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K. Brian Kelley - Databases, Infrastructure, and Security

IT Security, MySQL, Perl, SQL Server, and Windows technologies.

Adding value to our organizations

Sean McCown writes in the latest Database Underground about how DBAs should try and make things better for users of an organization. I think Sean hits upon an important point not just for DBAs but for all IT workers. Too often IT is seen as a cost center, an impediment, as something as necessary for an organization but not necessarily glorified or appreciated. As technicians we may find ourselves amazed at how the business people don't see value in what we do, we may groan and complain about they don't understand how hard we work or we may think they don't care. From the business perspective, though, it's hard to understand why it takes so much to do some of the things we do. But then again, we sometimes marvel at some of the things the business folks do and we shake our heads and say, "I don't get it." However, they do and it is their turn to wonder why we don't understand how hard they work and wonder why we don't care.

Responsible IT workers seek to make a positive difference for the company beyond their "day jobs." It may not be helping automate a user's spreadsheet, after all, some system administrators may not have much expertise on the latest business software, but there is certainly something every IT worker can do to add value to the organization. A similar point was made by Vanessa Williams in her blog, fridgebuzz. In a recent post titled The Long Tail of Web Services she talks about how Amazon.com occasionally gets recognition for some of its initiatives which don't seem to have any relation to its core business. Google is the new "hot company" but just like Amazon.com, Google is investing heavily in its infrastructure. However, while Google has incredible expertise, they aren't utilizing it as a profit center.

For Amazon.com, the model is already built. Amazon.com invested heavily in its infrastructure. Now it's seeking to use those investments to allow third-party vendors to partner and piggy-back on the great work its personnel have accomplished. Ultimately, that means a greater and more stable source of revenue for Amazon.com beyond selling warehouses full of books, CD, and DVDs. But for Amazon.com to be positioned to have such a strong infrastructure, that means someone in IT had to think beyond "web store." Then someone had to consider what to do with all that infrastructure and how to make money for Amazon.com. That's adding value, something we can all do. And when we start doing this enough, the organization will see IT as an asset and a wise investment rather than as "overhead."

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Comments

Posted by Vanessa on 10 January 2007
Thanks for pointing out the subtext to my post, Brian! Although it was largely about Amazon's strategy vs. Google's, it also expressed my belief that IT should be an asset rather than simply a cost centre.

Unfortunately, it's usually not enough just for someone in IT to have that vision. It has to have support from the CEO and/or CFO. Too often, it's these folks who make the wrong decisions based solely on their needs to cut or predict costs, please business partners, and so on.

The story behind Amazon's web services seems controversial in that some people claim it was Tim O'Reilly who convinved Bezos to go that route, while others claim the IT department was already going there. In truth, there's no contradiction in those stories. The IT department no doubt *was* already on its way, but it still required someone to get Bezos to buy into that vision before it could become real.

Is there a moral to this story? If there is, it's that aside from working at adding value, IT people need to find a way to get influence (perhaps through a third-party) at the CEO level. How easy or difficult that is will vary from organization to organization, but it's essential if you aspire to be anything more than overhead.
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