06 March 2010
If you were watching Saturday Night Live during the 1990s, you remember Jimmy Fallon’s hilarious sketches as “Nick Burns, Your Company’s Computer Guy.” If you weren’t watching or if you’d like a refresher, scroll down to where I’ve embedded some examples, also featuring guest hosts Jennifer Aniston, Jackie Chan, and Calista Flockhart. (Darn it, those videos keep getting taken down! If anyone knows where they’re being shared at the moment, please say so in the comments. Thanks!)
Nick Burns was the help desk guy from hell. He could help with your computer problems, but you had to pay the price of being insulted and made to feel stupid. After taking care of your difficulty, Nick would always finish by asking “Was that so hard?”
So why am I writing about Nick Burns today? Here’s why. I’m trying to differentiate what I do for my clients from what Nick does. Most people see the phrase “computer consultant” or “technology consultant” and they think of Nick, the guy from the help desk, the only one who knows how to keep the computers and the networks running smoothly. Maybe they think of someone with a kinder, gentler attitude than Nick’s, but they do think of someone who performs Nick’s role.
Well, that’s not me. Not only do I have a better attitude than Nick’s, I actually do something entirely different. I don’t man the help desk. I don’t configure the servers or run network cable. I don’t install Outlook and connect it to your email account. No, that’s not me.
What I do is to supply a role that’s missing in many small and medium businesses – informed executive oversight for the use and management of information technology. This is the CIO (Chief Information Officer) role or the I.T. Director role, and many smaller companies don’t have such a person in their executive line-up.
In fact, most smaller businesses have little in-house expertise in I.T. There’s no expert oversight, no viable process for defining requirements, and in the end no way for the company to know whether or not a software or hardware vendor has really delivered the best solution for the business.
Yet they’re probably right not to have that expertise in house. They don’t have enough need for a full-time executive devoted that. But that doesn’t mean that they have no need for the role to be performed occasionally. They do. So what usually happens is that it gets shunted off in a direction that’s not optimal for the company.
Here’s how it often unfolds. The company’s executives realize that they have a need. They think it’s for some software and/or hardware to help automate their business processes. They decide to find a vendor or vendors to fill the need.
To make the decision, the company turns to someone they trust but who isn’t really qualified. This is often their accountant (how do you think the original Big 8 accounting firms managed to grow and spin off consulting divisions?) or their computer guy. The accountant typically knows little about the field, and the computer guy, paradoxically, may know even less. Adept at the nuts and bolts operations, the computer guy usually has no experience in optimizing business processes and their automation or in managing relationships with large vendors. Or the company may appoint an executive or committee to choose a vendor to meet a particular technology need. In any case the choice is made somehow, and then they turn the entire project over to the vendor.
This approach is gambling pure and simple. Sometimes the vendor will be willing and able to devote enough resources to find out exactly what the company really needs and to provide it. In other cases (and I’ve seen them, believe me) the vendor just puts in their standard product, assumes it’s going to do the right job, provides a little training, and walks out the door.
What’s missing is informed executive oversight, oversight of the requirements definition process, oversight of the vendor selection process, oversight of the project itself to make sure that the vendor delivers. This is the CIO role, and it can only be provided by someone who understands both the business and the technology. You can’t have one and not the other.
I supply that missing link. As a part-time, consulting CIO, I manage the requirements gathering, vendor selection, and vendor relationship processes. I also give advice on effective use of technology like accounting systems, marketing systems, online marketing campaigns, online customer relationship management, website utilization, and related fields.
And that’s why I am not your company’s computer guy. But I may be its part-time CIO.
Sorry, no SNL videos available at the moment! If you know where there are some (YouTube and Vimeo is where I’ve seen them before) let me know in the comments.)