Keeping IT Cooking through a recession

I sometimes get to catch a TV show called “Ramsey’s Kitchen Nightmares” (Between you and me, I like the BBC version better- but you can actually watch it on Hulu via the first link). It is a show where famous chef and restaurateur Gordon Ramsey spends a week with a failing restaurant and attempts to turn it around. In a week, what he can usually do is is rework it and point the owner and the staff in the right direction. It occurs to me that the types of activities we, as corporate IT folks, should be taking during this “economic downtime” are very similar to what Chef Ramsey goes through with a restaurant. The process is really fairly formulaic, it is only the personalities involved that make the shows different from week to week. If you are a corporate IT type and your business is slowing down, here is the basic flow:

1. Inventory. Understand what you have.
For IT this can not mean spending lots of money. It may mean lots of man hours. Time spent on phones with end users, technical staff etc. Then tracking it down in detail. It is tedious, it can be boring. You can not do anything else without this information.

2. Clean ( usually while inventorying). Throw out the green fuzzy leftovers in the back of the kitchen. Make sure the old grease is cleaned up and the plumbing is working well.

You may have done some of this as part of cost cutting already, but I am sure there is more to be done. Keep the following key principles in mind: simplify the software stack, lower the variety of applications that fulfill the same task and look at which technologies are potentially nearing their expiration dates and may need to be replaced in the future. You will not be able to spend money to do simplification; but you can do all the research and be prepared with detailed business cases and implementation plans when the money is released. Look at the entire queue of identified projects and rationally prioritize your actions for when the budget is a little more flush. You may even surprise yourself and find some cases where you can see immediate cost savings.

3. Understand the neighborhood and potential clients. Understand the competition. What unsatisfied tastes/needs could this establishment fulfill?

What are the technologies that will give your company the best business edge over your competitors? How do your competitors work? What is the growing infrastructure in the IT and/or ( fill in your domain here) world at large? Where are the biggest business gaps that IT can assist the business with? Do the full technology evaluation, write the business case, use this information to help build the new menu. Understand what ingredients are needed, what the best suppliers are, etc.. Read, talk to other IT folks at other companies, hold internal discussion groups and seminars to get everyone up to speed and well educated on today’s possible technologies. Have a few key sandboxes where you can build without costs, using your own man power to try things out.

4. Rework the menu, always remembering to keep it simple. Narrow the number of choices. Use ingredients that allow you to make a quality product while keeping the menu price low and still make a profit.

This is not just coming up with the same dishes on a pretty new piece of paper. Sometimes you have to work with the suppliers to teach them better ways to do things. Help them find ways to lower their costs, so they can get things to you cheaper. Sometimes you have to find brand new suppliers. Test all the menu items. A good chef Always tastes and eats his own food. If we do not test and use the technology, we will never really be experts or understand the potentials. It is your experience with technologies combines with our deep understanding of the business that makes us an invaluable addition.

5. Work on staff communications and clarify duties. Make sure everyone knows their job and can do it well.
Clean up your processes. This does not mean make them more complicated. This does not drawing pretty pictures.. It means practicing. OK, you don’t have real paying customers? Run yourselves as customers and practice how to handle the orders, how to serve and how to talk to each other and the business clearly.

6. Relaunch with a fanfare and some important guests. Be sure not to blow the relaunch.
Have a great new recipe/offering to dazzle folks. This means having fully prepared business cases/implementation plans and have the business partially sold on it before the dollars start flowing. Execute well.

7. Work hard, but do it with passion and feeling
That is just something that never changes. It is insufficient to just beat yourself to a pulp to get tasks done- you still will not win at the end of the day. You have to have a passion for what you do and add in your personality and flair to make it really a winner.

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