What's Wrong with IT?

Monday Jun 2nd 2008 by Steve Andriole
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Clueless management, staffers with unrealistic expectations, dinosaur-like vendors: A top IT consultant vents on an industry badly in need of a wake-up call.

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I’ve had it with our inability to get things done; our inability to acknowledge the real reasons why our field’s best practices get crippled the moment a meeting begins. Do we actually know what to do? Do we know how to optimize out IT investments? Of course we do. So what keeps us from getting the most out of IT?

Let’s start with management. Not IT management – we’ll get to that next – but to corporate management. By and large, non-technology managers, directors and executives do not understand IT beyond its ability to support email, spreadsheets and – occasionally – financial dashboards.

Many of them think that IT is easy, too slow, costs too much and is too unreliable. While I’d be the last one to suggest that non-technology managers go back to school, it is their responsibility to invest in understanding the basics around operational and especially strategic technology. While management should not spend time educating themselves, they should be open to learning more about the intersection of their business models and current and emerging technologies.

If I hear another non-technology executive tell me that they “had no idea” how technology is delivered at their companies or the alternative delivery models that can really juice the business, I will scream at them at the top of my lungs. One only gets to plead ignorance for so long.

Then there’s the IT professionals who refuse to accept their roles as support, as enablers of tactical and strategic business transactions. Instead, they want the same respect as the salesperson that lands a lucrative $10,000,000 contract with a client, a multi-year manufacturing partnership or finds just the right company to acquire. The truth is that there’s business and there’s technology, and until technology directly drives revenue it will play a supporting role.

IT professionals: get over it – or build a killer cross-selling or up-selling platform that drives significant profitable growth. Otherwise, keep quiet and deliver world class infrastructure and applications services. Trust me, if you want a seat at the big table you have to gild it in gold that you personally dig up. But if you do discover gold along the way, you will quickly become the most popular guy at whatever table you want.

How about our inability to pursue the right projects or kill bad ones? Why is that so hard? How many certified project managers does it take to kill a bad project?

So a business case goes bad. So what? Kill the project! Part of the reason why IT often has a bad reputation is because it fails to deliver projects on time and within budget, and it often fails to deliver because bad projects stay in the pipeline. We need to learn how to kill bad projects or accept the effect bad projects have on our professional credibility. I am sick and tired of people who want it both ways.

Then there are the embedded contradictions and inconsistencies in our processes that we pretend don’t exist. What am I talking about here? How about discretionary versus non-discretionary budgets? There are no discretionary budgets. Everything is eaten by non-discretionary hardware, software and services. Project management? What project management? How many of your certified PMOs are certifiably insane?

Project management looks great on paper but try finding professionals who know how to identify, sell, manage, fix and kill projects? What about standardization versus agility? Everyone knows that the business unit with the biggest profits makes the rules – even if it means yielding to “standards” and other annoying rules.

Vendors also make me angry. Not the small ones trying hard to get our business or blaze a new technology trail, but the big, entrenched ones that see us as dependent on their products and services.

Especially egregious are the large enterprise software vendors that still – can you imagine? – in the on-demand era expect us to pay huge annual maintenance fees and then upgrade fees – or they charge us extra just to keep the old stuff running, until we have no financial choice but to upgrade and begin the maintenance cost cycle all over again.

Once the software-as-a-service (SaaS) model is perfected, there will be hell to pay: the corporate CIOs I work with will jump ship so fast their revenue heads will spin. Time to short enterprise software stocks? Oracle, SAP and Microsoft really need to re-think their fee structures. On-demand applications, open source software and the growing repository of Web-based components will threaten existing software delivery models to the breaking point. Do the vendors really understand this – or are they in denial?

Lastly, let’s acknowledge that most of our leadership is pretty self-absorbed. I tell my students that the best path to corporate influence is through personal bonuses and compensation packages. This is equivalent to modeling managers and executives as self-serving, self-interested actors who respond well to financial incentives but don’t react that well to initiatives that only help the company. Like public company CFOs, they focus squarely on short-term gratification and initiatives that put money into their pockets.

What did I miss?

What makes you angry?

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