Prepare now to avoid hard times

If you haven't noticed that dot-coms are becoming drop-coms (as in "dropping like flies"), then you need to wake up. More importantly, you need to realize that this situation is going to have an impact on your business.

The good news is you'll be able to fill those 2-year-old technical staff positions you haven't been able to find people for. The layoffs going on right now aren't just the dead wood - there are seriously good people being given their walking papers.

The bad news is one or more of your suppliers is going to fold this year, and you need to be prepared for that, too. Even companies that survive are going to be doing some serious belt-tightening. That's going to translate into stress in areas such as customer service and support as well as capacity and infrastructure.

You should be making a list of all your suppliers - software, hardware and especially services. Go down that list and ask yourself, "What would the impact on us be if this company closed its doors?" Don't always look at the worst case, either. Think about degraded service, delayed releases or technical support personnel who can't call you back in a timely fashion. If your suppliers are squeezed, but not broken, how is that going to affect your operations?

Look up the line as well. If you've got an application service provider-hosted application in a data center, what happens if the power goes off in the computer room? Or the ISPs serving the data center stop passing bits?

Also, start working with potential alternative and back-up vendors. If the DSL vendor for your telecommuters goes under, who else can service those homes? If your T-1 line starts to behave more like a 56K bps line, who else can bring you bandwidth?

IT managers have moved heavily toward single-vendor solutions recently to increase discounts and build relationships. That's an excellent strategy, unless your single vendor files Chapter 11. This year is a good time to diversify. Good suppliers will understand if they don't get every last dollar of your business.

Third, review your disaster recovery plans and security policies. Your own company is probably not immune from a little belt-tightening, and your risk is always highest at times like this. Are your access controls - physical and virtual - strong enough to withstand an emotional and educated insider with ill intent? No one wants to think that co-workers would turn from assets to attackers in a few seconds, but you ignore human nature at your company's peril.

An economic slowdown only means crisis if you fail to plan. Look around now and ask, "How will this affect my company?" By preparing for what's ahead, you can help ensure the health of your entire organization.

Snyder, a Network World Global Test Alliance partner, is a senior partner at Opus One in Tucson, Ariz. He can be reached at Joel.Snyder@Opus1.COM.

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