Jim Linn, director of IT at the American Gas Association in Washington, has seen a lot of changes in his 20 years in the networking industry, including the explosion of wireless networking. We recently discussed some of his challenges and successes in leading the IT staff at the national energy utility association.
What is the biggest change you've seen in networking over the past two decades?
It's twofold: simplicity and wireless. Twenty years ago, it took a real propeller head to make to two computers talk to each other. Today, most folks have set up their own network at home themselves. As for wireless, just look at all the flexibility and mobility you get.
What has been your toughest challenge in IT over the years?
I'd say working with a reduced staff that has to wear more hats in regards to IT projects. It's nearly impossible with so many competing demands. The result is that projects get pushed out longer and longer, the scopes change and project management costs escalate. It is getting pretty bad.
How has this changed? What were your challenges in the past?
Even just five years ago, we were able to implement new financials, move headquarters, change e-mail systems and implement a new customer relationship management system all in little over a year. Recently, it took more than two years just to implement a newer version of the CRM system. Back then, the challenge was to have enough IT resources overall to meet demands. Now it's having enough staff resources available to understand and implement those IT resources.
How about budgeting and compliance? Have you noticed differences in those areas?
I've been very fortunate and rarely have had trouble getting budgets approved. However, it can be difficult getting additional funding for projects at times. That's my bigger challenge. In regards to compliance, we do a pretty good job at record retention, but some network file resources are probably not as closely scrutinised as they could be.
How have your users changed over the years? Do you think IT has to approach them differently than in the past?
In some respects the users are more knowledgeable. However, there are problems in terms of their expectations -- they expect a lot more and much faster. They still are often clueless about technology functionality.
Then how do you handle acceptable use policies? Do you think they are more necessary than in previous years?
We've been pretty accommodating [about what's allowed on the network]. We have sufficient bandwidth to allow things like streaming audio for users, so that's proven not to be an issue. Our biggest concern is making sure there is no sexually inappropriate content on the network.
What technology are you most excited about in terms of moving your network forward?
I can't wait to get to Microsoft Exchange 2003 and roll out the Treo 700 handheld devices. I'm also planning to test-drive the tablet PCs. My goal is to enable users to work from wherever via a virtual private network and broadband connection -- that is very exciting to me. However, I am watching out for security concerns.
What do you enjoy most about being an IT executive?
I like the responsibility of keeping a resource infrastructure up to date and available so that our staff can be productive. I also like the regular need to revisit technology and change components -- it's fun to try new things. I am proud of my IT staff, all of whom work very hard behind the scenes to make things work for our organisation.
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