Project Management

Help this manager justify the cost of a trial LAN setup

An IT manager needs your help in persuading non-IT management to allocate funds for a much-needed trial LAN. Let us know how you would deal with this delicate situation.

Our "What would you do?" column is a forum for sharing your knowledge and ideas in dealing with the more human side of computer management. Every two weeks, I’ll present a real-life scenario that demands something more than a purely technical solution. Each situation will be an accurate description of an actual event, with the names and other identifying factors, changed to protect the innocent—and sometimes not so innocent. In four weeks, I’ll present feedback from the community members and, where possible, the actual outcome of the situation.

In today’s installment of “What would you do?” I’ll present some of the responses to our previous article, "How do you deal with an employee who abused company resources?" Then, at the end of this article, you can check out our latest dilemma and offer your advice.

Finding fault: Lax company or employee scam?
From the more than 120 discussion items and e-mails, there was no clear consensus as to what course of action should be taken to remedy the case of the calling-card abuser, but there was a general agreement that something needs to done. Taking no action would be tantamount to endorsing the abuse of company resources: “If he is valuable and hard to replace, then the more that he should be punished to send a signal to the other employees that the company doesn't tolerate such offenses, regardless of the position and length of service,” wrote member Kikotan.

As to exactly what should be done, suggestions ranged in severity. Some suggestions were: (1) firing the specialist immediately and deducting full repayment from his final check, (2) writing a report in his personnel file, (3) requesting that he pay back 50 percent over his next three checks, or (4) repaying on whatever schedule he could reasonably manage.

Some expressed the view that his being a valuable asset to the company should not stop him from being dismissed: “If a bus hit the employee, he would have to be replaced,” wrote Lawrence.David. “Irreplaceable employees do not exist,” agreed Carel Kriel, adding that his value as an asset to the company has been greatly reduced by his lack of integrity. “The relationship between employer and employee is forever damaged,” Carel Kriel said.

Several contributors felt that the company had to take some responsibility for the specialist’s actions, as it had failed to catch the abuse in the first month and had not stated its intolerance of personal use of phone cards more clearly. “Fire the person whose job it is to check the itemized bill. So, in my opinion, the checking employee is guiltier than the specialist who did the bad deed," wrote member Nicholas Paras. However, most felt that spot checks, like the one that actually caught the transgression, are an adequate and more realistic means of catching abuse.

Most were in agreement that if a clearly stated written policy did not exist, now would be an excellent time to write one: “Written policy is everything when it comes to this sort of thing. If you don't have one, then you (as the management) are as much a part of the problem as the wrong-doer,” wrote member DTatum.

The outcome
So what did the manager of the call center actually do to rectify the situation? The solution was to require the specialist to pay back half of his debt and to sign a document written by HR that would go into his personnel record. This document admitted the abuse and agreed to the repayment. The document also stated that any recurrence of this action would result in the specialist’s summary dismissal. The specialist complied and has so far not shown any hint of recidivism.

The next dilemma: How to present the bottom line to non-IT management
“How can I cost-justify extra equipment and associated development labor hours for a trial laboratory LAN setup? I'm talking about a test LAN that is separate from the main company production LAN, where we can try out application and operating system upgrades and changes without risk to company operations.

I've already prepared and presented a plan to our president, CFO, and business manager. (We don't have a CIO or any management that is technically savvy. MIS is just a few guys who operate "in a back room.") The plan includes a modest server, small router, new copies or licenses for applications and operating systems that we already use, and terminals (and other piece parts) that are recycled, retired equipment. I've explained the potential risks (downtime and extra labor hours) associated when attempting untested upgrades to the live LAN. I've explained the license legalities as they apply to loading our old software onto the test LAN. I've also tried to sell the test LAN as a training device. Finally, I've tried to appeal to their sense of employee morale by showing that the test LAN should avert many late and weekend hours worked to solve preventable problems.

Management response is that a test LAN would be nice but:
  • We can't afford to buy test LAN equipment and licenses.
  • If MIS is competent, then there shouldn't be any risk to the live LAN.
  • Late night and weekend MIS labor hours do not cost the company anything because everybody is on salary.

They make those last two excuses with a smile—they're not openly harsh to MIS, but these same excuses come up every time we request something. Our company is small, and I understand our technical and financial limitations. Despite some major problems doing live upgrades before (most recently, upgrading from a peer-to-peer Microsoft Outlook e-mail system to a Microsoft Exchange e-mail system), management is unwilling to invest. I guess I've missed creating a cost/benefit ROI analysis procedure that management would understand. Can anybody help me get past this logjam?”

If you were the manager, what would YOU do?

Now it’s your turn
After reading this scenario, if you have ideas about how a satisfactory resolution might be achieved, send them to us. Don’t hold back, and don't be afraid to be creative. And if you've ever encountered a similar situation, we're particularly interested in hearing the steps you took to achieve a resolution.

You can submit your ideas either by e-mail or by posting a discussion item at the end of this column. A week after the publication of a scenario, I'll pull together the most interesting solutions and common themes from the discussion. I will later present them with the situation's actual outcome in a follow-up article. You may continue to add discussion items after the week has elapsed, but to be eligible for inclusion in the follow-up article, your suggestions must be received within a week of the scenario's publication.

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