Todd shares how you can identify whether your Information Systems department needs a transformation.

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No parent wants to hear his or her baby is ugly. Sometimes, though, my job is to tell business leaders just how ugly their Information Systems baby is.

Here are a few recent ugly babies I've seen when evaluating some Information Systems departments:

  • Dot Matrix Printer
  • Green Bar Paper
  • Green Screen or Monochrome Applications
  • Floppy Diskette
  • Back-Up Tapes
  • Windows XP
  • Windows Server 2003
  • Slow Internet Connections (Informal benchmark – your home Internet connection is faster than your workplace connection.)
  • A "Graveyard" of Computer or Telecom Equipment

Even if your baby is ugly – that is, you have one or more of these signs – your baby doesn't have to remain ugly, and the makeover may not be as expensive as you think.

  • Printing – Laser or inkjet printers are fairly inexpensive to buy and operate, and regular copier paper costs less than green bar paper.
  • ERP Systems – Your ERP vendor has likely moved its software to a graphical or web-based user interface – and, because you are their only green screen holdout, the vendor incurs additional support costs, which they pass along to you.
  • Old Hardware and Software – Computers running Windows XP or Windows Server 2003 are likely near the end of their maximum expected lives – and the large number of hardware vendors supporting the Windows platform helps keep prices competitive. Buying new hardware with a current operating system already installed promises faster performance, on a smaller footprint, and improved energy efficiency.
  • Recycling/Being Green – Old computers can be donated to an organization like HandyCapable Network here in Greensboro, which employs developmentally disabled adults ("HandyTechs") to refurbish donated computers, which are then given to low-income families to use at home.

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Underfunding the IS function, relative to what's needed for your industry, births ugly babies requiring makeovers. The solution? Increase your IS spending for a short period of time to fund the makeover, then drop it back down to a sustainable level.

Here's an example showing how this works. About 18 months ago, one of my clients hired me to assess his entire IS department. I looked at IS spending as a percentage of sales, and determined the IS function had been underfunded for several years.

Over the course of the project, we developed over 50 recommendations meant to provide a path forward and a timeline for implementation. Client personnel quickly began work on these. As a result, this client has now made great progress in shifting their outlook from a small business mindset with a bunch of computers, to a mid-sized – and quickly growing – business that needs to efficiently and effectively manage a fleet of computers. This client's progress so far includes:

  • Adding a new staff member.
  • Replacing the two underpowered servers (one Linux and one Windows) running its ERP system, with one beefy server which hosts what are now two virtual machines.
  • Upgrading the database manager and application development language for the ERP system to the most recent standards.
  • Pulling new CAT 6 cabling to every office, desk, and shared resource (such as a printer) in headquarters.
  • Developing the resilience of their systems by obtaining and configuring a "twin" of the beefy server running the two virtual machines, and then locating the "twin" in a company facility over 100 miles away from headquarters.

The client's IS spend increased significantly for about 12 months, then settled at a level higher than it was, yet still below that of competitors.

Remember, even if your baby is ugly and inefficient, it may be easier – and less expensive – than you think to transform it.

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Todd L. Herman