technology, processes, and personnel selected for the long term arm. The crowning achievement of an IT manager’s tenure, the pinnacle, will be placing the “Final Section” and truly say “We made it!”

So, when faced with an immediate problem, and while putting a SWAT team together to fix it, ask yourself these six questions:

1- What is the issue?
2- What is the impact?
3- How can it be fixed?
4- Who is going to fix it?
5- How much it is going to cost?
6- How long is it going to take?

And then ask yourself a seventh one:

7- How is the fix going to be lined up with the long-term strategy and architecture?