It’s easy to bash the IT department; to deride it as the land of no and slow, a roadblock rather than a resource, a group it’s easier to work around than to work with when addressing urgent and rapidly changing business needs.
But given the current and on-the-horizon risks of digital disruption of business models (example: one-hour photo shops were a rapidly growing business in 1988, but their numbers have plunged from more than 3,000 shops across the U.S. in 1998 to less than 200 today) from developments like 3D printing, cloud computing, and the Internet of Things (IoT), technology is playing a bigger role than ever in businesses of all kinds.
That makes IT’s role more vital than ever. Practices, processes, and in some cases even attitudes need to change, to be sure, but now is the time to engage IT, not hate it. Forward-thinking companies like Nordstrom and Starbucks—while not “technology companies”—are embracing IT internally and externally to improve both operational efficiency and the user experience for customers and employees alike.
Yet inside many corporations, IT is viewed as an impediment rather than an enabler in embracing digital change. In her article 8 Things We Hate About IT, Susan Cramm acknowledges that “nobody hates the people in IT—it’s the system that’s broken. And here’s the rub: IT doesn’t like it either,” before detailing “what we all hate about IT.”
We work with professionals in IT (as well as their colleagues in other functions) every day, helping them use Kinetic Data software to be heroes to the business, not roadblocks to progress.
So, here’s our take on what some may “hate” about IT, along with why these issues exist and what can be done to fix them.
1) IT Limits Managers’ Authority
“IT’s bureaucratic governance process rivals the tax code in complexity and inhibits rather than promotes innovation.”
There’s no question bureaucracy and convoluted processes can be overdone (and not just by IT, in fairness). Processes should be frequently reexamined with the end user / outcome in mind, and simplified to the greatest extent possible.
That said, there’s often a good reason for the complexity. IT’s review and governance processes are (when properly implemented) designed to help prevent buying technology that’s redundant with systems already in place, is incompatible (or that at least doesn’t work well with) existing systems, puts the organization’s data security at risk, is built on an inappropriate or obsolete technology, or doesn’t comply with regulatory obligations (which aren’t IT’s fault—see below).
Managers may believe that modest expenditures shouldn’t require IT review. But regardless of the price tag, the cost of buying the wrong technology can be very high.
2) They’re Missing Adult Supervision
The CIO is unavailable and the “IT ‘relationship manager’…doesn’t have the breadth of expertise to truly act as a trusted IT advisor to senior business executives.”
It’s the CIO’s job to serve as that trusted advisor, so—what is he or she doing to be “unavailable”?
And a few executive MBA classes can go a long way in helping those one level down (some of whom may be future CIOs) to at least develop the skills and knowledge to communicate effectively in business-level discussions.
As the story making the rounds goes: “The CFO asked: What if we invest in our people and they leave? To which the CEO responded: What if we don’t and they stay?”
3) They’re Financial Extortionists
“When was the last time there wasn’t some emergency in IT (e.g. Y2K, SOX, HIPAA) that requires a zillion dollars?”
SOX, HIPAA, EHRs, the tax code…all are creations of government. IT doesn’t create regulations—but does need to assure that corporate systems are compliant with them.
To the bigger issue of cost, though: yes, IT is expensive. The storage hardware, processors and switches that move gigabytes of data each second; the myriad software systems that automate complex business processes like managing supply chains and financial transactions; building and maintaining the integrations between different systems built by different people at different times in different countries; and the talent to make all of this actually work—is costly.
So are doctors, lawyers and CPAs. Some costs we don’t understand, but we pay because the cost of not paying is impractical if not unthinkable.
4) Their Projects Never End
“In-process projects are always 90% done (and) ‘completed’ projects don’t have agreed-to functionality.”
Nothing in business is ever “done.” Products are continually redesigned, processes are reengineered and refined, business models change (see above), employee and customer needs and expectations evolve, new possibilities and opportunities emerge, trends develop.
It’s true that many IT projects are never done, but it’s also vital. Using agile development processes and flexible systems of engagement, IT professionals are able to build on what’s already been done or is already in place to continually meet new business needs and extend capabilities without constant “rip and replace” system implementations or reinventing the proverbial wheel.
5) The Help Desk is Helpless
While technology problems can at times be quite challenging to resolve (when someone is using an iPhone to connect to a Windows web server to access data stored on a mainframe, for example…there are any number of places where things can “break”), there’s no excuse for generally and genuinely poor support.
If a help desk is adequately staffed and trained, incorporates effective problem-solving methods, and uses an enterprise request management (ERM) approach to provide simple self-service along with problem collaboration tools to communicate and solve difficult problems—support should and can be effective.
6) They Let Outsourcers Run Amok
It’s rare for any organization to either “do it all” in-house when it comes to technology management, or to outsource everything. Hybrid models are the norm; certain core functions or those requiring unique knowledge are kept inside, while others are outsourced for a combination of quality and efficiency.
Indeed, large enterprises are increasingly embracing service integration and management (SIAM), which LinkedIn defines simply as “the integration, management and assurance of multiple suppliers to deliver business benefits. ”
The use of specialized service providers for a host of capabilities is likely to increase. But SIAM offers a practical and effective alternative to “running amok.”
7) IT is Stocked with Out-of-Date Geeks
“It’s not good when you learn about social networking from your 12-year old at home while IT is still trying to cope with email” (and can’t help you brainstorm “about how to apply new technology”).
First, your 12-year-old may be great at showing you how to get on Instagram or connect to Netflix using an Xbox, but you probably don’t want him or her managing your mission-critical systems.
Second, while it’s not essential that everyone in your IT group is able to articulate how new technology can be applied to your business, it is vital to have at least a few people on your team who can. If you don’t have them, hire them.
Third, before you speak disparagingly about “out-of-date geeks,” keep in mind that 60% of the transactions run in the world touch a mainframe at some point, and it’s estimated that IBM still has roughly 6,000 mainframe customers—including 355 of the Fortune 500 companies. Those “out-of-date geeks” are pretty darn important to keeping the business running.
8) IT Never Has Good News
“No matter how much you spend and how hard you work, you never have anything to celebrate.”
Then you’re not doing IT right! Your IT group should have victories to celebrate as it builds out technology to move the business forward and help employees to be as productive as possible.
For example, when Schneider Electric revamped its online IT service request system, the company’s internal chat system lit up with messages like “magnificent design,” “bravo,” and “this is excellent!”
Large organizations are complex structures with many diverse but interlocking components; problems among—and yes, sometimes friction between—different parts of the enterprise.
But with the ongoing disruption in business models fueled by cloud computing, 3D printing, the app economy, and other emerging developments, digital technology has never played a larger and more vital role in business success.
Despite some understandable frustrations (which go both ways, incidentally: IT security pros, for example, get a bit perturbed when employees share sensitive corporate data on Dropbox) —now is really not a good time to “hate” IT.