IT is bureaucratic and frustrating—and absolutely necessary. But there are things companies can do to change this
Posted on Having IT Your Way: June 2, 2008 1:07 PM
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."
So let's do something about it. In the spirit of confronting brutal facts honestly, and then developing deeper insights that will allow us to chart a new path—here's my take on what we all hate about IT.
1. IT Limits Managers' Authority You bring in 10% of the company's revenue but can't authorize a $100,000 project if it requires IT. Furthermore, IT's bureaucratic governance process rivals the tax code in complexity and inhibits rather than promotes innovation.
2. They're Missing Adult Supervision The CIO is impressive, but totally unavailable. So the next best option is your IT "relationship manager" who's a few clicks down the evolutionary scale and doesn't have the breadth of expertise to truly act as a trusted IT advisor to senior business executives.
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? Compound this with the lack of visibility into how IT spends non-project dollars and it makes you want to become a technology vendor to cash in on the booty.
4. Their Projects Never End In-process projects are always 90% done. "Completed" projects don't have agreed to functionality, and the team that promises to deliver missing functionality in future phases are always mysteriously missing-in-action.
5. The Help Desk is Helpless When glitches emerge, you are become a technology pauper, going door-to-door begging for help while functional specialists defend the reliability of their piece of the byzantine infrastructure.
6. They Let Outsourcers Run Amok You know that outsourcing wasn't really IT's idea, but you blame them when you're trying to communicate with external "service" providers that lack even a basic understanding of your business. It's like trying to teach calculus to a 4 year old.
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. Then, when you try to brainstorm with IT about how to apply new technology, you get paternalistic responses akin to the look that parents give their children when they play dress up.
8. IT Never Has Good News No matter how much you spend and how hard you work, you never have anything to celebrate and little to look forward to as the promise of technology seems perpetually beyond your reach.
Of course, there's yin to go with this yang and my next post will turn the tables to reveal IT's point of view on corporate management.
In the meantime, tell me what I got wrong (and right)—what do you hate (and possibly, love) about IT?
P.S. To all my IT friends who hate that I wrote this—read this and take some solace that IT's not the only one in the management doghouse.