Tech Smart vs. Business Smart: Which Hat Does Your IT Consultant Wear?

January 20, 2010   //   SWC Technology Partners, , , ,

I wear many hats in my career at Chicago IT consultancy SWC.  The two that I’m most comfortable with are the Database Administrator (DBA) and Business Intelligence hats.  Today, however, I learned a valuable lesson about flexibility and points of view–and that sometimes you have to take off the DBA hat when analyzing a problem.

Here’s the lowdown on the situation: one of my new DBA Services customers had an issue with their primary ERP database.  We discovered that the database had some data corruption issues. My kneejerk  reaction was to take the 24/7 system offline for a few hours and fix the corruption with a repair operation that required all user connections to be dropped.  It’s a valid, logical solution to this technical problem: the database has corruption and the corruption could get worse or perhaps even become un-recoverable if nothing was done.  But the situation was not that simple: taking the system down for emergency maintenance would disrupt the company’s delivery service to thousands of customers nationwide. So on the one hand, we have a system at risk; on the other, we have many people dependent on the uptime and availabilty of that system.  What to do?

After more than 13 years in this industry, I know that good consultants don’t make recommendations without having the maximum amount of details on the problems as well as analyzing the risks and rewards of all the potential solutions. So I set my DBA knowledge and best practices aside and went back to the database to dig for more information.  How bad was the corruption?  Was it in many tables?  Was it bigger than table corruption?  What specifically was bad?  After additional research, I discovered that the corruption was affecting two tables and the tables were not mission critical, so an alternative solution was to fix the two tables and do the repair while online.  By taking a step back and analyzing the problem in more detail, I found a solution that resolved the issue with no downtime.

It was a great reminder that applying technical solutions to technical problems also requires thinking through the impact of potential solutions on my customer’s operations. Tech smart and business smart are two different hats.  Good consultants need a firm grasp of both to be successful!