How to Keep Up With Rapid Growth

By Duff Mcdonald  |  Posted 05-05-2005
Growing up is hard to do. That's especially true if you're the IT department of a young company that's seen its revenues double or triple every year for the past several years.

Beyond the obvious challenges of adding enough processing or storage capacity to handle the increased business, the larger a company gets, the more complicated—and vulnerable to potential disaster—its technology systems and processes become.

Perhaps the most challenging aspect of handling the changing IT needs of a fast-growing company is the fact that improvements and adaptations need to take place on the fly: No one gets to shut the company down and make changes in a relaxed, low-risk environment. Crash the system and you can crash the company in the process. If there is an unsung hero in any story of rampant growth, it is the IT department itself—the people who make sure growth can continue apace and who tend to get noticed more when there are problems than when things are running smoothly.

To understand the hurdles faced by the CIO of a rapidly growing company, CIO Insight found three companies in three different industries that have been experiencing the kind of growth that has derailed many a former highflier.

One of the three, chipmaker Silicon Laboratories Inc., is a global company with suppliers and customers around the world. Another, Overstock.com Inc., exists mainly in cyberspace and has been doubling its revenues year after year, even while operating in the shadow of Internet powerhouses Amazon.com Inc. and eBay Inc.

The third, NovaStar Financial Inc., has seen its mortgage business grow at the same seemingly preposterous pace as the price of real estate itself.

All three of the companies we looked at have faced both their own unique information technology challenges, as well as those faced by any enterprise that suddenly finds itself with hundreds of millions of dollars and thousands of people depending on it.

In other words, it's important stuff. Indeed, Stephen Tryon, a vice president at Overstock.com, likens the tasks facing his IT department to the building—on an annual basis—of Noah's Ark.

While clearly resorting to hyperbole, his suggestion does raise an interesting notion. Unless that ark is built with the right materials, even the most high-flying of growing companies will find itself going the way of the unicorn.