As a retailer with a heavy ecommerce presence, Roberts says IT needs to keep the lights on 24x7. "Within my organization we spread the load and know when folks go on vacation, and try to have others cover for them," he says.
Specialists on call
However, "like many retailers we don't have 14 people covering the same system. So sometimes we have to call people." Members of his team all carry a smartphone, and most have the ability to access systems while they are mobile. He estimates that someone will get called while they are on vacation less than 25% of the time. "We try to respect vacations but the reality is it happens." There are specialists who are really the only ones who can address an issue, he says.
Century 21 has roughly 50 IT people; about half are on the development/application side and the other half are on the break/fix or computer operations side. The business analysts, who are on the development side and interact with end users as well as troubleshoot business issues, are the ones who probably have the biggest challenge when they go away in terms of making sure they have coverage.
Roberts says they actively cross-train certain IT staff but "the reality is there's always going to be pockets of people or someone who's the 'expert,' and something happens where we need to have that person. There are people who are great at financial systems and merchandising systems, but there's different business acumen in some cases."
Roberts himself takes usually one vacation where he's out of the office five to six days -- but almost never is gone for an entire week. "We're a progressive company and IT is now the center of everything. That's my personal preference -- making myself available every week of the year."
Company policy is to encourage people to take all their vacation within the year, since Century 21 doesn't want carryover, he says. While there are no blackout periods, summer tends to be a good time for staff to be out, because November and December are critical times for retailers. "There's no downtime in retail anymore," he adds.
Downtime can also be dicey when a company has a very small IT staff. Michael Feldman, vice president of engineering and IT at BigBelly Solar, a provider of solar-powered trash compactors and enterprise waste and recycling software, is part of an IT staff of two. If there is an emergency while he's on vacation, "I'm going to have to step in and figure it out."
As one of a two-person IT staff, if there is an emergency while he's on vacation, "I'm going to have to step in and figure it out," says Michael Feldman, vice president of engineering and IT at BigBelly Solar.
Sign up for CIO Asia eNewsletters.