Saturday, July 01, 2006

A set-back or an opportunity?

I may have mentioned here before, I am an I.T. Manager at a start up finance company. This start up business is a tough gig.
We have three executive directors that are pouring their hearts and souls (and more than their share of blood sweat and tears) into this business. It's taken two years so far, and in that time they've had some crushing blows - from narrowly missed opportunities which are par for the course for business life, to dishonest dealings, a bit of naivete and just plain rotten luck.
In the early days, these guys invested wisely and well in I.T. infrastructure that seemed like a bit of overkill at the time, but gave us great scope for growth. They contracted a real "high flyer" for a three month period to assist (read teach) me to get things going and also built a small I.T. department (a sys-admin a very capable lead developer and a junior developer, who thanks I like to think to my careful hiring) progressed really well.
Six months ago, at the height of one of the many hard luck stories, when things were dire, we received a life line, from a construction entrepreneur who had the wealth we needed, but many would argue not the finance industry acumen we were looking for - but as I said, this was literally a life line, things were dire, and with our own executives leading the way, finance industry experience isn't what was needed anyway.
There was more bad luck to come. A large (and I mean telephone number large) amount of money was not far away for our new "white knight", but Foreign Investment Review Board (FIRB) approval was holding things up, so we limped along, scratching from pay cheque to pay cheque (and sometimes a little beyond) waiting for this elusive investment to land. We have customers ready and waiting to go, systems in place, being tested and growing each time we realize we have a little more time to do so. It is a credit to the executives we have, that we are still in the race here. Alas, approval from FIRB was slow in coming and really making things tough.
In March this year, we (as the I.T. department) suffered our first loss - remarkable considering each employee had already made it to the average length of employment in this industry, and we had still not done a days work as a fully fledged live and operating finance company - when one of our developers made the personal decision to return with her (now) fiance back home (to England - we're in Australia). Naturally, given the nature of operations, she wasn't to be replaced just yet. A perfectly understandable decision. We pushed on with myself, our sys-admin and our lead developer. A fortnight ago, about the time Microsoft lost Robert Scoble, we lost our lead developer. This was a huge loss as he was responsible for so much that was brilliant about our systems. Of course he will be replaced but again, not until that elusive money lands and we know exactly where we stand.
In the past two years we have built a few really impressive systems, and poked a prodded around the edges of some other third party systems, that with the benefit of hindsight may not have been required in the form we originally thought - 20/20 hindsight right? Anyway, at any point in that time we've thought we were no more that 2 months away from "going live" and as such proceeded with caution. Good systems and processes were in place, with different team members taking responsibility to various ones. As I.T. manager I have been across all these systems but haven't micro-managed (not too much I don't think) and as such have been a little foggy on every detail.
Now, with an I.T. team of two, for the foreseeable future, myself as the only developer, I see an opportunity to get my hands extremely dirty in all aspects of our systems. It means I progress at snails pace but it also provides me with a great opportunity to learn about the intricate details of a broad range of systems, processes and techniques implemented by some of the smarter people I've worked with. I intend to fully understand the nitty-gritty of everything from maintaining the firewall and proxy server, to administering the automated build process and conversing with our SMS modem.
We had some good news this week, in that the approval has been granted for the investment to go ahead, meaning our new illustrious leader will have his money in about six weeks - it's in writing this time!! The I.T. department will one day return to it's former glory but before that time I have a huge opportunity to become an incredibly well informed, "across" everything I.T. manager when time comes to rebuild the team. Then, comes the challenge to let go, when I employ people vastly more qualified to take over and improve the systems and processes we build. I'll let you know how that goes...