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The Disconnect Between Management and the Value of IT 333

Posted by Zonk
from the grab-some-better-educated-managers dept.
DavidHumus writes "According to a Wall St. Journal article top executives at most companies fail to recognize the value of IT, having a tendency to think of information technology as a basic utility, like plumbing or telephone service. The article lists five primary reasons for 'the wall' between IT and business: 'mind-set differences between management staff and IT staff, language differences, social influences, flaws in IT governance (defined as the specification and control of IT decision rights), and the difficulty of managing rapidly changing technology.' Does this fully explain the extreme lack of understanding of IT at high executive levels? The article is even-handed in apportioning blame but touches on a few good points. In particular, how '[m]ost top executives ... think of IT as an expensive headache that they'd rather not deal with.'"
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The Disconnect Between Management and the Value of IT

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  • by bigdavex (155746) on Tuesday March 11, 2008 @09:12AM (#22714820)

    According to a Wall St. Journal article top executives at most companies fail to recognize the value of IT, having a tendency to think of information technology as a basic utility, like plumbing or telephone service.

    I think this comment shows a failure to recognize the value of basic utilities.
    • But does the plumbing infrastructure need to be redone every few years?
      • by elrous0 (869638) * on Tuesday March 11, 2008 @09:28AM (#22715036)
        Depends on how often your staff has "Taco Day" in the lunchroom.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by tompaulco (629533)
        But does the plumbing infrastructure need to be redone every few years?
        Yes. If you try to "right size" your plumbing infrastructure, you will have to redo it every few years and it will cost you much more in the long run.
      • by fredrated (639554) on Tuesday March 11, 2008 @10:43AM (#22716156) Journal
        This is exactly what makes the IT staff far more important than those who maintain basic utilities. The playground is constantly shifting, and if you don't recognize the value of those that can keep up with it you will end up with dummies that can't do the job.
      • by ckaminski (82854) <ckaminski@nOSpaM.pobox.com> on Tuesday March 11, 2008 @11:42AM (#22717350) Homepage
        Time scales are relative. Plumbing and electrical and communications (telephone) networks HAVE been upgrades every "few" years, few being relative, from 5-10 to 20-30. Yes, those networks do get upgraded constantly. The difference is, they are very mature compared to networking. We've had three major network upgrade waves in the past 15 years. From everything else to Ethernet, from 10BaseT to 100BaseT, and from that to Gigabit Ethernet.

        I know of several companies who are going to replace thousands of pounds of functioning servers simply because they've reached the end of their 3year service life. When we stop measuring server lifespans in months and do so instead in decades, we'll have matured as an industry. And then people will understand computers as they understand electricity, telephones and plumbing.

        They'll still call a specialist.
    • Amen! (Score:4, Insightful)

      by davidwr (791652) on Tuesday March 11, 2008 @09:27AM (#22715024) Homepage Journal
      Price != value.

      Basic utilities are immensely valuable. Imagine how much less productive your office would be if it didn't have phones, electricity, or indoor plumbing.

      The fact that these items cost only a fraction of their contribution doesn't mean the same is true for IT.

      The key difference is that most basic utilities are or have historically been regulated and their price set at the cost of production plus a reasonable profit. Where they are not regulated they are theoretically kept reasonable by market pressures or political pressures.

      Employment of knowledge-workers on the other hand is different:
      Each job is unique. Each worker is unique. Leaving one employer for another you hope will be better takes time and effort, as does "getting rid of" a less productive worker and replacing him with someone you hope will be more productive. For these reasons, if someone's pay, benefits, and working conditions are "close enough" to what both the employer and employee think are fair, the employee probably won't quit and he probably won't be "gotten rid of."
      • by Lilith's Heart-shape (1224784) on Tuesday March 11, 2008 @09:43AM (#22715200)

        Basic utilities are immensely valuable. Imagine how much less productive your office would be if it didn't have phones, electricity, or indoor plumbing.
        I'd be more productive without the demon-ridden telephone, as it would be harder for people to interrupt me.
        • I'd be more productive without the demon-ridden telephone, as it would be harder for people to interrupt me.
          For a few days, write down who's calling you. Is it coworkers/managers/etc? Then tell your manager about it. If it's clients? Well, then that can hardly count as being interrupted.
    • by dindi (78034)
      Agreed. In a non-IT related company IT is a basic utility. But you know what happens if your toiled clogs up, or when 500 employees cannot use phone, or brush their teeth/wash their hands after their lunch break.
      I work for companies who have almost no in-house IT, and from time to time I am charging more for a few hours of work then what a full-time person would take there as a salary. I do not mean pc service, because that is handled by the local guy who knows windows and pc, but basic setups, web maintena
    • by Otter (3800) on Tuesday March 11, 2008 @09:53AM (#22715344) Journal
      The point is that while water and electricity are crucial to a business, and providing them more efficiently helps the bottom line, there's no way for a business to get a significant strategic advantage from having hotter hot water*. The argument being made is that improvements in IT *can* give you such an advantage. (Of course, there's that guy from Harvard who periodically gets linked here arguing the opposite -- I have no idea.)

      * Yes, there might exist businesses that might benefit significantly from hotter hot water. Please spare me your nerdly nitpicking.

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        and in the case of McDonalds, having hotter water can be a bit of a liability.
    • Well for plumbing services are usually a cost without any value to the company. Insuring if you have Hot Water or not, or if a toilet (Out of many) is clogged will not effect the companies profits. They need to to be fixed for health and safety reasons but they could be put off for a few hours or even days or weeks without it effecting the bottom line, unless employees start getting sick. Telephone services I would argue fall under IT as well, as telephones are a Information Technology.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by jsiren (886858)
        It seems utilities are surprisingly hard to understand. Drink a two-liter bottle of a caffeinated beverage and tell me plumbing has no value. Or get your hands dirty and tell me the same. Or try hiring anybody, let alone halfway competent, to a company that doesn't waste money to such worthless things as toilets.

        In any business larger than a small shop there are usually several toilets for capacity and redundancy. One can be down for a long time without an adverse effect, provided that it's properly sealed
  • by h4rm0ny (722443) on Tuesday March 11, 2008 @09:17AM (#22714862) Journal

    They missed something off the list. One of the biggest, if not the biggest barriers I see is the desperate attempts of managers to pretend they know more than their staff. This is never more apparent than in computers and the painful experiences I have had with managers who have to try and justify a higher salary whilst doing something which, at the end of the day, is less critical to the production of a product or service than the people who are actually developing it, have left me with nothing but pity for those managers. It's a terrible burden to have to try and instruct someone who knows a lot more about how to accomplish something than you do, and it tends to result in interference or denigration. Only a few non-technical managers I have had have had the confidence or humility to just ask me what the best thing they should decide is. And they were the best managers.

    • by Shados (741919) on Tuesday March 11, 2008 @09:25AM (#22714966)
      To be fair, you have to realise how crappy at decision making most IT people are... If all managers had that "humility", even more projects would fail than they do now...

      Manager: "Hmm....well, on this decision, I guess I'll have to delegate to you. Now, honestly, what do you think we should do??"
      Dev: "Scrap the java codebase and start over from scratch in Ruby on Rails"
      Manager: "Hmm...didn't we work on this for 10 years and have millions of lines of code invested, including stuff that we can't readily replace because we're still trying to replace that last senior dev?"
      Dev: "Scrap the codebase and start over"
      Manager: "Well...ok!"

      That wouldn't go too well :) Now, some IT people have good decision making skills and can readily assist managers... but thats rare :)
      • by Linker3000 (626634) on Tuesday March 11, 2008 @09:56AM (#22715378) Journal
        or in my case...

        Me: "I have fleshed out our draft spec for the new Web site through a series of phone calls and emails over the last few weeks and the developers say they will be able to meet perhaps 80-90% of what you want by the tight deadline you have set and then they will roll out the remaining features over the next couple of weeks."

        Director: "I am really concerned that the developers are so far away in another country"

        Me: "Distance is not really a problem these days - and in any case, I have sounded out several of their customers and UK contacts and they have all recommended this team. Overall, they can do the job for a very good fee + offer the after-sales support."

        Director: "I will think about it"

        Email from Director 3 days later at 8pm one night:

        "I have spoken to a friend and he has recommended a local company he knows so I have given them the contract."

        So, for 3x the cost and over 8 months late we got a half-assed, closed-sourse site with bits still missing.

        Boy do I feel valued round here. Thinking of moving? Funny you should say that...
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          I learned this lesson on early. Except it was more crude ....

          "It's not what you know, its who you blow."

          Back in the late 90s, I got a nice generic RFP for a website for a local business development group, and spent two solid weeks developing a detailed website development plan, including creating an ad revenue stream and offered it up for free to them. I wanted the contacts from the other businesses and figured that I would get some of those businesses. My bid was the only qualifying bid response to the RFP
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by kotj.mf (645325)
        Word. I've had more of a management role lately, and it's amazing what bullshit some IT folks sling when they assume the suit on the other end of the conversation is clueless. It seems to be most prevalent when the IT guy in question is relatively young, and while brilliant in some areas, he thinks he has something to prove in the areas he's weak in. Listen, chief, you're an ace programmer. That's awesome. I don't expect you to also be a senior Unix admin, SAN engineer, and a CCIE. So when I ask you a ques
    • Good reasons? (Score:2, Insightful)

      by iknownuttin (1099999)
      Only a few non-technical managers I have had have had the confidence or humility to just ask me what the best thing they should decide is. And they were the best managers.

      I knew one like that. He got fired for not knowing some tech buzz word that I can't even remember myself. Many of those guys are defensive for a reason: maybe because of their own irrational insecurities or maybe they've learned the hard way not to look "stupid".

      Let's face it, if you don't know something, many, if not most, IT folks will

      • by h4rm0ny (722443)

        Let's face it, if you don't know something, many, if not most, IT folks will be quick to criticize and pounce on the "stupid" person and give the poor bastard a bad rep that is almost to get rid of.

        Perhaps, but what you say is the likely outcome of someone being found out as ignorant. When someone actively comes to a programmer and says "I'm considering developing the project like X, do you see any issues with that," then they don't get jumped on, they get a lot of respect. Obviously people skills can ma

    • by jellomizer (103300) * on Tuesday March 11, 2008 @10:38AM (#22716040)
      There are Two Different types of IT projects.
      Operation Management Systems (OMS)
      and
      Business Intelligence or Decision Support Systems. (BI/DSS)

      OMS are the mission critical systems which need to run perfectly on time and efficiently. These are the programs that keep the business running smoothly.

      BI/DSS are jobs that try to take and represent data so it can be understood clearly without information overload. These systems run with margins of errors based a lot of statistics can be down for a few days or months without effecting daily operations. But their value is giving management and the decision makers information to make good decisions for the future. A silly app that seems to say track marketing calls how much time they take on each call to who. Then could be put into a Data Warehouse linked with the HR systems and Sales and find that some marketing people spend to much time with small customers and less with big customers who can greatly effect their profit and save on marketing costs.

      iT departments often have a hard time with BI/DSS because they are loose nebulous systems, that are continually changing and evolving, often run very slowly because they are using loosely tied togeter data, often in bad formats... But they do have a value, many times these values are the difference of surviving and dieing as a company.

      So I would take a step back if I were you and try to see what the value of the request. It may not be someone just trying to show that they are HIP with IT, but actually working for getting real value out of their IT
  • No surpise. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by v(*_*)vvvv (233078) on Tuesday March 11, 2008 @09:17AM (#22714870)
    The top execs are the true victims of the IT bubble and nonsense IT sales pitches they bought into that ended up just costing them and their company valuable time and resources. Add to that the possibility that they lost boatloads of personal capital on IT stocks, it should be enough to justify their phobia for the sector altogether.

    To us IT folk, the nonsense might seem clear, but to those who are targeted and easily confused, treading waters softly is really a matter of safety, not ignorance.

    • "top" execs (Score:3, Informative)

      by Lonewolf666 (259450)

      The top execs are the true victims of the IT bubble and nonsense IT sales pitches they bought into that ended up just costing them and their company valuable time and resources. Add to that the possibility that they lost boatloads of personal capital on IT stocks, it should be enough to justify their phobia for the sector altogether.

      So, we're talking about guys who
      -jumped on the latest bandwagon without thinking about the actual usefulness of IT for their business
      -or maybe were just afraid to look obsolete
      -

  • IT attitudes (Score:5, Insightful)

    by p51d007 (656414) on Tuesday March 11, 2008 @09:18AM (#22714884)
    Perhaps the reason some businesses "don't want the headache" is do to the attitude of some IT departments. In my dealings, some of them (READ SOME) have the attitude that they are doing you a favor, just talking to you.
    • User Attitudes (Score:5, Insightful)

      by alohatiger (313873) on Tuesday March 11, 2008 @10:04AM (#22715472) Homepage
      That's a bad attitude, but it develops as a defense to crappy user attitudes. "You NEED to fix this!" is the cry of the user who did something stupid/inappropriate and broke his computer.

      Employees also tend to blame IT when they got caught browsing porn or running their home business at work.

      User: "My computer is broken."
      IT: "What's wrong?"
      User: "I can't access Myspace"
      IT: "That's because we block it."
      User: "You suck!"
    • Perhaps the reason some businesses "don't want the headache" is do to the attitude of some IT departments. In my dealings, some of them (READ SOME) have the attitude that they are doing you a favor, just talking to you.

      They are. Tactical and strategic decisions rely on good information, and that means information technology. Without them, you're deaf, dumb and blind.

      When you get down to it, an organization relies on the executive to have a "big picture" view and use that perspective to bring an intelli
    • 'Perhaps the reason some businesses "don't want the headache" is do to the attitude of some IT departments. In my dealings, some of them (READ SOME) have the attitude that they are doing you a favor, just talking to you.' Hey, "Screw You!" is a valid response for any request. However, as for the attitude, try this one; Some IT folks were to working 16 hour days and being told, "So sorry, no overtime for you. Don't like it, look else where for work then." Now do you think that fosters a 'good attitude?'
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by lukas84 (912874)
      Ah well, it's not easy. I sometimes catch myself drifting into that habit after particularly stressful days. I work in a Small Business (~30 People) that is an ERP ISV and sells some amount of IT services to other Small Businesses.

      Dealing with customers is easy - they know that you're on a clock, and every minute wasted is THEIR money wasted. As such, most customers don't call unless it's important, and when they call they tend to keep it as short as possible. On site visits happen of course, for larger wor
  • by Cerberus7 (66071) on Tuesday March 11, 2008 @09:19AM (#22714886)
    Where I work, our Facilities department gets whatever it wants. They take care of the generators, the lights, the A/C, etc. All things this place needs to keep running. We IT people get shafted at every opportunity because we "cost money," yet we take care of the servers and applications that keep this place running. Turn our stuff off, and it's as detrimental to the business as turning off all the lights. I can only dream of what being treated like a utility would be like. It must be nice.
    • by jrumney (197329) on Tuesday March 11, 2008 @09:28AM (#22715034) Homepage
      Perhaps you should start encouraging equal recognition by lobbying management for pay parity with your facilities department.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by mh1997 (1065630)

      We IT people get shafted at every opportunity because we "cost money," yet we take care of the servers and applications that keep this place running. Turn our stuff off, and it's as detrimental to the business as turning off all the lights.

      That is the IT Manager's fault. He/She should be selling the value of the department. You don't need to sell upper management the value of a phone, toilet, or lights because they were sold the value when they were kids - at home. However, their home probably did not h

    • by bberens (965711)
      If your office is anything like any other corporate office I know of your mail server goes down a lot more often than your A/C. Your internet connection is considerably less reliable than your lights or the toilets. You also make about twice as much money as the facilities guy. If your services are truly equally valuable then you need to be prepared to offer the same level of service for the same pay. But you can't. You require a LOT more pay for worse service. *shrug*
      • by Cerberus7 (66071)
        Oh, if only that were true. See, we have this brand-spanking-new building with motion-activated paper-towel dispensers, automatic flushers in the toilets, and the fancy-pants climate control system. Things are failing CONSTANTLY. You can't keep a room at a constant temperature no matter what you do. The flushers like to flush _immediately_ after you stand up, and spray you with flush water before you can get your pants up. They also like to stop working altogether, and there's no manual flush outside
        • by SQLGuru (980662)
          The squeaky wheel (or broken toilet) gets the cash......

          Sounds like a time for the CEO's blackberry to stop working for a day or two.....especially if it's one where he's out golf---err meeting with his buddies and *their* blackberry's are still working. Don't bring the mail server down completely, because you don't want to hold the company hostage.....but a few hiccups here and there will probably get some money thrown your way.

          Layne
      • by profplump (309017)
        I think you're wrong on all counts:

        A) The average office building could have the A/C off 65% of every week without affecting perceived quality of service. If IT had those kinds of maintenance windows on an email server I bet you'd never notice the downtime. Even for always-on systems like data-center cooling, the A/C undergoes regular maintenance and downtime, which is why no one installs a data center with a single cooling system.

        B) Chiller maintenance is big business and even the techs they actually send
    • Of course, when there's a facilities issue, they generally know the cause and what the fix would be within 30 minutes, if that. If it's an IT issue, it could take hours or days to even figure out the cause. And from my personal experience, if something physical breaks (a conveyor, a machine, etc.), facilities is out there within 10 minutes to look at it. If there's an IT issue, I first need to sit on hold for an hour to get through to the help desk, and once they realize it's a major issue, I may have to
  • by Sniper98G (1078397) on Tuesday March 11, 2008 @09:19AM (#22714890)
    No one (management or not) ever recognizes the value of IT until they don't have it.
    • by Cerberus7 (66071)
      Truth. Big time. We need a world-wide "IT People On Strike" day. Maybe that'll force everyone to realize that we really do have some value in this world. Unfortunately for those of us that keep our stuff together, they probably wouldn't notice because our services would keep working through the whole day.
      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        Unfortunately for those of us that keep our stuff together, they probably wouldn't notice because our services would keep working through the whole day.

        Who says that you can't simply turn of the services with a cron-script at midnight and turn them back on with another cron script when the day of strike is done? At least, that's how I'd do it.

  • The Cost Of IT (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Arccot (1115809) on Tuesday March 11, 2008 @09:19AM (#22714894)
    The way I usually put it, at least to my company, is that a good IT department can MAKE the company money, rather than cost it money. A good IT department can increase productivity of said company's employees, provide support services to customers (through the web), provide exposure to potential customers (again through the web), and fix the boss's home computer when his daughter breaks it. (Har-Har)
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by peragrin (659227)
      IT is a constant drain on money. Plumbing, lights, generators, etc last for YEARS. the average Server hardware last for 3 years if your lucky, and then you need to triple the price for all the software upgrades, then tack on even more for the IT department training, and then employee training for all the new software.

      IT deptarments only cost money with constant upgrades, in hardware and software. Lighting fixtures have a one time cost, and then a minimal replacement cost.

      every 3 years all hardware and so
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by SatanicPuppy (611928) *
        If you work that way, you deserve what you get. Most businesses don't need a whole set of new computers every three years, unless it's a tech business, and that's the cost of being one. Likewise servers...A 5 year old server attached to a decent drive array is plenty of file storage for most medium sized companies. What are you using your servers for that they're gone after three years?

        An intelligent system is to cascade things...Replace a percentage when you have to, and move the machines you replace down
  • I guess I'm Lucky (Score:5, Interesting)

    by techpawn (969834) on Tuesday March 11, 2008 @09:21AM (#22714914) Journal
    The CEO was once an IT grunt back in the old days. So, yes the tech has changed but he still sees the world through the IT "filter" as it where. Many decisions he has to defend to the board and rest of management because they make sense from the business side for IT (such as hot swap backup equipment). The other managers see it as expense, luckily the CEO sees it our way (yes, it's a cost now, but downtime mean more cost later)
  • ...is the same as the value of a toilet.

    - it is necessary to the functioning of the business
    - unless you are a toilet manufacturer or a landlord, it is NOT part of your central business
    - ideally it "just works", allowing you to focus on more important things
    - when it doesn't "just work", things start to stink.

    The difference is that it is unthinkable that most companies should have a "Chief Plumbing Officer", but the IT world seems to think that they need to be involved at the highest reaches of every compan
    • by bestinshow (985111) on Tuesday March 11, 2008 @09:47AM (#22715250)
      If upper management treated the plumbing like IT, then you'd have a bucket to piss in and slop out every day, and the bucket would have a leak in it, but there wouldn't be any money to patch it up to keep the contents secure. The bucket would also be in the company basement, in a poorly ventilated corner next to a dead dog.

      Plumbing - you do it once, it lasts 25 years if not 50. The only upgrades might be for more efficiently flushing toilets and taps that don't drip. That's the equivalent of putting a 750GB hard drive on an original IBM PC.

      IT is an essential part of a modern business, and if it's done wrong the business can go down the drains. Wrong can be getting IT in the way of people's jobs, instead of helping them. Sadly this can't be avoided (e.g., third party clients demanding that you use IT for something that only benefits them whilst being a massive inconvenience for the supplier).

      I bet many IT guys would love to get paid at the rates plumbers get paid at though. I don't think they'd like the apprenticeship period though ...
    • Most businesses don't cease to function when they suffer a toilet outage, however.
      • by kent_eh (543303)

        Most businesses don't cease to function when they suffer a toilet outage


        They do if that toilet outage is on an upper floor....
    • by blueeyedmick (844023) on Tuesday March 11, 2008 @10:07AM (#22715530)
      The toilet analogy is a pretty good one, but it fails in one respect that is very important - few companies choose to design their own toilet. They assume that existing, simple, common toilets will work just fine for them and they assume that even if they chose to design their own toilet it would give them no competitive advantage. Now, examine software for a moment. How many companies would be willing to change all of their procedures and operations in order to adopt a standard off-the-shelf solution purchased as a commodity on the open market? How many would abandon their carefully crafted strategies and competitive practices in order to avoid special purpose software? To put it another way, how many would be willing to run their businesses exactly (and I mean EXACTLY) like the competitor across the street so that the two of them could use the same software "plumbing"? In my experience, the answer is NONE. And that's why we have CIOs and Technology Officers and the like slowly forcing their ways into the boardroom. Without them, the custom-made "plumbing" isn't worth the millions spent on it, and the company can't compete.
    • by Alphager (957739)

      The difference is that it is unthinkable that most companies should have a "Chief Plumbing Officer", but the IT world seems to think that they need to be involved at the highest reaches of every company's management.

      The difference is: If the toilets on floor 11 fail (get clogged; whatever), the people on floor 11 can continue to work. If the domain-server for floor 11 fails, the cannot do _anything_ in most businesses. Each _SECOND_ the IT-infrastructure isn't available costs serious money. And you can always let a stranger pee in your toilets, but you should never let a stranger anywhere near the main data-servers...


    • The difference is that it is unthinkable that most companies should have a "Chief Plumbing Officer", but the IT world seems to think that they need to be involved at the highest reaches of every company's management.


      On the other hand (for most businesses), plumbing is something that you either have or you don't. You need it for your employees to be productive, but getting better toilets probably won't make them more productive.

      There's almost always potential for some facet of IT to add new value to a compa
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Iagi (546444)
      Not sure how you got "Insightful" on this comment. If any thing, to me, this shows the opposite. Management didn't choose the plumbing. In fact if you wanted to really compare it to how some companies manage thier IT would look more like this:

      Dept A wants to be hooked into the city sewage system,
      Dept B wants a septic tank because they heard it is cheaper
      Dept C wants to connect to the county's sewage system because it is new and therefore has to be the best.
      Dept D does not want plumbing at all becaus
  • And how does IT view Management? Do they view them as nothing more than an employer? Somebody who writes payroll checks and should stay out of the way of IT? Does IT understand the value of business investments, legal contracts, general ledgers, due diligence, SEC problems, etc? I think in order for Management to care about IT, it is going to have to be a two-way street. IT and Management need to learn to work *together*, and that is going to require some understanding from IT as well.
    • by Cerberus7 (66071) on Tuesday March 11, 2008 @09:34AM (#22715080)
      I used to respect management folks. Then I started actually getting to know them and how they operate. Their decisions have next to nothing to do with what makes sense. Their decisions are about squeezing ever last drop out of the bottom line, all other priorities are rescinded. Need a new app to do task X? Get the cheapest one. It doesn't matter if it sucks, it's cheap and that makes Manager X happy because their year-end bonus, that's about the size of your entire yearly salary, will be bigger.
  • You tell them, spend $10 mill and we will get you $50 mill in sales.
    They say... nah, how about $3 mill and $10 million in sales.

    And this is for a multi billion dollar corporation.

    ---

    They throw away software that has been fixed of all issues and buy packages recommended by salespeople that never works as promised for several years (at which point they throw it out and get new stuff... again!!!) I think that is because the tax laws incent new capital investments over maintaining/upgrading existing software.
  • ... and I've had to address it. It is possible this [sancairodicopenhagen.com] might be of interest and relevance; I worked some time in microfinance, and was asked to deliver a capacity building workshop on IT for senior leadership. Managed to make it Creative Commons. :) But a glance at the deck goes a long way to illustrating the kind of fundamental lack of understanding and pragmatism towards enterprise IT which the article refers to.

    FWIW, I think one of the key outputs of IT Governance implementation is to stamp out this form

  • by elrous0 (869638) * on Tuesday March 11, 2008 @09:25AM (#22714960)
    My IT staff are despised in our organization. They are antagonistic, have terrible (if not outright non-existent) customer service, and are generally a bunch of obstructionist pricks. Anytime someone makes a request of them they either refuse it outright or throw up roadblocks until the requestor just gives up in frustration. They use security as an excuse to be increasingly heavy-handed (to the point where technical staff like me have to work from home just to have access to the sites and tools we need to do our job). They have a "help desk" that, to my knowledge, has never helped anyone.

    Typical call to IT here?

    "Hi, I need to use X piece of software (which is mainstream and well-known). I can't install it myself because I don't have admin rights, can you install it please?"
    "Why do you need it?"
    "Well [insert many technical reasons here]"
    "Sorry, we can't install software that hasn't been approved."
    "How do I get it approved?"
    "Well it will have to go before the board, which meets every 6 months or so. And you also have to [insert about 100 roadblocks and obstructionist measures here]."
    "Great. Screw it, I'll just work from home again."

    If you want to know why your IT department is hated, ask yourself how you treat your customers. Do you treat them as your bosses, or as your enemies?

    • My own (Score:2, Interesting)

      by iknownuttin (1099999)
      I have a better one.

      Back in the early 90s when I was a real newbie, I asked an ISP if I needed a special phone line for a SLIP connection. Instead of just saying "No" and being done with it, the guy just kept asking "Why". I was not very technical back then and the internet was extremely new (to the general public) so I wasn't coming up with very good reasons. But still, he kept asking "Why" like some retarded parrot.

      Moral of the story is I developed a patient, not condescending, attitude to non-tech peopl

      • by jrumney (197329)
        From the point of view of a business connection, you did need a special line - a direct analog line. Many business switchboards in the early 90s were connected to the exchange digitally via ISDN, and even if they were connected via analog, the internal phone network could be digital, or switched through the switchboard digitally so the signal from analog modems would not make it though unscathed. The ISP guy should have known this and given you a straight answer, particularly since in the early 1990's ISPs
    • by jotaeleemeese (303437) on Tuesday March 11, 2008 @09:43AM (#22715194) Homepage Journal
      That is auditors or security departments fault.

      IT only allows what other people them is allowed. And normally the people saying the last word are auditors of some kind or another.

      But is it really a fault?

      You see it as obstructionist, but do you have the legal know how to know if the application you want installed is legitimate? Are you going to vouch for its security? (I have seen badly programmed applications, including FOSS ones, bring down complete networks due toe unintended denial of service attacks. Will you take responsibility it the tool you need does such thing?). WIll you put your hands in fire for your application in regards to viruses, trojans and any other nasties?

      The obstructionist attitude has a purpose which is to protect the assets and reputation of your company. If that pisses you off, though.

    • Honestly they are just doing the same thing the rest of your company is probably doing, covering their asses.

      If they install something on your computer that leads to a network intrusion and massive down time or data theft, they get shafted not you.
    • by dbIII (701233)
      You get that attitude when a department has zero available budget and people want stuff for free. In disfunctional organisations an IT department has to justify your request to somebody else etc etc. You can get real classics like a finance department demanding a new fax machine immediately, getting an IT staff member to skip lunch to buy it on their personal credit card and then the same finance department staff member repeatably refusing reimbursement for over three months because the purchase did not g
  • The mindset at one place I've worked is that "we're not in the software development business, so we don't want to invest in good software development practices", even though the primary business depended, heart and soul, on very specialized and customized software tools. I can see this kind of thing from a secretarial staffing agency. I can't see this kind of thing from an industrial giant making any sense, but it's really a common attitude. They want to develop tomorrow's products using nothing but COT

  • by jo42 (227475) on Tuesday March 11, 2008 @09:26AM (#22714990) Homepage

    '[m]ost top executives ... think of IT as an expensive headache that they'd rather not deal with.'
    "Most top IT people think of 'top' executives as a bunch of lobotomized, management-speak babbling, suit wearing, golf playing, secret handshake boy club members that we'd rather not deal with."
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Anne Thwacks (531696)
      Most top IT people think of 'top' executives as a bunch of lobotomized, management-speak babbling, suit wearing, golf playing, secret handshake boy club members that we'd rather not deal with.

      We dont just think it, we know it!

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by geminidomino (614729) *

      '[m]ost top executives ... think of IT as an expensive headache that they'd rather not deal with.'
      "Most top IT people think of 'top' executives as a bunch of lobotomized, management-speak babbling, suit wearing, golf playing, secret handshake boy club members that we'd rather not deal with."
      And they never seem to disappoint us.
  • Because if you're talking about sysadmin, managing files, network, backups, net access, etc... I don't really see the difference with a basic utility. It should "just work" it requires money and work to maintain, it is possible for users to do stupid things. It is possible for managers to ask impossible things or to impose an impractical solution.

  • by Notquitecajun (1073646) on Tuesday March 11, 2008 @09:39AM (#22715140)
    The problem? IT people don't typically understand good business practices, how to make money, and The Big Picture. Management doesn't typically understand the overall usefulness of IT and how it isn't the plumbing and lights - they just know it isn't management or sales. When management and IT REALLY don't get along, there's a serious productivity disconnect that affects everyone.
  • by hey! (33014) on Tuesday March 11, 2008 @09:40AM (#22715168) Homepage Journal
    IT people often forget hey are a support, not line function.

    On the third hand, IT departments are often not staffed adequately, either in butts in chair or in the quality of the heads over those butts. It seems absurd to think about using IT to achieve breakthroughs in productivity or competitiveness when they seem to spend more time restricting the work that goes through the department than actually getting things done.

    The bottom line is that skill is distributed on a normal curve, and the vast majority of people are mediocre. That includes top management; most companies have mediocre leadership. When the leadership of a company is weak, there's not much IT can do to make things better. They really are just a facilities type function.
  • A significant portion of the impressive productivity gains in the American workforce over the past two decades has come from technology (mainly IT) advances and getting those implemented in the workplaces.

    I think they ignore that at their peril.
  • does not guarantee that your business will be successful, but having the wrong Information Technology guarantees that your business will fail.

    Executives that fail to see that truth, will not have long careers.

    -ted
  • There's no magic in IT. You identify what you need and then implement it. If it doesnt give a significant gain in productivity its not worth dealing with.

    Most CIO's and techies tends to look at a new system and then start figuring out where it fits the organization. Thats completely screwed up and is the biggest reason why so many projects fail. The way it should work is that the people needing a function identify it and then the techies find a way to solve it as good/cheap as possible.

    IT is just a utility

  • At our company I will repeatedly tell other department heads when we complete a project or as a casual reminder what the man hour savings are.

    One of my projects was to automate a certificate system that reduced the average time to process and generate an education certificate. The average time to process a certificate went from 10-15 minutes per to 1 minute per. This saves hundreds of man hours, and subsequently thousands of dollars in labor in that department.

    Another of a projects we maintain is the e-comm
  • by joeflies (529536) on Tuesday March 11, 2008 @10:12AM (#22715592)
    To a CEO who is looking at the bottom line and the profit of the business, IT appears as a cost center instead of a revenue center. The CEO has no perception of how IT spending helps the business make more money. Thus, they are often motivated to "do more with less" and cut the IT spending budget. IT managers are also partly to blame because they act like a cost center ... spend all your budget or you'll lose budget in the next cycle, just like government does, when it would be far better to demonstrate how spending is not only in the best interests of the company, but it will also help them earn money as well.



    IT is not the only department that is misunderstood. For example, Ray Kassar of Atari thought that software programmers were a cost center too, and no different than assembly plant workers. He didn't realize that programmers were vital to how Atari makes money, and thus the best programmers all left Atari and went to start Activision with a business plant o make 3rd party software for Atari.

  • Many vested interests, some bordering on corruption in banana republics, skew the decision making in IT. How many top execs have cozy relationships with consultant firms who hire outsourcing firms? Indian companies like Cognizant, Infosys and Wipro charge 20$ an hour to 50$ per hour depending on the skill set of the ultimate employee who does the work. And they are hired by one oursourcing firm in USA, which is hired by another management firm in USA, which is hired by a consultant firm in USA and ultimatel
  • I think this quote from Philip Greenspun's Career Guide for Engineers and Computer Scientists [greenspun.com] pretty much sums it up:

    Java Monkeys

    Stammbach, Eduard. (1988). "Group responses to specially skilled individuals in a Macaca fascicularis." Behaviour, 107 (December 1988), 241-266

    Does the staggering wealth of particular engineers and programmers mean that there is any chance for nerds to rise socially?

    Stammbach worked with a colony of longtailed macaques. In the paper cited above, the running header is "Re

  • by SmallFurryCreature (593017) on Tuesday March 11, 2008 @10:24AM (#22715756) Journal

    When it comes to IT their are THREE parties involved. Those who build it (IT), those who govern it (Management) and those who use it (Employees).

    These three groups often have no idea what the other is actually doing.

    Have you ever seen one of those programs where the boss of a big company is put to work on the factory floor? They used to be pretty common, was there ever a SINGLE boss, who wasn't shown to be totally clueless about how the actual work was being done?

    You think IT is any better? How many people with the best training in IT skills ever bother to go down to the factory floor and SEE the REAL workflow before they implement a system?

    You got management trying to make decisions on how to improve a workprocess they don't understand, you got IT trying to implement something that has no basis in reality and employees forced to choose between actually getting the work done and following procedure.

    It doesn't suprise me at all that this article doesn't mention the workforce. Management article talking about proper management but ignoring the people who got to do the actuall work, yeah, never seen that before.

    Get your hands dirty before you even bother trying to think of implementing IT, FIND out what is REALLY needed. IT can do wonderfull things to be sure, but it needs to fit with what is really going on in your company, not what some manager thinks should be going on.

    Make sure your management decisions can be executed, first observe what REALLY goes on, plan your changes, then TRY THEM YOURSELVE, with FULL pressure. If you can't do it, your employees can't do it and what counts isbeing able to do it on the busiest day of the year.

    The most perfect example, testing an application with just 3 records in the database for performance. My job was to convert the old data, if I pushed more then ten records in, performance crumbled. Took me MONTHS to confince them that the problem was in the application, not my conversion (for every insert MILLIONS of reads were being done thanks to the most idiotic database design in history (no keys), compounded by some really really bad code). But they TESTED IT and it worked fine. Yah, 3 records and those not even fully fleshed out.

    I could rant on for hours about bone-headed mistakes of all kinds, but basically FORCE management to get a clue and the only way to do that is BACK TO THE WORKFLOOR!

    99% of IT projects that end up unused or not meeting requirements can simply be explained because they were designed without knowing what the real situation is.

  • by jgarra23 (1109651) on Tuesday March 11, 2008 @10:26AM (#22715798)
    The problem isn't management not seeing the benefit of IT, it is the lack of management skills within IT leadership and the typical geek mentality which is counter productive to traditional business.

    I'm not saying that either one is better or doesn't have a place but workers in IT & particularly IT leadership need to start thinking that those business management classes in college are a good idea to at least take & listen in on. You're not going to convince the ones with deep pockets (upper management) to keep you around if you don't show your value up front to them. Sure, their practices may be antiquated but they are time-tested and in their eyes, work.

    Geeks are also going to need to realize that not all things are academic, business leaders expect results, not some elegant solution that looks cool in an IDE. There's that classic line from Ghostbusters I remember, "I've worked in the private sector. They expect results. You've never been out of college. You don't know what it's like out there."

    Maybe it's not that extreme but that is the truth, like it or not.
  • One good friend of mine who works as a network admin for an unnamed estate agent had this problem. Once upon a time he had 3 people working for him, maintaining the impressive stack of servers and clients connected to them. Slowly but surely, management became increasingly stingy and one by one his minions had to be relieved, as the IT budget dried up. Eventually he even had to sell off some of the servers just to make sure he had enough money to pay himself (oh yes, IT really were disconnected from managem
  • This is a part of capitalism I'm afraid. Power in any business goes towards those with charm, acumen and ruthlessness rather than any particular technical ability, so a clique of borderline sociopaths with decent accounting skills and winning smiles rises to the top of management, and has an unsurprising disdain for those people tinkering away competently but without the ability to use others as rungs on the ladder.
  • Funny that this comes after yesterday's IT Labor Shortage is Just a Myth [slashdot.org].

    I can sum it down into language even managers understand, "IT make money go bye-bye." While other departments are seen as money generators for the company, IT is thought of as a cost.

    They often don't see the cost/benefit ratio or how IT HELPS them make money, they see it as an expense and a drain on the bottom line. And especially they don't understand that you will have to upgrade the technology from time to time. And when it is upgra
  • If you look at some application domains (and my example is the world of electric power), executives -- or even domain technical experts -- talk about doing things from a domain perspective. They often don't mention -- or seem to think about the fact -- that many of the things they are talking about are actually being implemented in information technology.

    For example, very few of the reliability standards talk about the communications and computation that implement what the standard addresses. You have act
  • by jollyreaper (513215) on Tuesday March 11, 2008 @10:44AM (#22716158)
    I've seen shitty and arrogant IT departments, I've seen friendly ones.

    The people who say IT is mostly support, they have it exactly right. IT is a support function unless the business's main product is IT. Stupid management always devalues the workers, the people who keep the place running. In this regard, IT is not special. Sometimes IT is staffed by arrogant asses who deserve to be mocked, just like you can have rude janitors or marketing weenies. Again, nothing new here.

    In a healthy organization, IT's attitude is "How do we make things better?" I'm always the Excel go-to guy since most people don't have the time to learn all the tricks. I'm fine with that. I've got a thousand tricks and most people only need to know a few of them. I set their sheet up the way they need it, they'll learn just the tricks they need and will be happy.

    IT is always lacking for resources? Most departments are. My dad worked as a mechanic for the phone company motor pool and he was constantly complaining about how they had to make bricks without straw. Management saw them as nothing more than a cost center, never appreciating the value they provided. They increased the average age of the fleet from 10 to 20 years. Oh, that's great. Yes, you're cutting down on procurement costs but did you notice how maintenance is skyrocketing? No, that chart wasn't in the meeting. That's great.

    Good IT makes itself available to the business, makes things run more efficiently and is invaluable. Ask the workers or management what would happen if the IT staff all got hit by a bus. If the response is "Oh my God, we'd be so fucked," that's a good IT department. If they just get this wistful little smile on their faces, that's a bad IT department.
  • All these things are installed once, and when you have a problem, you get an electrician or a plumber. This is called outsourcing.

    IT the infrastructure is about cabling, PC's and delivered software. No reason why you would not or could not outsource this either. However, from a certain company size you might need someone who is able to design and plan your IT infrastructure and hand this out to a contractor for implementation and maintenance.

    Someone should come up with figures how basic IT improves produc

  • by SCHecklerX (229973) <thecaptain@captaincodo.net> on Tuesday March 11, 2008 @11:26AM (#22716998) Homepage
    Upper management should be disallowed from having vendors talk to them unsupervised. The real value in IT is solving business problems. Many times what happens is upper management has been sold a solution by a vendor that doesn't really solve any particular problem, and then we are forced to implement it. In pretty much every case, when this happened to me, I could have led projects to do it cheaper, faster, AND better. I swear, the manager at my last company had stock in Cisco, and the Director (of course) in Microsoft.

    If management had instead gone to IT and said "This is what we need to do" then the real value of IT comes to light as we can work on a solution to that problem, or maybe even give some insight into "Well, with technology, that problem is actually this..let's solve that".
     
  • by JustNiz (692889) on Tuesday March 11, 2008 @01:40PM (#22719226)
    I've been a software developer for over 30 years. Back in the day, the usual IT department even in a large comapny was one or two guys who knew about setting up unix networks.

    Then Microsoft became popular as a desktop environment. The low quality of their entire product range combined with very poor documentation caused in most companies one or two people (usually developers who had played with windows in their spare time) to emerge as the unofficial domain experts on solving microsoft-specific issues.

    Microsoft very quickly realised this and enocuraged this model as it mitigated the need for them to provide support for their own products. That combined with the fact that Microsoft jumped on the 'professional certification' bandwagon led to them creating hundreds of new IT job titles and certifications for them that until then no-one had ever even heard of before, let alone actually needed. Fast forqward a few years and now most IT-driven companies are working under the illusion that there needs to be masses of IT staff usally with different Microsoft certifications to support a simple computer network, which has become a self-fulfilling prophecy beacuse the office network in most places has been made unnecessarily complex by the same Microsoft-trained IT staff, apparently partly as job-preservation and partly to get around the technical shortcomings of Microsoft operating systems and products. now many IT departments have transitioned to an incorrect yet frequently-encounterd mentality that they now believe that their role is to be gatekeepers rather than just to provide a service to the people in comapnies that actually make the companies product or service.

    My point is, that given the above, I think that if anything, management generally massively overvalue IT departments.

    I've seen in most companies that the IT dept get larger budgets than entire production departments, IT employees usually get top-end PC's with widescreen monitors etc. to answer their emails on while developers and engineers, the guys actually making the product, are struggling to compile code bases on hand-me-down hardware.

    • I like what you wrote there, as I have a similar background and saw the same general trend happening over that time period. But my interpretation is a bit different. I'll offer it for contrast.

      Unix became enormously popular at a time when networked computer hardware was reliable and readily available, but still quite expensive. Software licenses for these systems were comparably expensive. Those economics allowed organizations to justify hiring highly competent staff in order to maximize return on inv

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