EDITORIAL: IT's battle cry

To hear more disaster stories than a fighter pilot in war time, try a long lunch with a few IT managers. The tales are certainly worth the retelling and I must admit I delight in playing the devil's advocate dropping a couple of phrases, like bombs, that will ignite lively discussion. Mention the CFO, or vendors not delivering on promises, and the lunch could soon turn to dinner; everyone has a battle story.

It is never easy getting funding for projects that don't sound too sexy. One guy at the table, who shall remain anonymous for obvious reasons, had been pushing his Standard Operating Environment (SOE) project for months and it kept getting dropped to the bottom of the list. But let's give the CFO - or anyone who had to sign off on this project - a break; there must be a million other priorities for cash than a SOE project which sounds all too, well, standard. How does one make: "let me present to you the standard operating environment project" sound exciting? It certainly doesn't come across as something that's going to get the company moving and shaking and set the CFO's pants on fire. What changed that? According to the IT manager: "My SOE project soon became sexy when the Nimda virus hit and there was a threat of huge infection. Because we didn't have a standard environment we couldn't update patches from a central point. We had to shut down the firewall and there was no Internet access for two days; staff were hysterical."

All of a sudden the boring old standard project became business critical. If the project had been approved earlier the problem could have been resolved in an hour instead of the entire IT department manually doing updates over days. And the happy ending to this tale - immediate sign-off with the IT manager poignantly admonishing all at the table with this remark: "The importance of IT is unrealised until there is a disaster."

Yes, this had to be the new battle cry for IT managers, particularly the IT manager at the table who was just recovering from a 48-hour emergency. He had tried to get funding for business contingency plans only to be rejected. Hey, the company hadn't seen a disaster in years and as any CFO will tell you, "Those IT guys are always so negative and we are focused on more immediate projects".

But the cruel hand of fate fell days later when a hardware failure caused a $4 million damages bill.

The bitter aftertaste of such events is even worse when IT executives must pitch projects to a CEO who cannot even use e-mail or a laptop. The IT manager seated on my right - whom we shall call Mr Audacious - claims the CEO at his company has his dutiful assistant print out e-mails for him; he writes replies in longhand and the assistant then e-mails instructions to all and sundry. This lament is not new so I was not surprised only last week at a user conference where an IT executive demanded all CEOs over the age of 50 who cannot use a laptop be sacked! A bit fierce I know, but attendees were participating in a session on how to present a business case when pitching for project funding; it really should have been called 'how to pitch projects to technological luddites'. Maybe I'm just a high-drama girl but disasters really do it for me; maybe they do it for you too? Send me an e-mail and tell me if this is your battle cry to Sandra_Rossi@idg.com.au * David Beynon is on leave.

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