December sets the tone for the next year in every business, whether management realizes that fact or not. If you are one of dozens in an enterprise IT department or a one-person IT support freelancer, don't waste your December. Those companies that use December properly will be better prepared in early 2010 than those who dreamed of sugarplums dancing in their heads. Now is not the economy for snoozing, so get ready to leverage the recovery to your advantage.
Tax Planning, Tax Planning, Tax Planning
You pay taxes in the spring, but December offers the last chance to reduce your tax bill. Pay particular attention to Section 179 rules if you're profitable, and Section 168 rules if you're not. December also gives you the chance to make the decision of whether you should be profitable or not, depending on the tax advantages. With luck, you make that decision, rather than the economy making it for you.
Small businesses will be scrambling to prepare for taxes starting next spring, if they are typical, and will lose their best opportunity for tax planning. If you work for a large company, go down your tax planning checklists. If you work for a small firm, put “Tax Planning” on your calendar in December rather than April.
Two Words: Disk Cleanup
Time to de-duplicate, verify, compress, defragment, and archive gigabytes and gigabytes. Actually, we should expand Disk Cleanup to IT Refresh so you'll look at all your functional areas for ways to sweep out the dust of the old and prepare for the new year. But Disk Cleanup hits IT groups with a double whammy of knowing they let things slide, and the realization that postponed chores get more painful each day you delay.
Let's stretch the term “disk cleanup” to include a check of your backup processes. That server restore test you've been putting off? Pick a day this month, and do it.
Check SLAs for Breaches to Demand Refunds or Adjustments
When you pay for a set level of service, and you don't receive that level of service, you overpay. The SLA promised to eliminate this problem, but few providers actually match their contracted level of performance year after year. Even fewer of those providers keep track themselves, and offer refunds or adjustments automatically. This means you must check your logs and service notes to get the compensation specified in your contract.
You will not get a check returning your fees paid during outages, but you can get refunds applied to forthcoming service payments or adjustments in some other area. But you will get nothing unless you ask, and back up your request with documentation.
Review Systems and Fix Problems
Just as your providers may drop the ball at times, your department will do the same for your clients and customers. IT departments hear regularly from their internal clients when they're unhappy, sometimes even politely. Service companies receive such feedback from customers less often, because many buyers avoid that unpleasant conversation by switching suppliers. Both tell the smart manager a review is needed.
The flip side of tracking service gaps from providers deviating from their SLA? Letting down your own clients or customers. Take each piece of feedback and dig into the reason your client was unhappy. Sometimes the problem is managed expectations, but often the problem appears as gaps in your own service and support processes.
Buy Products With Holiday Savings
Small companies rely on the retail channel for much of their IT. Even the largest multinationals buy consumer grade products at times, such as for home office workers and small remote offices. So take advantage of holiday pricing to buy things you will need early next year.
Has your IT manager finally agreed to start a pilot netbook project? Prices plunged for the holidays. Need a department shredder to hide incriminating papers from auditors? Office supply stores mark down products for the holidays, too. Take a look at your purchase requests for January, and see which items can be had for a discount during the holidays.
Look for a Job, or Hire Some Help
Conventional wisdom says nobody hires during the holidays except retail. As is often the case, conventional wisdom misleads. Smart managers know December is a great time for hiring.
Why? Those jobseekers still pounding on the door are persistent, a good trait in an employee. Projects starting in January need people ready to go, not people beginning the hiring process. Best of all, new hires will cover all the holiday shifts others avoid, which earns them some gratitude from current employees.
Prepare Your Web Site for 2010
Some preparations are obvious, like changing copyright dates to the new year. Others take more time, along the lines of disk cleanup mentioned earlier. In fact, disk cleanup for Web servers and their supporting database servers is a good idea, too.
Take a look at whether your site is meeting the goals you have for it. If your site is typical, you need to address some issues. Your analytic tools give you information, but days are busy and nobody takes the time to discover which pages have bad links and which cause viewers to exit the site. Do that this month, and make the necessary changes.
Make Your Project List for Next Year
Project lists come in pairs: what's in process now, and what's next. Take a look at the project list for last year and update the details with all the successful implementations done over the past 12 months. Those projects that don't get a check mark move to the new project list for next year.
Clients and customers will demand you arrange your project list to match their needs starting early next year. Forestall some of the potential controversy over your plan of attack for 2010 by having a project list ready to go before others try and write your list for you. Saying no hurts less when you can show clients your project list and where they fit in the schedule. If you don't have a list ready, they will make one for you, and put their demands at the top.
Performance Review for the Department and Employees
Human Resources loves performance reviews on a yearly basis, while smart managers prefer constant feedback and course corrections during the year. That said, use December as the time to gather together all the performance review notes in one place, and evaluate the state of the department and all employees.
Your first review should be you, whether you're the CIO or the newest member of the team. Did you meet your goals for the year? Did you have goals for the year? If you didn't have goals, how can you rate your performance? How will your boss or customers rate you?
Touch Base with Your Best Customers
Do you have a list of your best customers, whether outside clients or internal departments? If not, now is the time to put that list together, and contact them.
Your success in 2010 depends on the satisfaction and continued support of your customer base. Trite to say that without them you have no job, but it's true. Whenever you wonder if you and your company or department is heading in the right direction, contact your customer base. They will always tell you what you should be doing for them, and December is a good time to get that information so you can make adjustments before the new year begins.
Every item on this list can be done anytime of the year, but December provides a convenient “out with the old, get ready for the new” demarcation point. Besides, December is the deadline for the year, and we all know nothing gets done until the deadline looms. So turn your December into a time for action and enjoy a smooth start to 2010.