Knowing When to Say No
More important, there is top-level backing for decisions about what doesn't get funded. Experts agree: The only way to put an end to IT overload is with the support of upper-level management. One of Gilmore's first acts at the company with the overloaded IT department was to decree that IT would not take on new projects for a time. And he did that with the complete support of the company's top executive, who had heard about enough problems with technology projects to know something had to change.
"If you try to start doing this without top-level support, business group leaders will go back to the top executives and say, 'IT isn't giving me what I need and therefore I'm not meeting the goals you set for me,'" he says.
Contractors Take Up the Slack When IT Departments Are Overloaded
When work simply has to get done and IT employees are overloaded, one solution is to outsource some of the work for a new project. Contractors have their limitations -- it may not be appropriate to outsource project management, and they won't have a detailed knowledge of how a particular company functions or what its priorities are. But working with contractors does give many strapped IT departments a flexible workforce when projects pile up. "I've worked with a lot of companies who use the rule that one-third of IT project work is done in-house, and two-thirds is outsourced," reports Bruce Myers, managing director at AlixPartners.
For Mazda's North American operations, relying on IT contractors is a way of life, according to CIO Jim DiMarzio. This is partly because the auto industry in general strives to keep full-time head counts low, but using contractors also gives the IT department, which has 42 full-time employees, the ability to shrink and expand at will, says DiMarzio, noting that while his Hiroshima-based Mazda Motor Corp. is a $21 billion global business, the automaker's U.S. operation is relatively small.
"Because we knew we were head-count-constrained, we put together a strategy where most of our full-time employees are analysts and project managers," he says. "We want our staff to be the people who could run this place. We can always go find programmers when we need them."
On most projects, Mazda IT employees serve as lead analysts and subject-matter experts, while contractors do the actual coding. "While they're off doing the coding, our staff will be working on other projects. We try to prioritize so that there's a focus on a primary project and there's always a secondary project they can work on at the same time."