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 the best way to phrase

it, because 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 articles such as this one from ZDNet that heralds

that “outsourcing

saves less than claims“. 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. For the most part, unless forced to 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 anymore that 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?

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 CAN do with the resources you have

during that time period. For example, your goal is to create a data warehouse

for your organization, but you only have enough funding to create a data

porta-pottie, instead. Start breaking it down into chunks. Begin with the planning,

and go for the whole enchilada, but phase it such a way that you are directing

much of your work within the framework ot 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 be able to expand your plan into the next phase should funding

become available.

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.

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.

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!