Pardon me if I seem a little cynical this week; its been
one of those weeks where I have borne witness to a lot of decision-making that
seems to be decoupled from logic. Actually, thats 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
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, its 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
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 didnt 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 dont 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 dont 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 cant 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 couldnt 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
Lastly, continue to be the flexible, do-the-impossible
entrepreneurs that you always have been, because without you many government IT
shops wouldnt function at all. My hats off to you. Carry on!