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Dos and don'ts preparing for your company's growth

Margie Semilof

Even in times when IT dollars are scarce, one of the biggest mistakes an IT manager can make is failing to plan for his or her company's growth.

In companies of all sizes, it's usually the small enterprises –- those with fewer than 1,000 desktops -- that punt the planning effort. Whether the IT staff is large and dispersed or staffed by one person, the issues are the same, said Christopher Gervais, a technologist in the technology planning information systems group at Partners HealthCare System Inc., Boston.

Gervais said that every company needs to prioritize projects, understand roles and ownership, and institute some basic rules of governance. "It saves you time. You don't want to have the same conversation twice."

Ash Shehata, chief information officer at Antelope Valley Hospital, a Lancaster, Calif., healthcare complex, said that his facility grows about 7% to 9% per year. He suggests having a strategic plan that looks out from three and up to five years. The closer to five years you go, the more dynamic the plan becomes; but for the technology elements themselves, the plan encompasses about 18 to 36 months.

Shehata divides his plan into three parts: the network base, the software and the desktop. He also considers security across all three elements. The plan's goal is to create a network with 99% uptime and the ability to grow with no significant downtime.

Having no downtime is important to almost any business, but at the hospital it's crucial since

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the radiology department has eliminated the use of film in favor of a network-based archive system. "Imagine if I had to take the network out for extended downtime every two years," Shehata said.

He recommends a cookie-cutter approach to IT, because it makes it easier to incorporate new divisions and acquisitions. The hospital recently purchased a regional surgery center, which had its own applications. The center has received Antelope's network and application blueprints and will have to assimilate within 60 days, he said.

"In a perfect world, they would get what they want," Shehata said. "In a real world, we have standards."

For Windows 2000, the linchpin of growth is Active Directory. It's well understood at this point that the current version of Active Directory can cause a lot of trouble if it's not planned well.

The biggest mistake that most customers make regarding Active Directory is that they attempt to overlay Active Directory over an old NT structure. What they really need to do is start with a clean slate and recreate the network they want, said John Dandeneau, director of strategic alliances at ePresence, a Westborough, Mass. integrator.

"[Because of this], we've seen so many companies have to reinstall Active Directory, and that's a painful lesson."

Dandeneau said don't "boil the ocean" by attempting to tackle all capabilities provided by Active Directory's Group Policy. Treat Group Policy, which is a configuration management feature in Active Directory, as a separate project after the migration.

"There is a lot that Group Policy can do, but that doesn't mean you should do it," he said.

Another tip Dandeneau offers to IT managers is to make sure service accounts in NT 4.0 and SQL Server are properly migrated.

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