How to turn your IT crisis into an opportunity

Application and technology failures are bound to happen. Instead of applying Band-Aids to get through the crisis, turn this failure into an opportunity and get the funding and support you need for the right solution.

Be a hero during IT crisis
Credit: Dollar Photo

If you’ve been an IT leader for a while chances are you have a major system failure or two under your belt.

Whether it was a network outage, the email system going down, or a business application that stopped working -- you've probably experienced the stress of a major system failure.

A thin line between love and hate

When systems are up and running your business partners are happy and everything is right with the world.

But when a failure occurs that limits or prevents the business from operating, things can start to heat up really fast for you.

Your business partners are breathing down your neck to get the problem fixed. There may be some finger-pointing between your group, other IT groups, or vendors.  You're feeling defensive and vulnerable; yet you have to keep your game face on for your team.

You've rallied your team to fix the problem or figure out a temporary workaround. This was probably a herculean effort accompanied by many lost hours of sleep, high stress levels, and the fear of losing your job when the dust settled.

Change your perspective

Having been in similar situations, I understand the dynamics at play here. During these times our natural tendency is to be on the defensive, do everything possible to get things working again, and hope everything just gets back to normal - which it does, eventually.

But guess what -- you just missed a great opportunity!

That's right.  You missed the opportunity to secure the support and resources from senior management to permanently fix the problem or bring new solutions into the company that would deliver even more business value.

Strike while the iron is hot

When people are feeling the pain is when you want to go on the offense.  Use this opportunity to convince senior management that NOW is the time to invest in the right strategy to finally fix and even improve the situation.

Your options might include investing in newer and more reliable technology, or buying off the shelf apps to replace your homegrown solutions, or whatever your situation calls for to bring lasting improvement and stability.

Be the hero

Here's a few things you should do before, during, and after a crisis that will improve your chances of getting your ideas approved and funded:

Before the crisis:

  • Identify the business-critical technologies and apps in your area of responsibility and understand their potential points of failure. These might be legacy apps that are undocumented and few people have knowledge of how to maintain. Or it might be outdated equipment where there is little to no vendor support available.
  • Cultivate relationships with key business partners who have a vested interest in these potential risk areas. You’ll need their power and influence to go to bat for you when the crisis hits.
  • Start looking at alternatives to fix the problems. While you may not have the support and resources to fix it right now, you should have some idea of potential solutions, costs, and technical staffing required.
  • Identify the tangible benefits to be gained by investing in your proposed solution. This should not be done in a vacuum. Your business partners should have input into this as well. Use quantifiable data that your business partners consider reasonable. Also consider "soft" benefits that while not quantifiable in dollars, still provide benefit to the company.

During the crisis:

It's critical that you capture financial metrics during an outage. This will help justify your position for bringing in the right solution rather than putting another Band-Aid on the problem.

Below are examples of metrics to consider collecting:

  • How much revenue was lost? In regulated industries, what fines did your company incur?
  • How many person hours and salary dollars were involved in fixing the problem (include technical and business staff)?
  • How much in salary was lost for employees who could not get their work done while the system was down?
  • What additional costs were incurred such as vendor consulting fees?
  • What was the cost and/or risk of losing customers to the competition? These are soft dollars in that they are hard to quantify. And you'll need your business partners input on this as well.

After the crisis:

Soon, and I mean the day after the crisis is resolved, is the time to turn up the heat. Don't let everyone get lulled back to sleep until the next crisis occurs. Now is when you need to create a sense of urgency with senior management.

  • Engage your business partners; those champions you've been cultivating relationships with. Get them to agree that NOW is the time to move your ideas and proposals forward.
  • Use the metrics you captured during the crisis to demonstrate what it cost the company to put yet another Band-Aid on the problem instead of implementing a more durable (and hopefully more innovative) solution.
  • Take a business-person's approach with management. Don't focus on the elegant technological solution you came up with. Instead, focus on benefits, both tangible and intangible, that the business will get from your solution.

If you do the work to prepare for your next technology crisis, you’ll be in a better position to get the support you need; and you'll be the hero who saved the day!

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