I recently received this letter from a reader:

“I am an information systems analyst in one of the leading oil companies in Asia. Part of my job is to undertake implementation of our information systems plan including:

  • Policy formulation
  • Systems development
  • IT resource requirement evaluation

“All of these responsibilities take place under the supervision of the IT officer.

“I have plans to spin off the MIS—from a three-man unit—and make it into a new division. The newly created division would be composed of a sufficient number of IT professionals to carry out the tough job of enhancing IT in our company. My supervisor calls the shots in this regard. But to my dismay, no move whatsoever has ever been initiated.

“We have already acquired more than a hundred computer units and the network consists of two nodes with 232 terminals. The problem is, it has to be managed by only three IT specialists. In meetings with top management, they were not so keen about the expansion of the MIS unit. Can you help me draw up a convincing proposal to management?”

Andy’s answer
Yikes! That’s a pretty tall order. However, this question is not that unusual. In fact, I have been in this situation myself. You might be working in a large corporate IT department and then take a job with a much smaller company—with the charge to build an IT department from scratch. The company may talk during the interview about high-minded strategies and how you will be a key factor in building their systems from the ground up. But when you take the job and show up on Monday morning, you find that you spend all your time keeping the systems running.

Reality bites
This situation usually is a result of mismatched expectations. The company may have little understanding of what it takes to build an IT department. In their minds, you should be able to take care of a 232-node network, keep all the PCs running, and write and implement an IT strategy, all before you get your morning cup of coffee. It doesn’t help that their image of an IT strategy is probably closer to the “How many PCs will we buy this year?” variety. Their idea of a reasonable IT staff is two or three people.

On the other hand, you might have walked in with stars in your eyes, thinking you will become the master of a vast IT domain. You have the training, skill, and experience to build IT capability that will provide real value to the company. You are thinking ATM, ERP, and every other TLA (three letter acronym, for the uninitiated) that can improve the lives of the savages. You imagine spending all your time sitting in the office with your feet on the desk thinking great strategic thoughts, while the dozens of IT specialists who work for you implement those visions and keep the systems running smoothly.

Reality lies somewhere in between, although the odds are in the company’s favor here. After all, they are the ones who control the dollars necessary to build this vision. Unfortunately, too many people walk into this situation, immediately get frustrated, and often leave quickly.

Work slowly and estimate your expenses conservatively
The key is recognizing that achieving your vision will take time and require a concentrated effort on your part. You are in that bridge period, where you need to be “chief cook and bottle washer” for a while, until you can justify getting more people on board to take care of the day-to-day operational issues. Success for you will mean doing what it takes to keep the lights on and forcing yourself to put together a well thought-out plan of action.

If you can develop a detailed plan, complete with the costs and benefits to the company, you are much more likely to have success. When putting your plan together, resist the temptation to schedule implementation of everything at once. Remember, you will have to implement this yourself, and the worst thing you can do is over-commit and then either fail or kill yourself trying to succeed.

Also be very conservative in your cost and effort estimates. The temptation is strong to lowball your estimates to increase the probability that your proposals will be accepted. This may get management moving, but if you fail to live up to the unreasonable expectations, you will find the brakes put on even more strongly.

I have found that projecting your strategy over a three- or four-year period forces you to implement things methodically. It also gives management an idea of the real cost of achieving the vision. If they aren’t going to buy into the whole thing, then maybe it does make sense to move on, as you clearly won’t be happy being a caretaker for the long-term. Good luck! With focus, determination, and patience, I am sure you will find success.

Andy Weeks has worked in the information technology field for over a decade as an end-user support manager, network architect, and business process consultant. Currently, he’s VP for business development for Henderson Electric Co., Inc., in Louisville, KY.

What’s the best way to convince upper management that it’s cost-effective to hire more people? Is there any standard rule-of-thumb about the number of staff per end user? Post a comment below or send us some mail.