How to Survive in IT

By Christopher Murray  |  Posted 2004-01-05

In little more than a year, my staff was cut from 16 to two. our mandate, however, remained the same: Maintain the stability and reliability of enterprise data systems while developing new tools for business. My group is responsible for the applications, databases, intranets and extranets for what was once a $1.5 billion division of a telecom equipment company.

To survive, we became more visible rather than less so. We showed up at meetings and planning sessions, got ourselves invited to gatherings of the senior staff, became more plugged into the business. We got ourselves on senior managers radar, and they began to ask more of us.

We developed Web-based applications that could tap databases of critical data and deliver that information to the business units the way they need it. There were no bells and whistles, just the information required in a usable, meaningful, consistent format. We began scavenging systems from groups that had surplus inventory and installing Linux as an alternative to Unix. We learned XML and Java and reused code. We tried to make logical divisions in the workflow while joining on projects to fill in the gaps in our knowledge.

We developed systems to manage the complicated task of handling software patch releases, interfaces to deal with the incredible amount of hardware inventory, dashboards for senior management showing metrics measuring us against our goals and a wide range of tools to help run the business.

We helped tie databases from different divisions to our own. We helped manage the information requirements for offshore contractors. We helped other business units migrate to our tools. We implemented tools as modules that complemented existing ones.

We were more careful to manage code in a way that made it modular so that it could be easily ported from one application to another—a practice that is beneficial when resources and time are tight.

Most important, we listened to the business. By attending meetings and increasing our visibility, we grew our knowledge of the business and found gaps in managements knowledge. We were asked the same questions. Does this directly help the business? Does this have enough value to warrant the time? Does this fit and help drive a process that exists in practice? It was not enough to maintain systems; they had to be flexible and map to the business.

We have survived, even prospered. Our jobs are as secure as they can be, and we are satisfied that we are helping the business, not just hoping to avoid the next cuts. The lessons learned will make us better attuned to provide even more value when times are good.

Christopher Murray is senior manager of information management for a major telecom equipment maker. Free Spectrum is a forum for the IT community. It welcomes submissions at

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