Diary of an IT director: Tom Ranalli (Tuesday)

IT director Tom Ranalli's day begins quietly but picks up steam as the hours roll on and the problems roll in. Read the second installment of his daily diary.

This week, IT Manager Republic is featuring the daily diary of Tom Ranalli, director of IT for Lyon & Lyon, an intellectual property law firm in Los Angeles.

6:10 A.M.
There was nothing of note in this morning’s e-mail, but I did read a news item on the Web about businesses being warned in advance of impending rolling blackouts.

The whole blackout thing is a major concern, since three of our offices are in potential blackout zones. Luckily, our corporate office/network hub here in Los Angeles is not in such a zone.

Regardless, this summer should prove challenging at the very least, as we test the reliability of our UPS’s. I realized too late that I should’ve put replacement hardware due to repeated power cycling in this year’s budget.

Read what you missed!
Get caught up on this week’s diary.
Monday: Working and commuting

8:30 A.M.
I arrive in the office after a remarkably uneventful commute by train. So far this morning, there have been few e-mails or voice mails to contend with.

It’s quiet…too quiet, as they say in the movies. I should count my blessings, but an IT manager is always waiting for the other shoe to drop. Luckily, my staff is sensitive to this and usually makes sure I hear bad news before my users do.

9:30 A.M.
I touch base with some of my staff to check on the status of our systems as well as hot projects with which they are involved. I keep the questions simple and direct and try not to sound like I’m nagging.

I learned early in my management career not to micromanage and, overall, I’ve been successful (despite my natural inclination to want to have information immediately at my disposal). However, one does need to learn to differentiate the personalities of one’s team—there are those you can trust to complete the project and only come to you with problems they can’t solve; then you have some who immediately come to you when any question needs an answer (vs. thinking for themselves); finally, you have others who never let you know anything until it’s too late or until you drag it out of them. Once you know personalities and styles, you can adjust your status-checking accordingly.

9:45 A.M.
My status sweep reveals only one disconcerting item: The upgrade project of our financial system still remains in limbo (sort of), even though tomorrow is D-Day.

We are having a difficult time contacting someone with the vendor to get a disaster recovery plan. We are doing this upgrade in conjunction with them, and they’ve done this upgrade many times before, but they are really lacking in the communication department. I remain hopeful, though adamant about not proceeding if the “IT stars” aren’t aligned.

10:00 A.M.
One of my network administrators and I attend a conference call meeting with a software reseller and a rep from Microsoft. We discuss software licensing issues and review our future needs.

As has been discussed in the trades, Microsoft is completely changing their enterprise-pricing model effective October 2001. They are encouraging their customers to upgrade at the lower rates before they would have to pay full freight after the cut-off date.

What will you do?
Will you be able to upgrade your Microsoft licenses at the lower rates, or will you too have to wait? Join the discussion by posting below.

We’re looking at the potential of saving a significant amount of money if we get into an agreement early; unfortunately, we aren’t budgeted for software upgrades this year. It looks like I will have to add this to my technology business plan, which is in progress.

I leave it with the reseller to draft a cost analysis as fodder for the attendant discussions to come.

10:50 A.M.
I re-enter the wonderful world of calling card charges. I find out from the long-distance carrier which partners with our local phone vendor (the latter provides us our calling cards) that we are being sockedwithan astronomical surcharge per call–and that’s on top of the surcharges our local vendor applies. I begin gathering the rest of the information I need to justify changing vendors, to show a cost comparison between the current carrier and less expensive competitor.

One wouldn’t think that it would be this much trouble to justify changing calling cards, but there was resistance in the past by our users because it would require them to remember a new number. The expected cost reduction of about 60 percent should be enough proof to change vendors.

3:45 P.M.
I’ve been working on my top project since I got back from lunch–I have to draft a compelling business case for the next series of technology upgrades I am recommending for the next two to three years.

So far this year, I have written a budget justification highlighting the first phase of the technology plan to replace our aging desktop/laptops with much more powerful and reliable machines. I also submitted a technology forecast that maps out the entire upgrade plan–the move to Win2K and Office 2000 (along with the related server hardware/software upgrades), among other changes.

However, our executive committee needs more convincing, so I am composing a complete technology business plan, attempting to come up with realistic ROI numbers and other pertinent information.

It’s really difficult to find good information on writing an effective business case for technology upgrades. I found only a couple of good sources, including a couple of articles from TechRepublic. I know there probably isn’t a magic bullet, but I was hoping to borrow creative language from someone who has gone through this already.

4:15 P.M.
Bad news. The upgrade for our financial system software has been postponed for a month. My network administrator assigned to the project was not able to reach the comfort level he needed for us to go forward. If the vendor had returned his calls a couple of weeks ago when my admin began his research, we may have been able to begin the upgrade on the scheduled date. Not surprisingly, when we finally talk to the vendor, he puts the opposite spin on it.

I meet with the finance director, who is noticeably frustrated by the delay. He wanted to know what we could’ve done differently and, more importantly, how we can prevent this from happening the next time this is scheduled. I assure him that I will personally manage the upgrade the next time instead of letting the vendor do it. I get his concurrence that his people will be at my disposal to effect a successful completion of the upgrade. He leaves a little less miffed than when he arrived.

5:00 P.M.
I meet with a candidate for our open help desk position. Just getting that position was an exercise in diplomacy and persistence.

Our firm doesn’t operate like most other law firms. Our technicians manage calls to the help desk and also go to the users’ desks if they can’t resolve the problem over the phone. Our users typically dislike being walked through steps over the phone to resolve their technical issues. Instead, they demand that someone come to service their PC immediately. Because my technicians haven’t figured out how to be in two places at once (yet), the help desk is frequently unattended and service calls go to voice mail. You can imagine how happy our users are about that.

I successfully lobbied to hire a person who would just answer the phones and try to resolve the issues that way first. This candidate was a referral from one of my techs, (a method that I prefer, since it eliminates my having to pay a recruiting fee, plus it has the added appeal of hiring someone who has effectively been prescreened). This candidate doesn’t disappoint me; barring any better referrals from my staff, I’m likely to make her an offer.

6:20 P.M.
Just as I wrap up my interview, my wife calls to let me know she’s near my building, so I get a ride home instead of taking the train tonight. Tomorrow morning, I have another interview, this time for a summer intern position.

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