How to Gain Influence: Make Money with Grease, Gravity and Dirt

Don Tennant

If there's one arrow in your professional quiver whose value can't be overstated, it's influence. Influence buys you a voice at the corporate table, the capacity to empower the people who work for you, and the means to strengthen your own career. And if there's one sure way to gain influence, it's to make or save your company money.


I was reminded of those facts by a conversation I had yesterday with Joe Gott, director of information systems at the Eastern Municipal Water District in Riverside County, Calif., in preparation for a panel discussion at the upcoming IT Business Edge Midmarket CIO Forum. Like many senior IT professionals, Gott wears two hats: an IT management hat and a corporate management hat.


In his IT management capacity, Gott has taken the money-saving steps you might expect, including a server virtualization project that's saving $200,000 a year in electricity costs alone. But what really struck me was the innovative revenue-generating and cost-saving ideas that the corporate management team as a whole has come up with. For example, the water district is using the grease flushed away by fast-food restaurants to power some of its systems:

One part of our waste water is grease, which comes from restaurants and other sources. That grease is skimmed off and turned into diesel fuel. We burn it at the plants to run micro turbines, which generate electricity at a much lower rate-we've brought our huge electric bill down quite a bit. We also use methane and other byproducts of waste water treatment to run certain devices at the plants.

Then there's the side income from a system that runs on gravity:

We have a lot of tanks high up on hills because most of our system is gravity-fed. Those sites tend to make great sites for cell towers. We have agreements with pretty much all of the wireless providers to have their cell towers on our sites, and we get a monthly fee for that.

And then there's striking pay dirt:

We're about to start a new pond dig, and we take that dirt and sell it. So we have this huge retention pond, and we make a profit on it-it doesn't cost us money to do something like that. There's construction around here on freeways as a result of the stimulus, so people need fill dirt. Plus we're partially in a flood plain. So everybody's looking for dirt all the time.

The point is, there are a lot of innovative ways to make and save money, and they don't necessarily have to fall in the IT sphere for an IT professional to champion them. Don't let your IT hat slide down and blind you. The influence you gain as an IT leader could very well be generated by creativity and resourcefulness that are sparked far outside the data center.

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Add Comment      Leave a comment on this blog post
Mar 5, 2010 1:44 PM Susan Hall Susan Hall  says:

Great ideas, sort of like those zoo-doo promotions to sell animal waste as fertilizer. Bet the person who thought of that got more than a gold star!


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