Expect something more challenging from your first-footer than the traditional gifts, writes Julia Vowler

If a tall, dark stranger bearing a lump of coal and a bottle of whisky comes a-knocking after midnight on New Year's Eve, good luck will be yours, it is said.

But will the first-footer who arrives at the IT director's door in the New Year be as welcome?

The obvious answer, if this first-footer is not the chairman to say that corporate-wide year 2000 failure has sent the company into bankruptcy, might seem to be "yes". But surviving the millennium bug does not mean that IT directors can now relax.

In fact, just the opposite is the case. For the first-footer is likely to be the chief executive, and this festive season will have struck him as being notable not just for millennium fever - bug or otherwise - but for being the first online Christmas.

"He'll have seen his kids online, and his parents will tell him they bought the family presents online and booked their winter holiday online," says Colin Palmer of top IT directors' forum, Impact.

In addition, the media will have been drenched in Internet stories, and if the relevant Web sites have held up and sales have boomed, then the chief executive will be demanding to know of his IT director what state their own company is in, Web-wise.

"The IT director will be under massive pressure to copy [this perceived success]," says Philip Virgo, strategic advisor to the Institute for the Management of Information Systems.

Palmer advises, "The IT director should be very clear about his role and should have already prepared his view. Though not responsible for the e-commerce business model, he should be contributing significantly to the e-commerce strategy team."

One thing he will be held responsible for is ensuring that the company is not held back from winning at e-commerce by lack of the relevant skills. So after the first-footer the next visitor to the IT director's office should be the personnel director - by invitation.

This is because, if online Christmas is voted a success, every other company will be looking to source e-commerce skills. Now is the time to identify those staff with skills critical to e-commerce - from Web-design to networking - and ensure they stay with the organisation.

"They'll be massively headhunted," warns Virgo. "Keeping them is a high priority."

As well as keeping such staff, hiring them is a good idea too - and others with scarce IT skills in general, says Virgo.

"Steal as many good support staff [as you can] from suppliers hit by year 2000-caused cash-flow problems," he advises. "Get their good people while you can."

With a mass surge in e-commerce initiatives, the third person to arrive at your office should be your asset manager. E-commerce provides the same opportunities for IT devolution that the PC revolution afforded a decade ago - variation will swiftly become the name of the game. Try not to let it happen again.

"Now you've standardised your desktop for reasons of year 2000 compliance, don't let up," urges Virgo. Standardise the Internet environment too, keeping a close eye on costs. Too many Web sites are costing more to build and maintain than any savings they make or revenues they bring in.

A fourth visitor it would be prudent to call into your office is your security manager. The media are likely to be full of millennium virus stories and warnings, which again will elicit nervous memos from on high. Be prepared with your answers on corporate IT security, to reassure anxious chief executives, says Palmer.

And do not forget that one of the most predictable visitors to your office could well be the plumber. Irrespective of millennium bugs, the e-commerce revolution or ungodly hangovers, one of the most persistent New Year irritants is the burst water pipe dripping all over your precious computers.

And the final visitors? You should expect your team to be checking their diaries and making their way to your office for an early listening opportunity, warns Palmer.

In the first days of the new millennium, "I've just wandered in to have a quick word about ..." will become a familiar refrain.

Who you should call into your office

  • Personnel manager - To ensure acquisition of the skills necessary for your company's e-business take-off
  • Assets manager - To standardise the Internet environment against costly tendencies towards diversity
  • Security manager - To ensure you are prepared with answers about e-security from your chief executive


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This was first published in January 2000

 

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