The Distress Call

The Distress Call: We're Offline

The call from the West Coast came in to our Baltimore office on a Monday afternoon. The caller (we’ll call her Lois) was on Day 3 of a total system shutdown. She was officially in crisis. Lois’s firm – a 24/7 public records research firm that earns much of its revenue from online transactions – had gone offline.

After agonizing through a second day of total shutdown, Lois had hit her breaking point. For some time she had been frustrated by her IT team’s lack of vision and responsiveness, but this shutdown was just too much. Lois fired her entire IT department on the spot, save one.

Now she had no system, one IT employee and no plan.

Crisis Management

Lois knew she needed immediate help, so she called a trusted friend, a leading CEO in her industry. Her friend had worked extensively with IT consultants to grow his own firm from startup to third in the nation in his industry. He gave Lois only one name.

Dmitry, our CTO, took the call, and just a few hours later had a plan to get Lois’s business up and running again.

With revenues floating away from suspended operations, the risk of waiting for Lois’s servers to travel across the country was extremely high. What if, upon arrival, the servers delivered no value?

The first move was to stand up a new computing environment.

Working through the nights, and without any documentation, Dmitry and team set about the big fix. They had to interpret source code to understand the system configuration, figure out what needed to work, and then actually make it work.

Within three days, our team reverse-engineered previously undocumented custom-built applications, built new servers, reconfigured web applications – and put the company back online, generating revenue.

In the time it would have taken Lois’s hardware to ship to our offices, Dmitry and team had built a state of the art system, processing millions of customer transactions per day, for an industry leading company.

The Silver Lining of Crisis

Lois was back in business. But it wasn’t just business as usual and we didn’t just fix what was broken.

In the midst of crisis, we uncovered a major business opportunity.

The company’s fee structure had been inordinately complex, and it was jamming system performance. We recommended – and built – a simpler, more streamlined per-search pricing structure, which was an easier load for the systems, and much more palatable for customers, and revenues shot up immediately.

What started as a crisis became a successful rescue mission, and ultimately grew into a long-term business partnership. Today Lois’s company enjoys greater profits, lower IT costs, and a solid platform for innovation. And she hasn’t fired us yet!

While Lois’s story is pretty dramatic – and true – it’s not entirely unique.

IT consulting firms often find themselves responding to distress calls from executives with broken or ailing systems, their backs to the wall and jobs on the line.

Sometimes the culprit is a mismatched IT team, where the balance of talent no longer matches the environment. Or perhaps the team hasn’t kept up with the times.

Often, however, the responsibility falls on a C-suite that hasn’t invested to keep critical systems current, robust and responsive. Without a deliberate agenda to refresh systems or otherwise pursue innovation, a company will eventually find itself in need of a costly save.

Another major consequence of a non-innovation policy: Getting by with stagnant systems means fishing for IT talent without any bait. Most IT professionals won’t want to dull their skills by endlessly maintaining go-nowhere systems.

In Lois’s case, the team was maintaining old, custom-built software. Manufacturers no longer supported some of the underlying platforms. Fixes were not sustainable. Maintenance procedures were largely undocumented. And there was little opportunity for scaling or upgrading.

Is it any wonder the system and team ultimately failed?

Lois’s Lessons Learned

Trust Your Sources – With no time to vet qualified vendors, Lois turned to a trusted resource in her industry for help. She was aware of the success Mind Over Machines had helped her colleague achieve, and knew we could help her.

Review Your Systems Regularly – Hardware wears out. Servers overload. Software becomes unsupported and obsolete. Network infrastructure becomes inefficient. Maintenance and one-off repair costs consume budgets. Plan a system review at least every two years and commit to a regular update or refresh process.

Bring in Fresh Eyes – Outside expertise will uncover underlying problems that have been obscured – or ignored – by patchwork fixes. We identified chronic problems in Lois’s systems in a matter of days and corrected them in a matter of weeks.

Keep Your Ears Open – Don’t ignore chronic staff complaints. Staff may become fatigued and make careless mistakes. They could become bored and decide to tinker with the system. Or they might get so frustrated that they walk away with critical knowledge.

Engage the Right Amount of the Right Talent – In our post-mortem with Lois, she realized she didn’t need a full time database administrator and network engineer on staff when each had only a few months of work to do per year. The outsourced model – the right amount of the right talent – was a great fit for her needs.

Today, Lois’s company remains widely recognized as one of the top providers of corporate search and filing services in the country. And we remain Lois’s IT Department, providing full lifecycle support. Systems integration and maintenance keep her applications purring without crisis, and new product development helps her company retain its position as a market leader.

In fact, it’s time to schedule our annual innovation discussion.

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