The March of Folly

The March of Folly

Once, I spoke the unspeakable -- describing graphically in this column my company's myriad crimes against information technology. That was nearly a year ago to the day. IDG had successfully lured me out from behind the editor's desk on ComputerWorld with promises of riches and power beyond the dreams of mortal men. Lying scoundrels! At the time the internal systems set-up at IDG was a wreck, and I guess I must have complained the loudest. Visit and search on "Dirty Laundry" if you want all the sordid details. I thought a partially honest audit of how things have progressed since then might prove interesting. Not surprisingly, I can confirm that having a coordinated IT strategy, and trained staff to implement it, certainly works better than having no plan at all and leaving everything to chance. That might seem self-evident, but a lot of companies still prefer the latter approach, not the former. It's also true that you can make great strides simply by taking small steps. With that in mind we focused initially on providing network and server stability. In the past this was measured in days or even hours; now it's measured in months.

By establishing confidence in the network we were able to implement a desktop strategy that now sees all corporate data stored on secured redundant disks across the network. Gone forever are the days of burying critical information on individual hard drives. We created a standard desktop environment, and bought management software that simplified desktop deployment and eased PC support when major problems hit. The Ghost software we use creates a mirror of this standard configuration on the server and lets us restore trashed machines or install new desktops in minutes, not hours. Our support manager created a simple Lotus Notes-based help desk system that lets staff report problems and then track the progress on their reports. It also allows our IT manager to keep an eye on problem areas around the company. By replicating with our parent company in the US via the Internet rather than direct dial we made significant and instant cash savings. Surprisingly many companies remain ignorant of this simple cost saving device. Also, regarding the Internet, we've delivered on our goal of Web access on every desktop. It has changed forever the way we work -- as evidenced by the panicky reaction of staff if the service is ever unavailable.

Most importantly though, on the product side all of our magazines are published to the Web and we have created four daily electronic news services which currently serve about 13,000 users a week and those numbers are growing at about 25 to 30 per cent a month. Next year we are turning our mind to sales automation and a major overhaul of our financial and reporting systems. Okay, right now you're thinking -- this man's amazing -- pay him more, much, much more. Ah, but it isn't all love and sunshine. Being honest I have to admit that these changes haven't happened as quickly as I would have liked, and some requirements identified a year ago as important, remain unfulfilled. I wish I could have carried the company further and faster and I wish I had done a better job explaining my role to the other managers and my group's services to the staff. Education remains a big issue, especially convincing people that some things aren't achievable, and many of the product development requests we receive remain unsustainable or simply undeliverable.

Peter Hind at InTep would call this managing user expectations -- and he's right when he says it's at the top of the typical CIO's to do list. Personally though, Peter, after 12 months in this game, I'd rather just shoot the bastards.

Andrew Birmingham is the CIO of IDG Communications. He can be reached at

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