Penny-Wise but Pound-Foolish

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Tight budgets and limited talent pools do not make a winning combination for staffing a database management group. Far more often than it should, these nonwinning circumstances have altered organizational functions in an unintended fashion. Despite the importance of saving money, problems can arise when the lines blur regarding what gets wasted versus what gets saved. When the resources maintaining applications get spread too thin then new development stops; but when the resources managing the database get spread too thin then worse things can happen. Database administration practices mutate and get replaced with database “fire-fighting,” but this fire-fighting comes without the spiffy hats. Instead, the resulting procedures reflect a “database management light” custom, with many basic database practices simply ignored while personnel move from one fire to the next or to the recurrence of a previous fire. Although people have not really failed, the system has failed the people and the business. Organizational resourcing decisions simply did not keep pace with workloads, and the work became more than existing personnel could handle. Openings for additional staff may have been denied, or perhaps budgets only allowed hiring junior or novice personnel. The result of these types of hiring decisions creates an experience vacuum, requiring training either on-the-job or otherwise, that ultimately adds to the growing pile of immediate priorities juggled by the staff.

When restricting the focus of one’s work to firefighting, the resulting goals include keeping things working, preventing meltdowns, avoiding stoppages, and rerouting seemingly imminent organizational implosions. These goals undoubtedly qualify as noble endeavors; but under the yoke of complete devotion to such goals, no time exists for building new things and no time exists for improving existing processes and practices, which certainly leaves no time for research and learning. In other words, progress comes to a halt. Projects may come and some may even complete, but such completions happen without the added benefit a transformational improvement for the organization.

In fact, the fire-fighting rightly assumes position as the number-one priority. But if the only existing resource bandwidth in the organization remains wholly and solely dedicated to fire-fighting for more than a minimal period of time, then a staffing crisis already exists for the database management area. Symptoms of such resource constriction appear indirectly—an abnormal frequency of space shortages for indexes, delayed capacity planning discussions, and scheduled utilities not immediately handled due missed monitoring. When instability affects the organization’s databases, then individual processes may stop and people may remain idle; however, the instability impacts fact-based organizational decisions even more. Data has arisen as the heart and soul of most business operations; access to that data by people, and through applications and tools, helps things keep running just like a body’s heart pumps blood. Therefore, corporations should try to stay their frugal hand in the database management areas and try grant a bit more budgetary latitude surrounding the corporate lifeblood, even in tight times.
The old saying, “penny-wise but pound-foolish” suggests that at times the saving of a little bit in one place may actually cost a much larger expenditure elsewhere. Saving a little money today may please an accounting department head; but under a worst case scenario, some expense cuts may possibly result in not having an organizational future. Such dire choices are dangerous. Data and its many uses are at the heart of most organizations today. Not addressing problems the data and database management function, especially resource problems, results in a corporate version of playing with fire, meaning that eventually someone will get burned.