Storage shortage and no money to fix it? No options? Think again

Here's how to improve your company's storage situation with zero money down

Times are tough. Today's uncertain economic climate means it will be hard to get IT projects funded through the traditional return-on-investment security blanket tucked around many organizations by tentative CFOs. Investments in storage infrastructures, which typically require significant capital outlays, are especially difficult to justify. But it's time to stop sweating over the business justification and face the fact that proposed investments in storage infrastructures just won't get funded now. The ROI simply isn't immediate enough for today's investment-shy executives.

So it's time to get tough. Stop playing the victim. Desperate times require desperate measures -- or rather, creative initiatives. Take control and lead the charge toward a greater appreciation of IT.

Initiate a project that provides value to the business, eliminates waste and protects your organization's most valuable asset -- its data -- all at the cost of $0, that's right, zero dollars.

Determine how your data storage infrastructure matches up with business needs by conducting a full-fledged study of your data storage infrastructure and then present an action plan for improvements.

Benefits to IT include heightened appreciation for IT services and their value to the organization through a well-defined project that provides the opportunity to demonstrate your staff's innovation and business savvy. Even better, the likelihood of success is high -- how can it fail? There's no reliance on interoperability, firmware or vendor promises.

Since there are no outlying costs associated with the project, it should prove to be a bestseller for both the CIO and the CFO. To cover your bases and remain focused, we suggest the following five steps:

Step 1: Assemble a Team

The No.1 goal is to protect both the organization and its data by gaining a comprehensive understanding of its data storage environment and how it relates to the business process and the strategic direction of the organization. You need to assemble a team consisting of stakeholders whom you may not have thought of when considering the storage infrastructure and the corporate assets it protects. Members could include business leaders, the corporate attorney and representatives of the human resources, security, business continuity and IT units.

Business leaders How data maps to business processes
Corporate attorney Laws governing management of corporate data as well as the consequences of noncompliance
Human resources Corporate policies for employee data handling
Security Data exposure and vulnerabilities related to corruption, virus, hacking and theft
Audit Corporate asset management policy and procedures
Business continuity office Data redundancy and protection requirements
Information technology Data storage and administration statistics such as location, platform, type, quantity, age, backup and associated costs

Step 2: Gather and Analyze Statistics

Roll up your sleeves, take a deep breath, hold your nose and do an in-depth analysis of your data storage infrastructure. Sound daunting? Keep it simple. Concentrate on identifying the following data characteristics:

  • What's stored? Consider file types, media types and corporate vs. personal data.
  • Where? Consider the corporate network, CDs, PCs and laptops.
  • How much?
  • How old?
  • By whom? Which business units are storing the most? (Is it the IT shop?)
  • Importance? Consider how critical the data is to business process and continuance.
  • Safety. Consider the vulnerability to viruses, hacking and theft.

What will you find? While results will vary, if your organization doesn't have a data management policy, it's likely you'll discover one or more of the following:

  • Your organization isn't facing an explosion of mission-critical data growth. Most of your storage infrastructure is managing "dead" data that's irrelevant to your organization's mission.
  • Critical data isn't being protected adequately, while noncritical data is overprotected.
  • Your organization is vulnerable to litigation due to noncompliance with laws or regulations.
  • Business leaders thought they had an understanding of how data is handled by their constituents, but there are gaps between business-unit expectations of how, what and why data is stored and the current data management and administration policy.
  • A comprehensive corporate data management policy is essential.

Your IT department is in a position to play a vital role in bridging gaps and satisfying business requirements through creative, inventive means -- with no capital outlay. Get a dialogue going. Again, keep it simple: no vendor-speak, no techie acronyms. Keep performance out of it; the discussion is about the data, its use and value to the organization. It's about identifying an action plan.

Step 3: Present Action Plan

Success is all in the presentation. The presentation of the team's analysis and action plan will make or break this initiative. Some tips:

  • Don't make it about technology. It's about the valuable corporate asset of data.
  • Use charts and graphs to show how data is being stored and used. Keep it graphical and in easy-to-understand business terms. Have the hard numbers to back it up and make them available to those who might be interested.
  • Identify opportunities for cost savings by assigning cost to data administration, backup and retention where appropriate and possible. Apply cost to estimated growth over the next three years in two scenarios: no change and with the changes recommended by the team.
  • Illustrate the existing corporate alliance between IT and the business units by mapping data usage to each business process.
  • Inject drama. Yes, drama. Create a sense of urgency (crisis even) around the initiative -- "We've got to act now because. ..." One idea is to present a copy of the corporate strategy as the "only" copy -- with no backup or redundancy -- and put it through the shredder, page by page, as you explain its importance to the organization. Another idea: Serve your CEO with a mock subpoena for failure to comply with record-keeping laws.
  • Outline goals for the organization. Be sure to clearly articulate how the IT department will take the lead in curing the ills.

Step 4: Execute Plan (with an eye toward building momentum)

If wholesale change is required, create a high-quality marketing campaign. It's not so hard (politicians do it). Take a look at your audience, emphasize the urgency and the benefits to the organization, apply some creativity, and you have an ad campaign.

For example, the marketing campaign might have the following elements:

  • Audience: Users who, up to now, didn't care about what, how or why they're saving various forms of data.

  • Main benefits: Optimizing the environment for new initiatives, savings through elimination of waste and avoiding penalties for legal noncompliance.
  • Creativity applied: Produce a graphic showing the CEO behind bars with a "Get out of Jail Free" card in the user's hand. The slogan: "Only you have the power to free him." Or show a 10-lane highway with the acceptable data speeding along and the unacceptable data (as identified by your new data storage policy) lined up at a toll booth or stopped by the police.

Once you have their attention, momentum is key. Some tips in riding the wave effectively:

  • Articulate clear, consistent objectives to employees. Use the front page of the corporate intranet or portal to outline goals for the organization -- include testimonials from various high-level stakeholders emphasizing the importance to the corporation.
  • Empower the people. Make it clear what's expected of each employee and how and when their efforts will be assessed. Publish realistic milestones on the corporate intranet or portal.
  • Measure success. Use the corporate intranet or portal to provide frequent graphical updates on progress against milestones.
  • Remember: Competition is fun! Generate competition toward achieving goals by presenting progress reports for each stakeholder (business unit) toward its respective milestone.

Another important factor in driving momentum is keeping the stakeholders involved and accountable toward achieving the ultimate goal. Make it clear that their continued involvement is necessary to ensure initial and ongoing success. Outline future objectives that enhance the new and improved storage environment. And publish "information usage profiles" for each business unit.

Step 5: Bask in Glory!

Yes, basking is a task. Too often, we IT professionals don't take the time to revel in success. But you've proved IT to be a true corporate catalyst by leading the charge to optimize your current storage environment with zero capital outlay. You're corporate heroes!

Galletta and Heintz are IT staff directors at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and co-chairmen of a storage management Special Interest Group in New York.

Copyright © 2003 IDG Communications, Inc.

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