Monthly Archives: August 2010

Why don’t you have an IT strategy?

When I conduct an IT assessment it is usually to support a company focused on acquiring another company or to do a general IT assessment for a company’s senior management team.

During every assessment, I ask the senior IT manager for his IT strategy.

I get a couple of different reactions. The best reaction is when the CIO hands me a document and agrees to sit down with me to discuss the strategy he has in place.

Far too often, though, I get a blank stare. There is no IT strategy.

I’ve even had students in my IT Manager Institute make a comment that goes like this, “How can we develop an IT strategy when our company doesn’t even have a strategy?”

Your initial reaction is probably that this makes a whole lot of sense – right? It’s logical that if we are to be aligned with the business that to do so would require us to develop our IT strategy off the company’s overall strategy.

My answer to this question is always the same.


Just because your company doesn’t have a strategy doesn’t eliminate the need for you to develop a strategic plan for your IT organization. In fact, developing your IT strategy and sharing it with senior management to gain agreement and commitment might even help the senior executives begin to formalize a company strategy.

If you ask senior management for their company strategy, they may not be able to give you a formal document or something that’s written down. However, I’ve rarely talked to a CEO who didn’t have a good idea about what he was trying to do with the company and what his objectives were for the next couple of years.

Your assessment needs to learn about these things whether it comes from a formal strategic plan document or simply from an interview with senior management.

If the CEO tells you he plans to grow the company by 15-20% in the next two years, you ask him how he plans to do it. These specifics that you pull from  the CEO in an IT assessment business discussion can tell you a lot about company strategy, , , again, even though it may not be formalized or written down.

Your IT strategy needs to be focused on supporting the business. Learn about the business, goals and objectives of the business, needs and issues of the business, and challenges of the business, , , and you have a lot to work with in defining what your IT organization needs to work on and the priority of these initiatives.

Don’t let anything become an excuse for not developing an IT strategy. The only way you can insure you will be in sync with your company’s objectives and have the IT organization aligned with the business is to define your strategy and gain agreement with senior management that it’s an appropriate focus. Once they commit to your vision (willing to support and fund it), there is no way for you to be out of sync with the business.

Developing your IT strategy puts you in the driver’s seat, assists in managing your client’s expectations, and helps you control your own destiny. If you don’t have an agreed upon IT strategy, it puts you at risk in being able to achieve success as an IT organization.

I’ve developed several IT strategies when the company didn’t have a corporate strategic plan. My sense is that you cannot afford to skip this. If you do, there is a very good chance your IT organization will be working on things that are not the priorities of your company. You cannot afford for this to happen.

So, the next time someone asks to see your IT strategy, I hope you can sit down with them and start discussing it immediately.

Sham Raju wins contest for week #2

Sham Raju from Bangalore, India has won an IT Manager ToolKit in the contest held for week #2 ending August 28.

We are giving away a free IT Manager ToolKit valued at $175.00 each week through the end of the year to celebrate our company turning 10 years old. Better yet, we will select a random winner from our ITLever subscribers and award a free Apple iPad on December 4th, 2010.

When asked What do you like about ITLever?, Sham replied, “It’s the best IT Information training and updates site that I have come across.”

You must be a current subscriber of ITLever to win. To subscribe, click the EMAIL SUBSCRIPTION link in the righthand panel and then select the frequency you want to receive new posts to our ITLever Blog (immediately, once a day, or once a week).

For a complete list of all winners, go to

Subscribe to ITLever and you may be our next big winner.

Should I ask for more money?

I received a question from one of my IT Manager Institute students that I think is worth a discussion.

The situation
“We will be conducting Business Continuity Testing in about two weeks and validating our Disaster Recovery (DR) strategy.

We will be testing the following:
–  TPS, TDS, TPI, LSA, LPS, HBC, FPS, CRS, SCI, TSS, TPM (These are all in-house developed systems, client server)
–  HO Internet link will be brought down
–  Telcom VPN connection into HO data center will be brought down
–  International circuits for two country networks will be brought down
–  HO TEBA bank link will be brought down
–  3G link for mobile users will be brought down
Other processes & systems:
–  Active Directory to be failed over to DR (Disaster Recovery site)
–  Job Scheduler (EDI’s) to be failed over to DR
–  Internal and external mail to be failed over to DR site
–  FTP Server to be failed over to DR

It might not look like a big deal but it is one heck of a lot of work to get to the point where we can switch off our data center and within about an hour be up and running at our Disaster Recovery (DR) site, with everything working.

In my opinion the team of people that made this possible deserve a big bonus.”

The question
“My question to you is would it be unfair to ask executive management for a bonus and if so how do I approach it?”

My response
The first question that comes to mind is, “Do you have budget to cover a bonus?” If so, probably no problem; if not, it might be an issue.

2nd question, “Do you have money budgeted to do something other than a cash bonus?” If so, also probably not a problem.

Bonuses don’t have to necessarily be in cash. Could be gifts, nights on the town with their spouse, a nice dinner you host with the team and their spouse, paid time off, etc. What’s important is that you show your team you appreciate their hard work and the results they achieve.

The biggest issue is whether you have the money to pay for it in your operational budget or if you have to ask for extra money outside of your budget. Having to ask for more money is something most executives don’t like to hear, , , not to say it would be wrong to go ask for it, , , only stating what I think about what they will “hear”.

Senior management wants their IT department to be in control of their finances. What this means is that you need to plan for such things, , , even when you don’t necessarily know specifically what the money will be used for.

Do you remember the example I mentioned in the IT Manager Institute class where I put $1,000.00 in my 1987 budget for an employee event, , , not knowing at the time what the event would be? We ended up using it for the houseboat meeting and all day outing on the lake. Didn’t know we would do this when I budgeted for it, but I had the money allocated when we determined what we wanted to do for my staff 8 or 9 months later.

It’s ultimately your call, but my approach would tend to be to do something that is within your current budget without having to ask for “extra money”. If you have it covered, go for it, , , if not, you might want to do something else that’s a bit creative like “paid time off” for a job well done.

It’s worth the effort for you to show appreciation for your staff’s efforts and their results, , , I would just do it without having to go ask my company for more money, , , the company has already approved what it is willing to spend in IT for this fiscal year, , , you should try to make it happen within that commitment. Next year, , , plan to spend some money for performance excellence and make it part of next year’s operational budget.

Lastly, I’m glad to see you are testing your Disaster Recovery strategy. It’s going to help you sleep at night knowing that everything will work properly when and if the event takes place. Your company owes you a bit of appreciation for anticipating and taking care of such an issue before it happens.

Make it happen

If you are like most people, including myself, you may have what I call a “procrastination factor”.

Ugh, sounds terrible, , , what is it?

Often, it’s hard to get started on something that may not be all that fun to do. Other things just seem to take precedent and get in the way of you focusing on that special project that you know is important but may not be that exciting to work on.

Maybe it’s completing your budget, , , developing a performance plan for one of your employees, , , or dealing with a difficult employee situation. It could even be attending a seminar or taking a class that you know will help but you just can’t seem to find a good time.

Most people tend to focus on things they are really interested in doing, , , and they put things on the shelf for a later day some of the things that need to get done, , , that is, until the last minute.

I believe IT people must have developed terms like “all nighter”, “burn the midnight oil”, “just in time”. In many cases, we have to have pressure on us before we will actually put forth the effort and work on a project that may not be one of our most interesting things to work on.

Case in point: I’ve completed many projects since starting my company ten years ago. In a few cases, I had to create a self imposed deadline that put pressure on me in order to get to it and focus on the task at hand. I’m sort of in this situation now with a project, so I deal with my personal “procrastination factor” all the time.

Here is what I’ve learned to be a key in breaking through a procrastination deadlock that might be holding you up. Simply make a personal commitment to yourself, stop making excuses, and “go for it”.

Things that have helped me and might help you include:

  • Psych yourself up and think of the positive benefits that will come to you when you complete the project. Putting a positive spin on the project that motivates you can be a big help.
  • Break the project down into smaller parts. Maybe the procrastination is caused by the project being so huge that it intimidates you. Break it down into pieces so you can see some early successes that will lead to the end result you want to achieve.
  • Get started. What I’ve seen with my own situation is that most of the challenge is in getting started, , , once you start, you may find that you have all kinds of energy and growing interest to complete the project. Once I truly start on a project, I’ve worked nights and weekends to finish.
  • Stay with it. Once you start, stay with it, , , you can lose momentum and even grind to a halt if you stop and don’t get back to it soon.
  • Create a deadline. Sometimes, we simply need the pressure of a deadline to force us to get started and to finish something important. I know it has been something that I’ve had to do to complete certain projects.
  • Talk it over with someone who might provide you some insight. In my case, I run certain issues by a few colleagues who understand me. Another source that’s always helpful is my wife, , , she understand me better than anyone and often has very good input that helps me get focused better.
  • Set reasonable milestones. By setting realistic milestones, you can start seeing progress. Nothing motivates you  more than realizing that you are succeeding.

Well, I need to stop posting onto ITLever (one of the fun and interesting things I like to do), , , and get back to that project I keep putting off. It doesn’t seem to be getting done by itself!  🙂

Stop procrastinating and make it happen !!

VoIP on the road

I travel quite a bit and much of it is outside the US. When I’m away from home, I try and call my wife and son every day to stay in touch.

In 2005, I took my first overseas trip and as usual called Dorine and Eddie every day. I didn’t really think about the cost of what I was doing, , , it was just sort of a habit I’ve had while traveling throughout the  US for 30 years, , , no big deal.

What do you think was waiting for me when I got home? Yep, , , a nice little surprise came with my next phone bill, , , , an extra $400 charge for long distance “overseas” calls even though most of the calls originated from our home phone.

Unacceptable !!

Well, paying the bill was a “must do” but to incur extra phone charges like this on every trip, , , or avoid them by not calling, , , these two options are not acceptable.

My next trip was to South Africa and I took a colleague, Dan Tankersley, with me. Dan heard me describe the problem so he set out to find a solution, , , and he certainly did.

He discovered a Voice over IP (VoIP) service from Canada that provides intercontinental phone services at a fraction of the cost of what you will pay using your cell phone, calling from the hotel, or even having your wife call you from the US. Did I say a fraction of the cost?

A US to South Africa call is just 6 cents a minute on land line and 15.28 cents a minute using your cell phone. From South Africa to the US is 25.99 cents a minute, , , a bit higher but still a bargain when compared to something around $2.00 a minute using a normal approach. You can see that you save lots of money quickly.

My wife and I talk a couple times a day on most days when I travel, but we don’t feel the pinch of a huge phone bill after my trips. We also talk some 20-30 minutes at times and don’t feel rushed to finish the call due to the charges. A 30-minute call is less than $2.00, , , big difference.

There are many services like IDPhoneCard plus SKYPE is free. What I like about IDPhoneCard is that you can access it from any phone so you have plenty of flexibility and the rates are very reasonable. Quality has always been very good as well.

If you and your staff travel frequently, you may want to look into the potential cost savings you can attain using a service like this.

Details of IDPhoneCard are at

Publishing industry paradigm shift

I’ve been writing books and publishing them for many years and it has been apparent to me for some time that technology is changing the publishing industry in a big way just as it has changed other industries in the past.

Let me give you 3 examples of how technology has radically changed the publishing industry in just the last 5-10 years:

1.  Print on demand – It is so much easier to publish a book these days than it was before. In the old days just 20 years ago you had to find a publisher who was willing to produce your book. If you were lucky enough to secure a publishing contract for your book, the publisher had to print, distribute, and sell thousands of copies to realize a profit.

Enter Print on Demand. With technology now, a writer can publish his own book and can get as many of them printed as he wishes, , , even down to a single book if that’s what he wants.

Another example of this is when I order class materials for my IT Manager Institute. I log into my Mimeo account and order the number of sets of material I need, enter the shipping address and they are there the next day anywhere in the US or in 3 days anywhere in the world. What used to take me hours to prepare for a class now takes a few minutes.

2. e-Books –  Amazon and now Apple and Barnes & Noble have legitimized the e-book. I’ve been delivering my e-books to IT managers all over the world since 2001 so it’s not really new to me, but I saw a story on a News program the other night where one of the newscasters asked the question, “Do you think e-books will change how we read things in the future?”

It’s already happening. My wife reads all the time, but she rarely buys a paper book anymore. She just finds it on Amazon and downloads it to her Kindle. Not only is it cheaper and easier for her, , , she likes reading from the Kindle better. More and more people are moving toward technologies like this for their information (newspaper, magazines, music, TV, etc.).

The introduction of the Apple iPad will only accelerate this media migration we are watching take place before our eyes.

3. Katie’s school – My brother just told me about an interesting thing that’s happened in his daughter’s school. It’s a private school so they are a little ahead of public schools in embracing technology.

Part of Katie’s tuition for the school year includes the cost of an Apple Notebook. Every student gets one. All their books and most of their training materials are stored on the computer or accessed from the school’s network and Internet.They are also required to download specific Apps, , , most of which are free.

No heavy bags to tote around anymore!

The point is that paper books may no longer be used in the classroom of the future, , , too bulky, too expensive, and they wear out. One good laptop that’s taken care of can last you throughout high school or college.

I don’t think paper books will disappear completely, but the use of technology to read our literature is only going to expand and when it does, it whittles away at the volume of paper books that will be produced in the future.

Are you presenting at the right level?

Take a good look at this graphic.

Are you presenting at this level? If your audience is a group of programmers or engineers, maybe this is the level you should be discussing your points.

But, , , if the room is a group of company executives, presenting at this level will put them to sleep, , , completely asleep.

Being high detail oriented as we are, we tend to think our audience needs a complete and full set of information to be able to understand something or to make a decision. This is not always the case. High detail technical people need lots of detail but low detail people usually don’t, , , and guess which group company executives tend to fall in when it comes to technology.

You got it, , , the low detail group.

Discuss issues with your senior management team at the 30,000 foot level unless you know they want lots of detail. Give them the answers, not all the mechanics of how you plan to do something. They want to know what the value is, where the risks are, and how much it’s going to cost, , , if they want to know how you will go about doing the work, they will ask you, , , and then you can discuss the “hows”.

When you prepare to make a project recommendation, present to a group of people, or discuss an issue with someone, , , be sure to consider who they are and at what level you need to discuss your points.

I would tend to err on the higher level side; you can always go into more detail if needed. But if you start with too much detail and lose your audience, it’s over.

Sometimes “less is more”.

Global Help Desk challenge

I received the following question over the weekend and thought the question, , , and my response might be helpful. Here goes:

The challenge from one of my newsletter subscribers
“I am in a dilemma over the Global Help Desk servicing our users.  My company is based in Singapore, but the Global Help Desk resides in the UK. The Global Help Desk is supposed to handle first level calls, and if they cannot help over the phone, the request is then dispatched to my small team of engineers (x 3) based in Singapore. My team is supposed to handle only 2nd or 3rd level requests. However, since we do sit among the users in an open concept office, the users tend to go directly to my team for support instead of following the Global Help Desk support framework.

I have to admit that the Global Help Desk analysts are not exactly up to mark, despite several work improvement plans with their supervisors to improve the situation. Also, it seems to be a cultural thing in Asia, whereby people prefer face to face support versus calling some 10,000 miles away. I explored many areas to improve the issue; for example conducting a workshop to educate the users, putting up posters, even moving to an enclosed room…however the situation still remains the same.

I do not want a conflict between users and my team just because we have to adopt a Global Help Desk framework which just doesn’t work. Users (even senior management) are starting to lose confidence with the overall level of IT support and service in our organization.

What is your advice?”

My response
“This is a good situation to look at because it happens quite a lot, even when users are in the same building as their Help Desk. A distance of 10,000 miles would certainly make your users feel like they are required to contact someone in a “foreign” country, , , even if they are from the same company. The fact remains that people from different countries have different cultures and speak very differently.

Here are my thoughts:

First, you don’t want to create artificial structure or process in supporting your client. What you want is to create an environment where you are providing great support and your clients appreciate what you are doing. More on this in a minute.

Second, clients are like “water”. Water as we all know seeks its own level and flows to the lowest possible point on the ground. Clients are similar in that they seek the easiest and what they see as the best and fastest means of resolving their problem. What this should say to you is that your local clients don’t feel they get the best support when having to go through the Help Desk some 10,000 miles away.

What I would do is analyze the situation from your client’s perspective, , , not from an IT perspective. The client is sending a message that they do not receive extra value when reporting their issue to the Help Desk. What they probably feel is that IT is simply imposing a set of rules on them that makes no real sense, , , “where is the value in calling in a problem to a group we do not know and who rarely takes care of the issue 10,000 miles away”?

You might consider running a research project for 30 days, , , or even just 2 weeks will do. Train your staff to take the call from the client and take care of the problem like they are doing already.  Part of taking care of the issue is to be sure they log any of the calls that came to them directly from a user into the Help Desk issues log. At the end of the month, analyze a few things:

  1. How many calls went to your staff directly versus went into the Help Desk?
  2. What percentage of all calls that went through the Help Desk were handled by the Help Desk?
  3. Analyze the type of calls that come in to determine if the Help Desk should be able to answer more of the calls? Maybe, staff on the Help Desk need to be trained to be able to handle more issues immediately. One way to get users to call into the Help Desk is to  be able to handle their issue quicker.
  4. Can you determine whether the User is getting their problem resolved faster when they go directly to someone locally versus calling in the problem to the Help Desk?

Another way to address the issue is to have a point person on your local staff to field all calls and to be sure the Help Desk is updated. After all, good Help Desk information is a vital source of information to help you know where you need to focus to eliminate calls and to improve support.

At the end of the day, you want to be able to deliver support as quickly and as efficiently as possible. Users typically do not want to change unless there is something in it for them, , , so ask yourself, “How do we provide users more value so they call the Help Desk rather than grabbing one of your technicians?”

This means several things:

  • Being able to respond and resolve the issue as much as possible with Tier-1 support when taking the initial call
  • Being able to get to the problem in Tier 2 and higher as quickly as possible
  • Being knowledgeable and able to resolve the issue effectively
  • Maintaining call and response data so you can focus on eliminating certain types of calls by preventing the problem
  • Being able to track support call status effectively

To me, I don’t care so much about how we take care of the client as long as we are doing so and doing it cost effectively. If one of your local support people acts as a local Help Desk “point person” so you can be more effective for your client, that would probably be a good thing as long as you continue to insure you get the call data into the Help Desk database. This information is very valuable to help you understand where your support resources are spending their time and what kind of issues are taking place with your users.

Ultimately, users aren’t going to change without a challenge unless they can truly see there is more value in calling the Help Desk first. If users start getting faster and more reliable support from IT as a result, , , and hopefully you can show them the data that supports it, they will reinforce within their groups that calling the Help Desk is the way to go.

I hope this is helpful.”

Got a helpful hint of your own? Post a comment and share your experiences.

Ladd Vagen wins our first week ToolKit giveaway

Our first week’s contest winner is Ladd Vagen from Flagstaff, Arizona.

To promote our company turning 10 years old on September 1st, we are giving away a free IT Manager ToolKit each week through the end of the year. Better yet, we will select a random winner from our ITLever subscribers and award a free Apple iPad on December 4th, 2010.

You must be a current subscriber of ITLever to win. To subscribe, click the EMAIL SUBSCRIPTION link in the righthand panel and then select the frequency you want to receive new posts to our ITLever Blog (immediately, once a day, or once a week).

Ladd gave us some great comments this morning when I asked him, “What do you like about ITLever?”

His comments were, “I like how Mike is able to find pearls of wisdom and relevant examples of good business/IT practices in unrelated experiences.  I especially liked the story about Amber Falls Winery.  And then there are the ‘just for fun’ articles (the sidewalk chalk was incredible!) and, of course, the practical articles which are always helpful.  Thanks, Mike – keep up the great work!”

For a complete list of all winners, go to

Subscribe to ITLever and you may be our next big winner.

Picking grapes

My wife and I like wine. We just volunteered this week to help a local winery, Amber Falls, harvest their 2010 grapes, , , and it was so much fun.

I visited a small winery in Slovenia last year and was impressed with the winemaker’s stories. His family has been making wine for over 600 years and the small village he lives in boasts of having more than 70 wine cellars, , , , something the Romans apparently built when they came through the region to store wine for their soldiers.

When we were in the dirt floor cellar tasting our host’s wines, I could just imagine a couple of Roman guards posted there hundreds of years ago sampling wine like we were doing.

I asked the winemaker about harvest and he said it was always a big event. Family and friends come in and pick the grapes for each year’s harvest and it was always a big and joyous occasion, , , pick grapes all day and have a big feast and party at the end of the day.

For some reason, I’ve wanted to be part of a winery grape harvest ever since, , , so this year Dorine and I volunteered to help our friends at Amber Falls.

Guess what, , , it was great, , , we had a super time and even enjoyed getting up at 4:00am to be at the winery at 5:30am to start. In two days, we and other workers and volunteers picked about 14 tons of white grapes. The whole process was easy for the pickers and everything was handled very efficiently, , , down to the lunch afterward.

Being organized is extremely important in any business. Amber Falls made the entire process simple and easy, , , like clockwork. Oh yeah, they started their “kickoff meeting” at exactly 5:30am, , , very professional and efficient.

Did I tell you we are awesome grape pickers? 14 tons of grapes is no small achievement!!

Can’t wait to go back in a couple of weeks to pick the red grapes. I’ve been told to wear something you don’t mind getting messed up as the red grapes can leave quite a stain, , , I guess it’s sort of like a “badge of honor”.

This weekend, we are at our Camp Liberty and plan to go out to the winery in a few hours to listen to some jazz music.

Tim and Judy, , , Pat and Margaret, , , are the owners of Amber Falls. They have created a great attraction for all of us in this area. We take everyone who visits us to Amber Falls because it is a very special place.

Cheers !!

Click on either of the images above to go to the Amber Falls Winery web site.