My high school journalism teacher surprised us one day with a visit from the head of Boston's Associated Press bureau. The lesson we learned that day should be taught to every CIO on the planet.
We leaned forward excitedly in our chairs, fully expecting an inside look at murders, drug busts and political scandals. But instead of regaling us with war stories, he lectured a startled audience on Finance 101.
Further deflating our afternoon, he said that if we wanted to be successful journalists, we shouldn't major in journalism! Or political science or, say, government studies. Nope. Never mind all that. Major in (gasp) accounting.
The entire room reared back in dismay. We thought he was nuts until he explained himself: Everything comes down to following the money.
Campaign finance scandals, state contract kickbacks, payoffs, bribes, embezzlement, budget allocation battles - the money trail was the foundation of most investigative journalism and many a Page One story. Suddenly, it all became clear. (Not necessarily any less depressing; I mean, major in accounting? No way.) But we got the message. And you need to get it, too.
Counting is about to become king for a budget-strapped, tightly staffed and vendor-besieged IT community. The flash and excitement of leading-edge technology have been usurped by rock-bottom practicality. Making do with what you've got, and making what you've got pay its dues, is today's mantra.
You are also charged with critical business tasks like building the department budget and working out contracts for licenses, outsourcing, consultants and support. And you are expected to forecast three- and five-year strategic technology plans that are aligned with business goals. You may not be in any position now to take on new projects, but you need to be prepared to move once the economy - and corporate budgets - loosen up.
You also need to keep an eye on profitability. A Deloitte & Touche survey of CEOs at what it considers the 500 fastest-growing high-tech companies in the world found that 34% consider profitability their top challenge. Talk to your CEO; I bet it's become his top issue as well.
Obviously, you can't possibly address those problems accurately, build a sustainable budget or negotiate successfully with your vendors and service providers if you can't count up what you've already got, calculate the extent to which you are using that capacity and figure out from there what you'll need down the road.
To do that, you've got to get organized. You have to systematically crawl through every office, outpost and mobile setup in the company and count up every piece of equipment, every seat and type of software, every license, contract and consultant. Then, just as systematically, you have to calculate the value, number of cycles, number of seats, the number of users and so on of your IT domain.
You need to look for redundancy, unused capacity and unaccounted-for equipment (you know it's out there). Then move on to figuring out the total cost of ownership of your equipment, the ROI on your projects, the bottom-line costs of your licenses and support contracts. Once you know what you have, you can figure out what you'll need.
Unless you do this legwork, your planning will be off and your budget misaligned. And there goes the ability of IT to contribute to today's profitability goals and enable the success of your business.
Patricia Keefe is editorial director at Computerworld. You can contact her at email@example.com.