Technology Doesn't Solve All Problems

My first BIG IT job was working for Andersen Consulting in Northbrook, IL as a Network Administrator.  The facility at Northbrook was huge; 6 five-story adjacent office buildings housing over 1,500 people who were responsible for managing the global corporation.  The server room was over 2,500 square feet, and housed over 100 physical servers and networking equipment.

When Andersen Consulting had a problem, they basically asked “Who do we make the check for to get this fixed?”  If a server was starting to get slow, we bought a replacement.  If the share was running out of disk space, we added a storage array.  We rarely asked why, we just implemented new technology.

Money bought solutions because Andersen Consulting was highly organized with policies and procedures which applied to practically everything.  The rules were followed closely and with a minimum of purchase procedures to follow, anything was procured to solve the slightest problem.

Years later, I am making a pitch to a client using some antiquated paper-heavy procedures.  The solution is to save money by no longer making paper copies but converting documents to an electronic format, allow web-based access to this information which will be stored in a database.  Information would be logged in a consistent format, reports on project time and money would be instant, and save hours per day over the current procedures.

Management was excited about the prospects at first.  The devil of course was in one word.  “Consistent.”  The current procedures (yes, plural), were not only inconsistent between themselves, but each project had not-so-subtle procedural differences which compounded the inconsistency further. 

After about 2 months of facilitating a committee of management, project managers and assistants to create procedure standards, we finally had the finished product.  It was met with little support.  Implementation was halting but gained more ground over time.  Some project teams didn’t trust the new system and did double-entry, making for a rather poor ROI.

We pressed on with more training classes and a dogged determination to get this to work and ultimately did.  In fact, most people looking at the system today use it as a standard by which competitive commercial solutions are measured by.  We can now account for a reduction in paper reproduction costs by nearly 5/6ths and over 50% reduction in hours spent on project documentation.

These statistics aren’t the whole story.  If the company had consistent procedures in place already, not only would they have seen savings earlier on, the costs of adapting that to a technology solution would have been much less.

Wade Stewart is the Managing Member of Stewart and Son Computer Services, LLC in University Place, WA and serves as a trusted partner to many local small and medium sized businesses.