IT Aware

Remember the good old days, when the corporate computer network struck fear and dread in the hearts of your company's business managers? They didn't understand it, but, somehow, they knew they needed it. While they may have grumbled now and then about costs, they generally shelled out the money you asked for to maintain and grow the network, and they didn't ask you any pointed questions.

What a difference modern e-business has made.

Today's business manager no longer wonders about the value of the data networks you manage. Bathed in the steady stream of e-propaganda that's been pouring out of business journals and seminars for the past couple of years, today's business managers eat, sleep, and breathe the big "e." Every one of the Fortune 10 has mandated e-business initiatives for their internal and external operations. Determined to take the lead among the competition, business managers are now aware of the value of their investment in the corporate information networks you manage.

But do they recognize any value in you, their network management and support people? Here's a quick e-business survival quiz.

[]Do your company's business managers meet to discuss e-business initiatives without inviting you to take part?

[]Do e-business consultants show up to meet with your business managers without your knowledge or involvement?

[]Do intranet and Internet Web sites show up in business units around your company, without your knowledge, built and managed by people you never met?

If you answered "yes" to any of these questions, you're learning a valuable lesson: Unless you to reinvent your network management role in business terms rather than technical terms, your network management tenure may be coming to an end.

Like it or not, your network management job is being re-defined, and, in the coming months and years, you'll need to make a few strategic changes.

More than merely a collection of cables, hubs, switches, and routers, the network you manage is becoming a vital conduit for e-business services. Get to know the most important components in your network: the users. Starting with upper management, identify the information and services your users say they need, and suggest ways the network can deliver it to them.

Develop a meaningful performance metrics dashboard for your network, then manage and publish the numbers. Do you know the up-time percentages of your network devices and servers? Do you know how long a typical user has to wait for transactions in your network? Managers respect people who base their decisions on empirically derived data rather than gut feelings, so a few moves like those mentioned above will go a long way toward earning you a place at the conference table. Dust off and configure the network management products you already own, and use them to justify requests for server and bandwidth upgrades. If you don't have or can't figure out how to use them, find some simple and inexpensive network metrics tools at www.ipswitch.com/Products/WhatsUp and www.ipsentry.com.

Get documentation and data onto your corporate intranet. Think of ways to publish the work you're doing -- network performance metrics, network upgrade projects, the network's operational status -- on a Web page within your company.

There is no doubt about it, as the e-business train roars out of the station, network technology is fast moving from the arcane realm of the technical guru to the dollars-and-sense world of the business manager. You can adapt by becoming a business partner in this process -- earning yourself a seat on the train -- or else you'll find yourself under it. --Al Cini is a senior consultant with Computer Methods Corp. (Marlton, N.J.) specializing in systems and network integration. Contact him at al.cini@computermethods.com.