Musings: Information Technology, are you being held hostage?

Are you being held hostage by your IT department?

How often do you consciously think about whether the lights will come on when you hit the light switch? Probably not often, if ever. Why is that? Because most of us in this country take it for granted that the lights will come on when we hit the switch. We have similar expectations about our computers.

Do you remember the last time your computer did not work as expected? You probably do since it was most likely at an inopportune moment. Your computer crashed, you lost a critical file or maybe your printer decided to go on strike just as you were running out the door for a meeting and really needed that print out.

When people ask me what I do for a living, I would rather not say. It's not that I am embarrassed because I am actually quite proud of what I do and how I have gotten to where I am today. But all I have to do is say the word technology, and, with almost everyone I have ever spoken with, I watch their eyes glass over and the conversation abruptly ends.

Until recently IT has been considered a function of Finance. Let's think about that for a minute. Is the average CFO a technologist? No. Thirty years ago when offices were getting their first real computers, it was usually the finance department automating payroll or accounts payable, and some really cutting edge businesses had full fledged electronic accounting systems. So I guess it made sense that IT was considered a function of finance.

And here we are, thirty years later and it is not uncommon to find the CFO is still in charge of IT. Today IT is responsible for all your data - email, word processed documents, spreadsheets, databases, task specific software data and more, depending on your business, as well as your network.

Almost everyday I read about yet another company's computer network that has been breached and hundreds, thousands and sometimes even millions of people's personal information has been stolen or is at risk. I don't understand how we have let it get this bad without someone filing a landmark law suit or class action suit to bring one of these offenders to their knees. We frequently see lawsuits filed against executives for violations of federal securities laws, insider trading and other financial misdoings.

We talk about identity theft, and we all have a story to tell about ourselves or someone we know, so why are we not up in arms?

When speaking with clients I often feel like chicken little. As you most likely remember he is the fairy tale character that ran around yelling, "the sky is falling". Take a moment and think what the loss of your mission critical data would have on your business.

Or, imagine trying to run your business without access to your email, reports, contracts or client contact data. Imagine your confidential documents - bids on outstanding proposals, financial reports, internal emails and confidential client information - published on the front page of your local newspaper or the New York Times or the Wall Street Journal.

Does the CEO, Executive Director, Managing Partner or the person who is ultimately responsible for your business feel that there is no need for a CIO, or for your technology and related data to have a seat at the table of your executive staff meetings?

Let me ask you a few more questions. Does your business have a policy that addresses data backup, network security and network system emergency preparedness? Do you have a policy dictating who has access to your network, non-staff use of business equipment or who has remote access to your network? If you do, when was the last time you reviewed it, or your board asked for a review?

Prediction: one day soon there will be oversight and standards regulations and accountability guidelines for IT not unlike Sarbanes-Oxley is to Finance.

Be cutting edge. Be the first on your block to hire a CIO.

-Nancy Massey

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Nancy Massey, Inc.
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