Slowdown! Or Not?

Enhancing Productivity From Within
Even as they refine relationships with outsourcers, says Burris, CIOs must take this opportunity to improve productivity within their own IT organizations. “It’s somewhat paradoxical, but during tough times, it might make sense for the cobbler to take care of his own kids,” he says. In other words, in the event of a recession, IT departments may be expected to deliver projects at lower price points than those of outsiders. In order to do more with limited resources, CIOs would have to formalize best practices, as well as ensure operations excellence and adaptive infrastructure, says Burris.

One person who is meeting that challenge is Richard Mannix, manager of operations and technical support at Fuller Co., a global builder of cement-producing plants based in Bethlehem, Pa. Fuller’s parent company, F.L. Smidth, had been outsourcing its IT operations, and in 1998, F.L. Smidth chartered a group to look at the technology Fuller had in place. F.L. Smidth decided to integrate some of Fuller’s operations.

“We were doing some pretty interesting things in that we had reengineered away from 400 mainframe terminals to a client/server base,” says Mannix. “Also, we run Oracle under Novell at the enterprise level, which most people in networking will tell you is not routine.” Perhaps most important, however, Mannix’s division routinely sized processing and disk capabilities to maintain 35% to 40% growth of information retained, and that was important to a global business set on expansion.

Although the decision represented a vote of confidence for Mannix, it also required a structural overhaul.

Now that his division has become the global data center, however, Mannix’s budget priorities have also changed. His first goal is to expand the company’s storage area network (SAN) technology. His division has already strengthened all of its backup procedures and gotten all tapes off-site, so that he feels confident about the disaster recovery side of the equation. Yet, he says, “we’ve become a truly global processing organization, and we cannot afford to be down for even three or four days.” That means preparing for every eventuality, even “what happens if you suddenly find an airplane sticking out of your roof,” says Mannix, whose company is located next to an airport. “You basically have to look at how elastic is your organization,” he says, beyond the basics of fire, flood, and HVAC protection and alternative power.

Burris says, “2001 ought to be viewed as the year that the CIO really turns on IT productivity from within the business.” Burris also notes that, like Halwachs, other CIOs may well be expected to do more with less.

In the White House study, new government data suggests that productivity growth is far higher in industries that are intense users of technology than those that aren’t. Productivity gains will likely continue as long as companies continue to put technology to work and innovate.

“The appropriate approach to strategic planning is not to look just at the coming year, but how your industry will be impacted five years out,” Praza says. For most CIOs at mainstream organizations, technology spending is part of a multiyear strategic plan, and most CIN members say they’re right on track.

Eva Marer is a freelance
business and technology journalist based in New York City.