Keeping Focus With Challenging Changes

It's hard to believe we're already into the second month of 2009… and we aren't even sure what happened to 2008.

Last year turned into a very difficult time, on many different fronts. We were all forced to deal with issues that in many ways were out of our direct control. In reality, there didn't seem to be many bright lights surrounding us.

Looking back, the year was filled with much uncertainty. The economy and job market was obviously on everyone's mind, and it was difficult watching our industry lose good people through reductions in force. Those losses were the result of financial decisions, and the impact is being felt by all.

What I find interesting is that with all of the uncertainty and bad news throughout 2008, we actually did a lot with a lot less resources and money.


We did implement several major projects in 2008 that have a direct benefit on our business and our bottom line. Those projects didn't come to fruition easily; in fact, it was difficult. Resources were limited, plans had to be adjusted in some cases to deal with the financial realities we were facing, and in a few cases the results didn't exactly resemble the initial drawings—but the results were solid.

The year was hectic—and stressful. In my opinion, it was the busiest year in my memory. Because of the situations we faced, our customers needed even more solutions to help automate, simplify or eliminate tasks that used to be manual. We had to get better at sharing information and making it available outside of our isolated workgroups. We had to be creative and inventive. We had to use those opportunities to continue to grow our products.

We did it, very well. I'm proud of our IT group throughout Media General. We did more, with less, in a very difficult environment.

So, what's ahead for 2009? I doubt there will be much time to catch our breath; we're hitting the ground running. I'm sure that's the same for you, too. The digital transition is likely first and foremost at every shop, but other projects continue to move forward as well.

And that's precisely why I'm making extra effort to ensure we don't set ourselves up for a problem.

It's completely normal for all of us to continue pushing ahead fast and furious. We know we have major projects and initiatives this year, and like last year, we'll find a way to make it happen.

In most cases, all of us are doing that with fewer resources (i.e., people and money) and that has to have an impact.

As we move forward in 2009, it will be imperative this year for all of us to keep focus on the things already in place that still demand our attention. Unfortunately, this often appears as the ideal area to lower your guard—it's easy pickings. You have a good comfort level, few problems in the past… by letting your guard down a little, you can focus on the approaching tasks. That's a dangerous assumption and will likely cause problems down the road.

I don't profess to have all of the answers on how to do so much more with so much less, but we will have to be smart about our decision making. We will have to identify and properly prioritize our tasks as we move forward. We will have to be hyper-vigilant to ensure existing systems and operations continue to function unimpeded.

During 2008, I witnessed periods where our focus became somewhat blurred.

Issues that did occur were often directly related to taking our eye off the foundations that we've built so we could better focus on current tasks.

A couple of very simple examples for you to consider:

  • •In 2008, at what point did you thoroughly review and verify your existing backup systems? Did you physically pull a backup tape and complete a test-restore of a user's data?
  • •Have you recently reviewed the monitoring of your network hardware, including switches, routers and servers to ensure no errors are occurring and that overall health is good? Or, did that slide a bit this year because there haven't been many complaints?
  • •How long has it been since you thoroughly reviewed and updated disaster recovery plans?
  • •Are your IT policies and procedures accurate and are your newer employees aware of these requirements?

These examples are about as basic as you can get but ignoring them can lead to problems. During 2009, it's going to be tempting to refocus our attention in other areas. In some cases, we won't have a choice, but it will be smart management that ensures the duration is brief.


I truly believe that 2009 will require substantial strengths in project and time management, leadership and communication. You will see those that have strong control of these skills be highly productive and effective in your organization. Those that don't have strengths in any or all of these areas should make it a personal priority to address these issues—now.

Personal growth in 2009 will be important to all of us and while we have a lot of work to do, it will be important for us to work on improving our overall talents and skills. Don't let your personal development out of your sight! Count on IT!

Michael J. Sutton is director of IT at Media General Broadcast Group in Richmond, Va. He can be reached