DIFA: Designated In-house
June 3, 2000 (2006 Addendum below)
This is a formalization of
our on-going practices. Since 1995, we have been gradually
promoting the practice of working on IT issues with a designated staff
person at each client office. The goal was to achieve the most
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
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 to the firm, and improve service level and response time
to end-users. DIFAs take over the IT administration tasks that are
clerical or repetitive in nature, or at rudimentary technical level.
duties and activities include:
The rationale behind the DIFA concept:
- serve as single point of IT contact
- coordination & scheduling
- dissemination of information
- technical record keeping
- perform preliminary diagnostics
- initiate Request-for-Help
- execute prescribed tests
- report results of prescribed tests
- daily monitoring of network
- monitor anti-virus console
- supervise backup operations
- assistance to IT on-site
- perform routine tasks, such as:
- reset passwords
- install printer drivers
- add firewall rules
- training co-workers
- End-users have frequent, trivial matters requiring
These are tedious and logistically expensive for outside contractors.
- Certain 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, if they're shown
- 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 and process foster a culture and environment that is
conducive for an eventual transition to an in-house IT department, for
15+ person firms.
- 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 demanded by
our Bravo ACE Principles.
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 Strategies memo.
DIFA─ 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.
Premature Abandonment of Outside IT
Scenario: 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 foolish.
Enthusiastic junior DIFAs are often guided by self-interest and
unrealistic ambitions. Once successfully persuaded management, and
decision power gained; 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
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 bribery.
Management: 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
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."