Feature

Lone Survivor: How a CIO Survived a Massive IT Layoff, Merger and More

CIO Charlie James has soldiered through one professional disaster after another at hotelier Lodgian Inc.: A merger. A bankruptcy. A massive IT layoff. A near-hostile takeover. A parade of new CEOs and CFOs. And he lived to tell the tale.

It was 3 a.m. on a Sunday morning in August, and Lodgian CIO Charlie James was trying to figure out how to tell his boss that the company had to re-create four days of transactions for its scores of hotels across the country. The company had long been plagued by software problems, but losing half a week of business data would have been a disaster of a new magnitude: Everything from payroll to accounts receivable was hanging in the balance.

The problem had started weeks earlier after Lodgian upgraded to Oracle 11i, which awoke a sleeping bug in the database that was now crashing the enterprise resource planning (ERP) system regularly. Oracle had dispatched a consultant, who seemed to spend most of his time calling the vendor's help desk. "He was just doing what we had been doing," James recalls.

The CIO needed a real expert, so he e-mailed the Oracle sales rep, telling her that he was going to complain all the way up to CEO Larry Ellison if he didn't get better help. A week later, a new consultant showed up. "Amazingly," James says, "we got one of Oracle's best DBAs."

In two hours, the consultant confirmed James' suspicions about where the corruption had lodged in the database. James was impressed and asked the consultant if he could fix the problem while the system was still in use. No problem, the consultant assured him.

But the system crashed again. James checked Lodgian's aging backup system and, to his horror, discovered a tape failure. "I have never had this happen," the consultant muttered repeatedly.

The words "tape failure" would make any IT chief queasy. But for James, a backup failure was just another stomach-churning dip on the rollercoaster ride of his six-year tenure as CIO of Lodgian, a beleaguered hotel management company. After years of upheaval, it has turned itself around, emerging from bankruptcy and returning to profitability last year.

This was first published in May 2006

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