It always helps to know who you’re cooking for. So in in this first ITcookbook article, we’ll describe FictionalBiz – a make-believe company for whom we will build and maintain an IT infrastructure. In the fake interview below, I (ITchef) might either be a consultant or a new-hired IT guy. Either way, I’m his entire IT department, and I need to know a few things before I get started building out an IT environment for him. Let’s listen in as I speak with Bob Bossman, the founder of FictionalBiz:
Bob: So, I’ve got the business started and have some initial customers, but at the moment I’m operating out of my personal laptop. I’ve secured a lease for our office facility and warehouse space; we will be moving in about 2 months from now. When we do, I want to be ready with the technical infrastructure for 5 employees, able to scale to 10 employees within months.
ITchef: Alright, I need to get some specifics from you. What sorts of things will your workers need, in terms of computing?
Bob: Well I leave most of this to you. But our people are going to need phones, and internet access. Email, word processing, presentation, spreadsheet software. They will need to share files. We will need CRM at some time in the future but we aren’t ready for that yet.
ITchef: (Taking notes) Will any of your people work from home, or need remote access?
Bob: No, they will do their computing work in the office.
ITchef: OK. What sort of growth are you predicting, and how much do you want to spend?
Bob: I think we’re gonna be big: 300-500 workers within 3 years. But I have to accept the possibility of failure too, so I don’t want to plan for more than 50 workers in the first year – as long as that doesn’t box us in. I’m starting on a shoestring, so I want you to spend like its your own money and you don’t have much of it, but I want to design for growth and keep options open so that down the road we can upgrade the infrastructure as that becomes needful.
ITchef: OK. What are you comfortable with, on your own laptop?
Bob: I use Windows XP (Home Edition) and Office 2007. I have a Gmail account. I use Windows Live Messenger for instant messaging, and Skype for phone calls. I want to be able to IM all employees.
ITchef: Ah, you use Skype. Would you be open to trying Skype as your telephony system – and no regular phones at all? In this way Skype could also be your company IM.
Bob: Yes, let’s try that.
ITchef: Would you be alright with us rebuilding that laptop, if we can move your data to the new build?
Bob: Yes. In fact I have been wanting a new laptop; this one is getting pretty long in the tooth.
ITchef: We’ll work that in, then. Do you foresee any other employees needing laptops, or do you see them all at desks?
Bob: Right now I’ll have the only laptop; everyone else will use desktop systems. Later we’ll want laptops for some mobile employees. Also, I happen to have 10 copies of XP Professional, retail licensed, from a prior business venture. So let’s use those. Oh, I also have a copy of Windows Small Business Server 2003, let’s use that too.
ITchef: Got it. How reliable do we need desktops to be? If a employee’s desktop is out of commission for whatever reason (hardware failure, software problems, etc), how soon do you want him to be fixed and back in business?
Bob: As fast as possible. Ideally less than 3 hours. We’re going to be a fast moving business and we don’t want to give excuses to our customers; we want to impress them!
ITchef: Does your new office location have internet access? Does it have structured wiring to the desks?
Bob: Yes, there is broadband and some sort of router there now. There is one ethernet port at each desk.
Itchef: Will you want a website for the business?
Bob: Yes, but not right away. Let’s talk about that later down the line.
ITchef: Alright. I think I have enough to get started with. Is there anything else on your mind right now?
Bob: That’s all I can think of right now. I’m sure there will be more!
ITchef: OK. I’ll get a proposal back to you in three days.
…and we end the conference there. This is, of course, a rather idealized conversation with all the fluff cut out. In reality these conversations can go on a good deal longer – clients often don’t have more than a nebulous idea that they want computers.
This is a rare greenfield setup – we literally get to build Bob’s infrastructure from the ground up. Of course real life does not often afford us this luxury! The opening chapters of our IT cookbook will be a little bit unreal because of this. But as we grow FictionalBiz, we’ll have the opportunities to do the sort of brownfield upgrades and replacements that one would find in a more typical business operating environment.
Next installment: our proposal, and the thinking behind it.