Re: the post's title: I'm getting tired of trying to be witty so henceforth, my post titles will be lifted directly from Outlook's Junk Mail folder.
Throughout my career as a consulting Hillbilly, I've been most satisfied in corporations. I've done tours of duty in small shops which have their advantages. If you want access to something, you can grant it yourself. There's a lot of flexibility and you can respond to changes quicker'n grandma can gum a ham.
You also have to deal with real-live customers more often which I love doing...once in a while. And even then, what I'd like most of all is to discover the source of their problem, pinpoint exactly where it's happening in the application, then hand it off to someone to fix. Doesn't really happen that way in small shops, especially those with fewer than ten people.
So because of that and other reasons that are, if you can believe it, even less interesting, I generally prefer corporations. They play with more expensive software. Like SharePoint and CMS and Livelink. And if you're in the right organization (where I'm lucky enough to be now), they have interesting things going on.
But that's not what I came here to talk about.
Being a corporate whor--er...Hillbilly, I often ponder about my effectiveness within the organization as a whole. And even more generally, I wonder about the role of IT in large companies.
I don't doubt that IT has made companies a jillion times more competitive than in the past. Testament to that are the cramps in my wrist from the last time I had to write out longhand anything longer than three sentences.
What I do question are individual tasks and activities. It's easy to get caught up in discussions about mundane things to the point where you and a committee of seven people are arguing vehemently about the size of the font on the company's Christmas Party homepage. And lately, I've been trying to step back and think about how much money is being spent on such activities.
You see, despite the low standards touted on this online ho down, I don't come cheap. Nor do most people in IT. For the sake of argument, let's assume $100/hr for each person to make calculatin' easy. Let's return to my "hypothetical" Christmas Party fiasco and assume that there are these crazy people involved from another planet that just can't get it out of their heads that for Jayzus' sake, this is 2006 and serif fonts are as dead as print in the online world. Let's also assume that my position, as a rationale and sightful Hillbilly, can easily be supported with the phrase: I mean, COME ON!!!
Seven people and one Hillbilly arguing for an hour over the font on a web page that has a shelf life of two months: $800.
It's not much in the grand scheme of things but consider the fact that when you booked this meeting, you had to book a room four floors down because every meeting room between your office and that room was already booked with meetings just as meaningless.
For the record, this really was a hypothetical example but I can hear all the knowing nods from down here. Almost every consultant has been in meetings where seemingly innocuous tasks took on gargantuan proportions until every person in the room personally felt that to not get his or her way would be akin to someone walking up to them in the street and questioning their parentage.
But these are the easy examples. What about topics like company portals? How much money is spent on the SharePoint web part you've built to display your company's current stock price? Building web parts isn't for the faint of heart if you've never done it before. It takes a boatload of time just to set up a decent development environment, especially if you don't have the luxury of a VM. And SharePoint developers ain't cheap. Lot of money goes into showing employees something they can get from CNN.
I don't mean to pick on portals. Similar arguments could be made for document management, software integration and pretty much any specific team within the IT department. By and large, users will likely accept what's presented to them, especially if they have a hand in the solution. Why spend a week trying to find an optimal folder structure for your documents if your document management system has a decent search facility?
Again, it's not to say that these departments aren't necessary. But you have to ask yourself, are you implementing something to solve a specific problem? Or because your competitors are doing it? Or because it's cool? Or because the vendor's presentation was flashy?
There are times when kicking off a big project is justified. But in a lot of other cases, you could be spending millions of dollars to help save one person an extra ten seconds because he or she complained about having to look up the same piece of data too often. This is simple cost/benefit analysis. Take the amount of money spent looking up that information, add the amount of money spent listening to said person bitching, and balance that with the cost of the software you're building to populate the dropdown automatically.
I am guilty of playing the wrong side of this cost/benefit analysis more often than I should. Customizing dasBlog, for example. To what purpose did I add Atlas Controls to my theme? For bragging rights? 'Cause there are many other things I could be doing. That's a bad example because frankly, it was fun updating dasBlog and everyone needs a hobby. But I've spent time building macros in Excel when it would be quicker cutting and pasting. Not as fun, but quicker.
I guess the point I'm trying to make is to try to realize when you're spending too much time on something that doesn't deserve it. If you can't figure out how to create a file-based cache dependency across a UNC path from SharePoint within a couple of hours, consider a time-based dependency instead. If an elegant solution exists but is taking too long to implement, balance a quick and dirty solution with how often the app will need to be maintained. If it's going away in a month, I see no shame in hard-coding.
By the same token, if the client is adamant that you need to have a printable version of each page on their site despite the fact that you can use "media=print" in the stylesheet and have it done in less than half the time, the best you can do is offer the solution to them and let them make the decision.
Like I've always said: You can't save everybody.