Layers: Technology Ruminations While Renovating the Basement
Funny how intertwined our work lives can be with our personal lives.
Late last year, I asked my father a seemingly benign question: “Dad, what do you want for Christmas this year?”
The answer I received was unexpected: “Would you mind rebuilding the basement bathroom that was ruined when the pipe burst?” he asked back.
So began the project that would consume me through winter, spring, and partially into this year’s summer months.
I began by tearing out the old paneling, studs and electrical components that were new in the 1950s. They were, however, anything but that by today’s standards. During the mini demolition, I let my mind wander off to my own work experience of dealing with our customers who have let their technology and IT remain in place well beyond what they should have.
As I tore into my father’s basement bathroom, I had to go deeper and deeper into removing layers of old building materials. There was no good way to stop and start rebuilding unless I took the demolition all the way down to the foundation walls.
The job was messy, dirty, frustrating, and agonizingly slow and expensive to say the least. However, when I finally got everything cleaned up, I realized that I could make it better than it was because the materials and supplies today are so far superior to what existed 60 years ago. It would have been foolish to try to rebuild on those old layers.
Such is the analogy of many of today’s information systems. They have been built up over time, layer after layer until they barely resemble what they were originally designed to be.
That’s not such a bad thing in some respects, the costs are sunk, the product is a known entity, and by and large it functions just fine – that is until something happens such as changes in technology, compliance, disaster, personnel loss, etc. The list goes on.
The problem with this scenario is that it becomes counterproductive to hold on to the old ways.
Yes, it is familiar. Yes, it is less expensive to keep adding on initially. But the realities are that those systems are still built upon layers of outdated technologies. At some point, just like my father’s basement, something will change that will require a very costly and very painful rebuild.
Now, I am not advocating that everyone simply throw out their old technology and start over. What I am suggesting, however, is that it makes sense to periodically take a look at those systems, processes, procedures, etc., and see if new technological improvements would outweigh staying on the status quo.
I have never been a fan of one size fits all or one-stop shops. I think diversity in business operations is critical for long-term success; you buy the best you can afford and avoid the complacency of relying on single source vendors.
Not everyone will agree with me on this point. But tell me the last great experience you had going to a grocery store to buy a new computer or getting your oil changed while getting your hair cut. The fact is if you want to stay on the top of the productivity cycle, you need to diversify your business operations with vendors who are specialists in their respective fields.
Modern technologies have allowed credit unions to become highly effective and incredibly productive by allowing 24x7 access by their members. But what would happen if all that came tumbling down?
Next Page: Foundation of Technology
Would you need to go all the way down to the foundation to rebuild? Or would you be diversified and current enough in your technology infrastructure to keep going?
My point is this: It is far easier to upgrade technology solutions both hardware and software if they are periodically reviewed and replaced with current offerings rather than waiting until it requires a complete teardown like my father’s remodeling project required.
The good news is, if you’re in this situation, you can start right now. Complete a risk assessment on your key tech areas and determine which platforms, programs and solutions are most critical to your ongoing operations.
Next determine an evaluation plan that will force your credit union to look at current offerings – not only from your existing vendors but others as well. It may be what you are currently using is the best solution – then again, maybe not.
Finally, begin a technology refresh program that has as its mandate: No single technology or process failure will bring the credit union’s operations to a grinding halt.
Obviously this type of planning and evaluation will take some time to think through and finalize, but the payoff will be worth it next time you decide to upgrade or replace a technology solution and not have to tear everything down to the foundation and framing.
The good news: My father’s project was completed just as summer began. The bad news: My own home’s pipes had frozen over the winter and needed to be replaced.
The biggest difference between the two projects was that I had followed my advice in my own home.
When I remodeled my basement several years ago, I installed access panels, photographed where things were, and used state-of-the-art building materials that would not be subject to mold or water damage should the unthinkable happen – which of course it did.
However, my time to fix things unlike my father’s, comprised one Saturday afternoon to fix the plumbing, one Saturday to have the sheetrock repaired, and one Saturday afternoon to repaint. Instead of nearly three seasons, it was essentially three days.
It would be my suggestion that each of us takes a hard look at our own business and technology operations and determine what could be improved with a modernization upgrade and begin to do so before we have to – not because we have to. And, while you’re at it, remember to diversify!