DIFA: Designated In-house
2000 (2006 Addendum below)
This is a formalization of our on-going practices.
we have been gradually promoting the practice of working on IT issues
with a designated staff person at each client site. The goal was
to achieve the most optimal IT results;
while minimizing costs, efforts and frustrations
for all. The DIFA is typically an employee with fair
amount of knowledge and/or interest in computers and technology.
Sometimes, that happens to be the owner.
The primary role of the DIFA is to be the first line of IT support
for fellow workers, in order to minimize avoidable
billing, and improve service level & response time to
end-users. DIFAs take over the IT administration tasks that are
clerical or repetitive in nature, or at rudimentary technical level.
Typical duties and activities
- serve as single point of IT contact
- coordination & scheduling
- dissemination of info from IT
- local technical record keeping
- perform preliminary diagnostics
- assess justifications, initiate call for help
- execute prescribed tests
- report results of prescribed tests
- daily monitoring of network
- monitor anti-virus console
- supervise backup operations
- provide assistance to IT on-site
- perform routine tasks, such as:
- reset passwords
- install printer drivers
- add firewall rules
- training co-workers
behind the DIFA concept:
- End-users have frequent,
trivial matters requiring
immediate attention. These
are tedious and logistically expensive for outside contractors.
knowledge of outside experts can be leveraged. Some are recurring
events, which warrants the 1-time learning efforts of in-house
personnel as they can be re-used over-and-over again.
- Staff members typically have some available
free time to devote to non-urgent tasks, at no additional costs to the
firm, with guidance & supervision.
- Staff-performed tasks are better coordinated
and more flexible, and therefore less
intrusive and disruptive than outside
- A tech-aware/focused staff member has intimate
knowledge of business operations, as related to IT requirements, and
can precisely and concisely convey them.
- DIFA +
Out-sourced IT Dept. =
80% of In-House
IT dept. benefits at 20% cost!
- Our DIFA system fosters a culture and
environment that is conducive for an eventual transition
to in-house IT department, for firms of 15+ persons.
- Increased control. Reduced reliance of external
entities. Maintain complete documentation of settings, procedures and
licenses, etc. in-house.
- DIFA serves as rudimentary "peer review"
enforcing accountability, competency and efficiency on the part of IT
providers, as prescribed by our Bravo
January 10, 2006
It has now been over a decade since the
launch of my DIFA initiative. While it has been met with mostly overwhelming successes, there
had been a few occasions where I observed problems. Some of the most
prevalent ones are listed below.
IT costs has ballooned exponentially, and
increasingly out-of-proportion to hardware costs during that period. As
societies and life itself become more information-based, the importance
of IT vs. line-of-business expertise is drawing closer, and exceeded it
in some cases. See IT
What To Watch Out For
It is possible for IT to over-estimate the tech
capability of the DIFA. Must exercise care in order to avoid creating
problems. Periodic reviews and feedback are essential.
The ability for the DIFA to squeeze in extra tasks
is finite. There'll be a point where the added IT-related
responsibility must be accompanied by off-loading of some business
responsibilities, or increase in compensation.
Abandoning Outside IT Too Soon
Management tempted to prematurely terminate
relationship with IT and let the DIFA take over. This is highly
unwise. Remember: A little knowledge is very dangerous! Focus
on your core competency. Don't be penny wise, pound
Enthusiastic junior DIFAs are often misguided by
self-interest and unrealistic ambitions. Once management is
successfully persuaded, excessive amount of company time and funds are
devoted to learning beyond any reasonable hope of return-on-investment.
Meanwhile, business operations suffer due to the inevitable neglect.
Hardware selections would be driven by "toy"
factor, rather than operational justifications. Needlessly complex but
impressive-sounding projects are embarked upon, serving only to
deceptively enhance the would-be IT person's resume for future career
(elsewhere, at a larger firm). Often, they even steer orders to certain
vendors, in exchange for merchandise or considerations. Yes, out-right
Actively look-out for such signs! Avoid being an
unwitting stepping stone for the DIFA and sponsoring his/her
on-the-job training, while harming the firm in the process.
In essence, it's changing-of-the-guard in the
worst sense: From seasoned
professionals with vested
interest in your firm's long-term
growth and well-being; to an eager on-the-job trainee with self-serving
agenda, relying on aggressive vendors for free "advice."