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Lessons Learned

It is important to point out that the current issues with the Oregon Employment Department’s data processing system is not an IT issue; it is an administration and political issue. The topic has become center stage for the delays in processing the hundreds of thousands of unemployment insurance claims and the inability to adapt the system to the CARES act changes set forth by the Fed.

Working in the IT industry, I feel for the IT staff at the Oregon Employment Dept. Like most of us, they have undoubtedly recommended over and over throughout the years that the $89 million be spent on upgrading the current infrastructure. They probably warned that the impending doom that we are now experiencing was going to happen eventually. Several probably left their employment out of frustration or disgruntlement at not being listened to by their administration or the politicians driving the projects and budgets. These are, of course, only my speculations and opinions based on my own experiences in everyday life in the IT industry.

My education, training, and prior work experience was in the Mechanical Engineering field doing design work for companies like HP, Intel, Ford Motor Company, and many others. In 1996, I happened to fall into the IT world as the IT manager for a large wholesale plant nursery. At the time, there were only a handful of computer repair shops in the local area, and there was a need for true professional IT services, so I decided to start my own IT consulting and engineering business. It was risky, but offered me the opportunity to work closer to my new family and, at the time, the impending Y2K issues created fairly stable opportunities for a start-up IT business.

So, I jumped in and naively thought that clients would listen to everything I recommended. To this date, we are still bewildered at the amount of effort we need to put forth sometimes to convince clients that upgrades, replacements, and data protection devices, such as firewalls, are necessary. When I was the IT manager for the nursery, I was in charge of maintaining a budget for their west coast operations. We have always taken the approach with our clients, that instead of a traditional sales model, we are acting as their internal IT management dept. We ask for access to a budget figure and promise to appropriately manage the budget instead of trying to sell them on the latest thing out on the market just to make a profit. To date, after 25 years, I am rarely given access to a budget figure and allowed to run a client’s IT dept., budget.

Our clients enjoy very minimal downtime, if any at all, because of the design, implementation, and system management processes we have developed over the years. However, it is still a struggle to get administration to let go of the reins when it comes to IT responsibilities and budget management. I believe this is what has happened with the Oregon Employment Department’s IT systems.

I will never believe an IT department would have $89 million available in a budget and say, “I think this 30-year-old mainframe is doing a perfectly good job, and we don’t need to replace it.” IT people always want to get their hands on the newest technology to increase performance, stability, and security. I have yet to meet an IT person satisfied with a Pentium 4 computer, let alone a decades-old mainframe system running COBOL. However, now they are put in the position of making it all work under the most challenging conditions possible. I’m also sure that given the opportunity, several local companies have the experience and capability to migrate the Oregon Employment Department, system to current technology as well as properly manage the entire project.

The lesson’s we need to learn from all this are:

  1. Not only listen to the IT department - but also follow their lead when it comes to resources they are trained in and have experience with.

  2. Develop and actively manage disaster and business continuity plans – we do for all of our managed clients.

  3. To go along with the first two lessons:

  • It is always way more expensive to deal with an issue reactively

  • Lack of planning and action today will always cost time and money tomorrow

  • People in general and IT people do not problem-solve well when functioning in panic mode. Panic mode troubleshooting and work processing causes additional mistakes and further delays.

  1. Design and plan for tomorrow’s needs, disaster, or pandemic instead of for the needs of today because we all now know that it will happen at some point in time.

  2. And lastly, you get what you pay for when it comes to IT related products and services. Properly trained IT people with experience will cost more, but in the long run, will save you time and money. However, they must be included early on in the process, and their recommendations listened too.

Someone once told me, “I’m not an electrician, so I hire electricians to do the electrical work, and I’m not a plumber, so I hire a plumber to do the plumbing work.” It is time to start listening to and trusting the IT people to do the necessary IT work.

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