Corporate IT insanity

fern by Randy Son Of Robert
8 Things We Hate About IT:

You may think that hate is too strong of a word for feelings toward a corporate department. I don’t. Yesterday, I was interviewing an executive on his perceptions of IT and he couldn’t spit his frustration out fast enough. He said, “In the quest of getting things organized, they are introducing a bunch of bureaucracy and, in the process, they’re abdicating their responsibility for making sure the right things get done.” This is completely typical of management’s frustration – no, management’s hatred – of IT.

It’s hard to remember the time when criticizing IT was controversial. Now, it’s ceased to be even interesting. The now-classic HBR article “IT Doesn’t Matter” resonated so clearly because it underscored the pervasive belief that IT mediocrity is the norm. And how bad is an industry’s reputation when a major outsourcer, Keane, can get away with insulting its target market with the slogan, “We Do IT Right”?

It’s not personal – nobody hates the people in IT – it’s the system that’s broken. And here’s the rub: IT doesn’t like it either. One global Fortune 200 CIO describes leading IT as “a sucking vortex.”

Harvard Business is never shy about stoking controversy. Let’s take a look at some of these items.

  • IT Limits Managers’ Authority
  • They’re Missing Adult Supervision
  • They’re Financial Extortionists
  • Their Projects Never End
  • The Help Desk is Helpless
  • They Let Outsourcers Run Amok
  • IT is Stocked with Out-of-Date Geeks
  • IT Never Has Good News

The eight things almost all deal with an unwieldy section of a large company having to deal with rapidly changing circumstances. I believe that most of the eight things mentioned above derive from the two opposing aspects of IT in many companies.

IT has to fundamentally provide a stable working environment. Things just can not break or go down. Otherwise, employees do not get paid, vendors do not get paid and lawsuits proliferate. So IT is under a lot of pressure to just make sure that the status quo remains. They want to get thinks working and then never change them again.

However, business concerns require continual tweaking of almost all IT processes, the addition of new innovations. This is driven by competition. Other organizations are adding new tweaks, ones that can provide substantial competitive advantages. A company that can not keep up will eventually disappear.

Stability versus Innovation. How a company deals with this dichotomy in IT often determines success or failure.

So, many IT departments are driven by diametrically opposed needs. No wonder they do such a poor job of satisfying everyone. Stability necessitates limiting what the rest of the company can do. But innovation often needs large amounts of money to complete a project right now in order for the company to remain competitive.

The help desk is not helpful because stability should mean things work and no help should be required. But then outsourcers provide expertise and processes IT can not because things change and real help is needed.

Their projects never end because there is always something else to add in order to remain competitive. The geeks are out-of-date because the innovators in IT often get frustrated (they threaten stability), see that the best route to getting new technologies adopted is to be a consultant and leave.

There is never good news because it is almost impossible to provide stability and innovation simultaneously.

I agree with F. Scott Fitzgerald. The people in IT usually possess first-rate intelligences but the requirements that are often put on them make it very hard to function effectively.

There will have to be changes in how IT is actually managed, how it is integrated into the corporation, in order for many of these problems to be attacked.

Perhaps splitting the two responsibilities or creating an independent IT group whose only mandate is to devise processes that can incorporate new technologies and innovative tools into the organization without disturbing stability.

But maintaining these two opposing needs is the very definition of insanity.

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2 thoughts on “Corporate IT insanity”

  1. The problem is not only with big companies. It holds for any large organization, like for instance universities.

    Part of the solution could also be that managers would not only be selected on the basis of their knowledge of economics and finances, but also on the basis of their knowledge of technology. And you must admit: communication skills (I mean communicating with humans) are presently not the strongest point of IT professionals

  2. Absolutely correct. Universities and non-profits also suffer from this problem. The simultaneous needs for stability and for innovation in IT are very hard to effectively overcome, no matter what type of organization is being examined.

    I have spent most of my scientific career acting as a conduit for conversations between biologists and IT, neither of which are known for their communication skills, so I know of what you speak.

    What we tried at Immunex that enjoyed some success was to create a Research IT group. It supported the need for innovation required for biotech research while being separate (almost in its own bubble) from the rest of IT.

    Then the innovations could spread out with a more defined process. That is how our intranet started – first in Research then in the rest of the company.

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