Cost-effective measures are for sissies

Recently I worked for a business publisher: magazines, books, you name it. Although I wasn't the official IT person (we never seemed to be able to keep one), I was called upon with alarming frequency to solve the myriad of business system problems that kept popping up: How do you assemble a 100,000-plus distribution database? How do you manage production tracking for 30-something clients per project? How do you

Recently I worked for a business publisher: magazines, books, you

name it. Although I wasn't the official IT person (we never seemed to be able to keep one), I was called upon with alarming frequency to solve the myriad of business system problems that kept popping up: How do you assemble a 100,000-plus distribution database? How do you manage production tracking for 30-something clients per project? How do you handle a billion tons of spam a day?

Eventually, mostly because I had to, I became a minor expert in spit-and-bailing-wire business IT solutions. If we had to solve something now and we had to solve something cheap then somehow I came up with something. Usually.

Unfortunately my quasi-expertise was often ignored because my solutions either functioned too smoothly, and so weren't even noticed by the higher-ups, or my suggestions would have cost more than a buck twenty five and therefore couldn't possibly be "serious" -- or, more likely, the higher-ups just didn't understand what I was talking about.

For instance, the office had to relocate, and so it fell on me to handle a lot of the infrastructure transplantation. Sitting in my little cubicle with stacks of bills, I thought maybe the move represented a fresh start, and that it was finally time to rethink how we did things. Maybe now we could finally save some money and start to reverse the company's downward financial spiral.

Why did we have a e-mail server, I wondered? We didn't send out that many e-mails and there are a lot of free, off-site, e-mail systems out there – even Gmail would have worked. Why did we have our own Web server? The thing was expensive to begin with but had become more of a cash cow thanks to its ongoing maintenance needs. There were plenty of off-site hosting services -- why not go with them? Our phone bills were outrageous and our phone guy knew less about telecom than I did, which was nothing. Why not go with VoIP? We had an office network server that, again, had been a pricey purchase and had siphoned more money as time went on. Why not use an off-site server? Even Google Docs would have sufficed for what few document formats we needed.

Another issue that begged for attention was the office space itself. Because we had a sales staff, an editorial staff, a production staff, and various hangers-on, the place was huge -- and the new one was even larger. Why couldn't most of them telecommute, thereby allowing us to rent a smaller (less expensive) office?

I did the math and my jaw hit the floor: conservatively we could have saved enough to pay for two employees. I brought my boss the numbers and ... zip, zilch, nada. He wasn't an old man, just two years older than I, but it was like he was from a previous generation -- everything for him was nuts and bolts: a Web site needed its own server, e-mail had to be on another, documents took a third, and phones needed to sit on desks and be connected the good ol' fashioned way. Because I was pretty much self-taught, my opinions weren't worth listening to.

There's a moral to this story: if you don't know squat about technology, don't make uninformed decisions about it. And if you've got informed people who work for you, consider what they have to say. It might just help your bottom line.

By the way, the company folded and now I'm looking for work. Anyone need a self-taught business IT guy who likes to save you money?

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