Easing the IT Approval Process ...

By Drew Robb

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By dazzling top management with your understanding of the fine points of technology and crunching numbers in tremendous detail, you will impress the CEO and CFO enough for them to rubber stamp your purchase orders. Right?


"Management doesn't want 65 spreadsheets, they want the bottom line," said Guy Charron, assistant director of Statistics Canada's Informatics Technology Services Division.

While the U.S. has over 60 agencies that provide statistics, Canada has only one. Statistics Canada (Stat Can) has 5700 employees coast-to-coast, between seven regional offices and its headquarters in Ottawa. IT accounts for 25% of the organization's budget -- $120 million annually, looked after by 1252 employees.

Towards the end of 2003, management looked at ways to cut costs and improve efficiency, but realized they lacked an accurate picture of not only the IT landscape, but the exact costs of providing services.

That led Stat Can to do what it does best -- a survey. In this case, a survey of IT systems, costs and technologies. The results were then presented to management with a view to either maintaining the status quo or streamlining the IT environment.

Instead of being shot down in flames, Charron's approach secured abundant funding for the transformation and centralization of Stat Can's systems. Just what he was looking and hoping for.

Here, Charron lays out the key reasons why their presentation was such a success:

Keep it simple. Like the Simpson's dog, the understanding of technology-based why's and wherefor's can quickly degenerate to "blah, blah, blah."

Approach senior management in ways, terms, and vocabulary they understand. Instead of "caching concerns," "buffer overflows" or "RAM bottlenecks", just say "lack of memory."

"Technology is just an enabler to business delivery," said Charron. "Focus on your department's mission and service delivery and avoid techno-babble at all costs."

Obtain stakeholder buy-in for all phases. To achieve buy-in, Stat Can created a series of working teams and committees to investigate the existing IT costs and look at ways to achieve greater efficiency.

Planning committees and steering committees looked after the interests of the organization as a whole, while specific segments of IT became involved in such workgroups as the enterprise server group, enterprise backup group, file and print group, and the workstation and LAN administration group.

The CIO, of course, played an integral role in the entire process.

"I can't emphasize enough how important it is work with the various stakeholders during any major IT project," said Charron. "This was how we achieved a consensus on our approach to server consolidation and finalized our migration plan."

The groups created service descriptions, monitored service levels, investigated the rates charged for IT services (Stat Can bills the various segments of the organization for every service it provides), and proposed a preliminary implementation strategy.

No new math. Charron jokes about the level of math required during the top management approval process, "2+2 is what? ... Keep it simple," he said.

Stat Can worked out the math down to the cent for every server, service and component on its network. It did create countless spreadsheets, but these stayed with the IT working groups.

While Charron can lay out the precise costs for disk capacity and maintenance, backup, file and print, servers, PC's, desktop maintenance, and a thousand other components, this data was not shared with top management.

Instead, they saw one key slide of the bottom line. It consisted of the costs of maintaining the status quo versus embarking upon IT consolidation broken down in totals for Year 1, Year, 2, Year 3 and Year 4.

At the bottom, the estimated savings from consolidation were summarized. This easily surpassed the savings target demanded by the bosses -- $2.9 million in the first four years. Stat Can presented its consolidation proposals with three distinct and separate elements.

The net result of this approach? In September of 2004 the capital funding for the project had been approved. Since then, Stat Can has been working the plan and seen some very tangible benefits:

  • By moving to common storage, centralized backup and shared file and print, the organization is steadily reducing is pre-consolidation total of 753 servers.
  • Reducing the admin-to-desktop ratio from one administrator for every 54 desktops to one admin per 65 desktops.
  • By going from one LAN admin for every 14 servers, Stat Can intends to achieve a benchmark of one admin for every 25 servers.
  • "We gave them three main components in case they decided they only liked some or all of the proposals," said Charron. "Fortunately, they approved them all."