From the desk of: Sam C. Chan

DIFA: Designated In-house Facilitator/Administrator

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 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 include:
  • 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:
    • add users
    • reset passwords
    • install printer drivers
    • add firewall rules
    • training co-workers

The rationale behind the DIFA concept:

  • End-users have frequent, trivial matters requiring immediate attention. 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, with guidance & supervision.
  • Staff-performed tasks are better coordinated and more flexible, and therefore less intrusive and disruptive than outside appointments.
  • 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 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

Overburdening DIFA

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

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 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 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 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."

Very dodgy!

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