I’m It director, chief technology officer,
truck driver, window washer and, at the
end of the day, hands-on technologist.
steven porter, CIO, TOUCHSTONE BEHAVIORAL HEALTH
cover big-enterprise-style initiatives like virtualization
and VLANs, while at the same time providing hands-on support to more than 200 users scattered across the
state of Arizona.
“Some days I wonder what the hell I’m doing here,”
jokes Porter, 60, who has worked at Touchstone, a
provider of behavioral services to at-risk children in the
state’s Medicare program, for more than five years.
Following a successful run as a television producer
of live auto racing events and motorsports news programming, Porter leveraged his burgeoning interest in
the Internet to land a job with an e-commerce developer in 1995. After he served a couple of subsequent
dot-com stints, Touchstone Behavioral sought him out
for the IT director’s spot.
Porter sees the role as a challenge. “I’m being asked
to do the same things as my enterprise counterparts . . .
but the head count of our entire IT organization is
smaller than one of their development teams,” he says.
Even with budget shortfalls and resource con-
straints, Porter says he wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I’m IT director, chief technology officer, truck driver,
window washer and, at the end of the day, hands-on
technologist,” he says. “I have the opportunity to make
a difference and the flexibility to be hands-on when I
want to be. That’s a pro for me.”
It’s an upside for plenty of IT professionals who, like
Porter, see value in being a big technology fish in a small
pond. They view the requirement of rolling up their
sleeves and getting their hands dirty with technology as
a bonus, not a burden. For them, a tight budget repre-
sents a challenge to be creative with project choices. And
here’s their take on a small shop’s flatter organizational
structure: It doesn’t mean fewer career choices; it’s an
opportunity to exert more control over initiatives that
can have a meaningful impact on the business.
On the other hand, working within the constraints
of a small IT shop isn’t always a bed of roses. Beyond
budget and resource restrictions, some smaller organizations aren’t culturally ready to take on state-of-the-art technology. And experts and small-shop CIOs say
that IT can be pulled in conflicting directions, with
politics and personality trumping business value as the
gauge for getting buy-in on certain tech initiatives.
wise Career Choice? maybe
Those downsides don’t deter Porter, who says his
propensity to buck bureaucracy and his desire to make
a difference make him a good fit for a smaller organization. That was certainly what prompted him to take
the IT director spot at Touchstone Behavioral — and
stick around long enough to grow it into a full CIO role.
“The company’s mission appealed to the old hippie in
me,” Porter says. “With technology, we deliver tools that
help with some of the business processes and documen-
tation. If that gives [therapists] another 15 minutes a day
to work with the kids, then we’ve achieved something.”
With less bureaucracy and smaller leadership teams,
Porter says, his group is more nimble, implementing
sophisticated initiatives around mobility, security,
virtualization and voice over IP in months rather than
in the years it takes larger organizations to close the
books on similar projects.
“Governance becomes a matter of two or three business units getting together, sometimes literally in the
hallway or over a cup of coffee, and making the decision
to go in a certain direction or to have this particular project’s needs supersede anything else going on,” he says.
Porter and other tech execs at small organizations
might find such agility appealing and the challenges
enjoyable, but is a stint in a small organization good for
an IT professional’s career trajectory?
Some industry watchers say small-ponders are in
a position to cultivate skills that set them apart from
their peers. “When you’re a leader in a small department, you gain experience you’ll never get in a large
organization,” says John Reed, executive director of
Robert Half Technology, an IT staffing firm.