The Time is Right for System Maintenance

The summer lull provides the perfect time for system maintenance and other small tasks.

As we enter the month of July, you can feel the cool breeze caused by thousands of retail IT professionals sighing in relief.

With the possible exception of January, July is usually the slowest month on a retail IT employee's calendar. The enterprise slows down in its last chance to relax before the rush of going back-to-school, Halloween and Christmas turns everything into a frenzy from August to December. The big corporate bosses, who seem to feel the IT department doesn't need any lead time before being handed giant projects, are off sticking their toes in the sand somewhere.

Alright, maybe things aren't quite so idyllic, but let's face it: July is often a bit of a mini-playtime, not just for IT professionals, but for workers in general. I know of what I speak-I used to work at a small company whose owner took the whole month of July off every year. While the cat was away, we mice busied ourselves with activities like epic-water pistol battles and endless rounds of "Penguin Ball"-a contest of skill and strength that we created-using foam toys gathered from trade show booths. It was scored like a combination of football and bowling.

But the slack time that July often brings can be used more productively, as well. In the hurried atmosphere that exists in the typical retail IT department 10 months out of the year, anything that is not absolutely mission-critical (and the definition of "mission-critical" can change by the day, if not the hour) is pushed aside out of necessity. Small glitches, out-of-date patches, unnecessary files, and other such minor nuisances pile up while the overworked IT staff tackles the major nuisances-like merchandising systems which can't accept item descriptions from important suppliers.

During the course of a busy, hectic year, these small things pile up. We all know what happens when enough small things pile up-they unite to form one big thing. Every system has a bug or two, but every house also has a bug or two. And just like a house that has too many bugs infesting it, a system with too many bugs becomes unlivable.

Meanwhile, technology vendors are releasing various patches and updates at a breakneck pace, so it may not take too long for a system to become significantly out of date or underperforming without vigilant oversight in this area. Naturally, few retail IT departments have the time or staffing levels to perform that kind of oversight.

Well, now is the chance to tackle some of those small, needling projects-fix the small stuff before it has a chance to turn into big stuff. If it has already reached the big-stuff stage, you have the chance to rectify the situation before the big stuff becomes REALLY big stuff.

Done properly, you can launch a program this month to do a little summer system cleaning and still leave plenty of time for outdoor lunches, the occasional early Friday exit to sneak in a round of golf, or even a Penguin Ball tournament. Have a great July 4 holiday and a great summer.

Dan Berthiaume covers the retail space for eWEEK. For more industry news, check out's Retail Site.