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Why "Running IT As a Business" Is a Bad Idea 364

Posted by kdawson
from the guerilla-movement dept.
snydeq sends along a provocative piece from Infoworld, arguing that the conventional wisdom on how IT should be run is all wrong. "Bob Lewis dispels the familiar litany that 'IT should be run as a business,' instead offering insights into what he is calling a 'guerilla movement' to reject conventional 'IT wisdom' and industry punditry in favor of what experience tells you will work in real organizations. 'When IT is a business, selling to its "internal customers," its principal product is software that "meets requirements." This all but ensures a less-than-optimal solution, lack of business ownership, and poor acceptance of the results,' Lewis writes. 'The alternatives begin with a radically different model of the relationship between IT and the rest of the business — that IT must be integrated into the heart of the enterprise, and everyone in IT must collaborate as a peer with those in the business who need what they do.' To do otherwise is a sure sign of numbered days for IT, according to Lewis. After all, the standard 'run IT as a business' model had its origins in the IT outsourcing industry, 'which has a vested interest in encouraging internal IT to eliminate everything that makes it more attractive than outside service providers.'"
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Why "Running IT As a Business" Is a Bad Idea

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  • He is correct (Score:2, Insightful)

    by sopssa (1498795) *

    He actually hit the nail to head with this. This is the thing most people working with IT or geeky professions miss, and why they think everything free and such is so great movement. Business DOES NOT work on mere technical things. Nothing in the world does.

    This all can be really put into one line: People don't care what you do. People care about results of what you can enable them to do. If you provide that, great! If you dont and jab about "better ways" to do things while costing time and money, then.. so

    • Re:He is correct (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Knara (9377) on Tuesday January 19, 2010 @05:18PM (#30824632)

      You've got part of the idea. The main problem in IT is that since we don't actually make a profit off anything directly (unlike the pizza analogy), what accounting/management sees is a department that's better at making pizzas for less than last year. As such, they figure that it would be *even better* if you could, perhaps, make a substantially similar pizza with less people and less money.

      Keep that going for a few years, and you end up with people wondering why it takes so long for their pizza to arrive, and why, when it does, that its missing some of the requested toppings and the cheese is partially dehydrated Velveeta.

      The perennial problem of IT: It's benefits are several degrees removed from its efforts, from the POV of an accountant. No direct revenue generation means "less spent is better", with no solid way to quantify the benefits of having a well funded, well populated IT group (as opposed to not having one or both).

      • Re:He is correct (Score:4, Insightful)

        by Atrox666 (957601) on Tuesday January 19, 2010 @06:35PM (#30825720)

        Ya if they really wanted to run IT as a business what they would have to do is, at the start of a project, negotiate how much the project was worth to the business and what IT's cut will be. They could book that as profit. Projects that simply don't have enough ROI for IT would be left to twist in the wind. The same thing could be done with incidents maybe at the category level. Have people decide what the potential loss/hour is on an incident and book that as cost savings IT generated for the company. If an incident isn't losing quantifiable money then don't expect anyone soon.
        IT does book profit but the problem is that if we make accounting more efficient with our hard work all the accountants get nice bonuses and we get to go fuck ourselves.

         

      • by BitZtream (692029)

        All that is really easy to solve and in fact is solved by any accountant with half a clue, perhaps even as little as a 1/4 of a clue.

        IT Bills the rest of the company for its work and services.

        Thats all it takes. IT is no longer a cost center, its now an internal profit center. No money actually has to change hands of course, but it puts real value on the services that they provide and gives everyone a little perspective.

        If they decide they don't want to spend the money on IT because they see how much you

    • by poetmatt (793785)

      trying to expect people to understand IT (when they're not) is like trying to get a traditional business to understand customer service.

      Both get shafted on being given the funds understanding they need, and welp. wouldn't you know everyone's pissed.

      The answer is: do a shitty job in IT and/or customer service, and your company's going to have a tough time.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Jazz-Masta (240659)

      I agree. IT people should be more in tune with how the business works as well. This is where industry software and hardware often fall apart.

      They have one of two things:

      1. IT person creating business applications and hardware. They are technically superior, but miss the goals of the business partially, or entirely. Because of this, the business cannot run optimally.

      2. A Business person creating business applications and hardware. They are technically inferior...sometimes so much to the point of not working

      • Re:He is correct (Score:5, Informative)

        by Xiaran (836924) on Tuesday January 19, 2010 @05:40PM (#30824904)
        And in some places I have worked you would now get the following...

        Were you authorised to show these people CutePDF? Who gave you permission to to install CutePDF on their machines? Did you fully evaluate CutePDF to certify that it is the Best of Breed? Are their security implications to using CutePDF? Who is now responible for maintaining CutePDF? Who is going to train users on its use? Has it been fully documented? Are change control and the standard image build team aware of this?

        In such environments it is much easier and healthier to just not care any more.... the above situation is not uncommon.
        • Re:He is correct (Score:5, Informative)

          by Pojut (1027544) on Tuesday January 19, 2010 @05:48PM (#30825040) Homepage

          This occurred in the call center where a friend of mine works. Their clients only required a handful of calls to be recorded each month, so rather than invest in an expensive system to record everything, they do it by hand (they use Cisco Softphone, so it isn't as difficult as it sounds). They were going to purchase him a Creative sound card along with some crap Creative recording software. He asked if he could just use Audacity instead, since it is rock solid, he knows how to use it, and since it is under the GNU there aren't any legal issues. Their answer? Nope. Because it is open source, their IT department "determined" its use could lead to a security risk.

          Sometimes, the asshole is puckered way too tight.

          • Re:He is correct (Score:4, Interesting)

            by Moryath (553296) on Tuesday January 19, 2010 @06:13PM (#30825400)

            On the other hand, how many users have I had where I go to their machine and they say they are having a "problem" connecting to the web, and they open up an IE window with 5 or more toolbars popping up?

            How many users have I had that installed Weatherbug, or some other little widget, and then complained a couple weeks later when their machine was overrun by various spyware/scareware apps?

            CutePDF, for instance, comes bundled with ASS ("Ask") TOOLBAR. Pain in the ass to remove. Nuisance in terms of security. If you don't know what you're doing when you install it, that crap gets dumped in along with it, then starts opening you up and phoning home as well.

            "If it sounds too good to be true..."

            Yeah. It's like that. Get yourself into a large enterprise and there are reasons to be cautious. Hell, there are reasons to be cautious at home on a 1-machine network.

          • by sopssa (1498795) *

            Well, what if everyone wanted to use their own custom solution? This might not be an issue in a company that has 4-10 employees, but one with 100-10000 surely is going to be. Even if you can get it all work together, theres always some idiots who think they're the best and then break their computers, risk security of the network, cause delays, require system admins to work disabling their custom installed software and do what they can to reverse what that retard did.

            Sure, play with your own things at home.

            • by Pojut (1027544)

              You don't understand...he is the only person who is going to be recording phone calls. He was tapped to be directly involved with creating the process to record these phonecalls...yet his suggestion of using a legally free and stable piece of software over an expensive, unstable piece of software is ignored. His other responsibilities are the same as mine where I work...mail merge programming. The guy isn't a technomoron, he knows his shit. If anything, it's the place he is working at that is the proble

              • by sopssa (1498795) *

                Well even if so, there's probably a reason for such policy (probably has nothing to do with him). The point is, people have come to work under certain terms and so they should. Of course, suggestions are welcome and good. But if the people upper to them want to do things otherwise, so should he. Even if he knows better.

            • Re:He is correct (Score:4, Insightful)

              by Jah-Wren Ryel (80510) on Tuesday January 19, 2010 @06:38PM (#30825744)

              Well, what if everyone wanted to use their own custom solution? This might not be an issue in a company that has 4-10 employees, but one with 100-10000 surely is going to be.

              That's a false dichotomy. Most people will get along just fine with the standard stuff, but not everyone. Real life is a constant barrage of exceptions - so too will be any large company. A good 'system' is flexible enough to accommodate those exceptions with ease. Trying to standardize/squash out the exceptions just leads to one of two results - the creative employees leave and all you've got left are drones who will eventually trap the company in mediocrity or "midnight requisitions" where you get exactly those kind of "idiots who think they're the best and then break their computers." Any system designed to go against human nature rather than complement it will eventually result in total failure.

              • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

                by BobMcD (601576)

                Any system designed to go against human nature rather than complement it will eventually result in total failure.

                I just wanted to underscore this. We have no opportunity to modify human nature. Think of it as constant pressure always bearing down. Failure will happen, so plan for it, just as you would any other force of nature.

        • And in some places I have worked you would now get the following...
          Were you authorised to show these people CutePDF? Who gave you permission to to install CutePDF on their machines? Did you fully evaluate CutePDF to certify that it is the Best of Breed? Are their security implications to using CutePDF? Who is now responible for maintaining CutePDF? Who is going to train users on its use? Has it been fully documented? Are change control and the standard image build team aware of this?

          You're right...I was referring to more small to medium sized businesses that have a smaller, more workable type of bureaucracy...you usually find the above BS in larger corporations or universities, especially.

          • Re:He is correct (Score:5, Insightful)

            by Xiaran (836924) on Tuesday January 19, 2010 @06:17PM (#30825458)
            Oh I agree with you. This is why I now avoid working in large enterprises. The work is generally more satisfying in a small/medium size business. Far less tedious, time wasting meetings about nothing. And nothing beats actually helping people get there stuff done better because of you.
            • Re:He is correct (Score:4, Interesting)

              by E IS mC(Square) (721736) on Tuesday January 19, 2010 @08:29PM (#30826836) Journal
              Roger that! After working at few very large organizations, I finally called quit, waited for a good opportunity to come by (sat home, did one or two certification while waiting), and could not have been happier with a smaller company I work with now. Not only can I wear jeans and t-shirts, have flexible timing, I can also use Ubuntu or any other Linux distro as my desktop at work without worrying about standards, policies and all such fuck-ups.

              And I get paid a little more.
            • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

              by xanthos (73578)

              Good for you. I recently left a large enterprise after 20+ years that had gone from being a fantastic creative place to a loathsome hole governed by policy nazis. Where I work now is still large but truly empowered and I no longer hate going into work each day. I grieve for my former co-workers who are managed by MBA's who think that aligning with the business will move them upstairs. It hasn't happened to anyone yet but they still hold on to their deluded dream.

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by deniable (76198)
            I often wonder if large IT and small IT are two completely different beasts. I prefer the small shops because I can do a bit of everything and I feel like I'm helping people directly. I know all of my users (~200) by name and face and can tailor responses and solutions for each person.
        • Yup, exactly. My response back when this happened to me was verbatim what they had said, except replacing the Product currently being used ....

          Were you authorised to show these people Acrobat Reader 9.2? Who gave you permission to to install Acrobat Reader 9.2 on their machines? Did you fully evaluate Acrobat Reader 9.2 to certify that it is the Best of Breed? Are their security implications to using Acrobat Reader 9.2? Who is now responible for maintaining Acrobat Reader 9.2? Who is going to train users on

      • by lymond01 (314120)

        This is critical to a really great business. If your business's IT group is developing applications to enhance productivity or to implement new paths for doing business, they really need to know how you're working. Boilerplate applications may not be customized enough to truly enhance things. It might work, but it might not work well enough to make things more efficient, draw in new business, etc. Having your IT staff sit down with employees and learn what they do makes a huge difference in the usefulne

      • by zlogic (892404)

        When a user asks to fix a problem, don't just fix it, perhaps there is a better way of doing what they want.

        Unfortunately some users are afraid of changes, and see the IT department as a threat - constantly messing with the process that works just fine. If you install cutePDF and it doesn't work, the IT department will get blame for wasting other people's time.

    • by King_TJ (85913)

      Sure, but IMHO, he's just stating the obvious. (Maybe that's needed though. Sometimes people just like to see things in writing that they've informally believed in and followed anyway.) It just seems to me that in every I.T. job I've ever had, the idea was put out there that our job was to come up with solutions that improved efficiency and productivity. Sure, management might dictate that certain problems be solved a specific way, and certain requirements needed to be met. But any decent I.T. person w

    • by Havokmon (89874)
      Exactly. IT is Customer Service. IT's job is to provide the company with the tools they need to get their jobs done when they need to do their jobs. The trick is actually providing the best tools to the users. Say, an air nail gun for a roofer when the roofer insists on using his favorite hammer. That may be a great solution when you're building your dog house, but it's not a long-term productive tool.
    • " do you really care how a pizza place makes your pizza?"

      Well considering many pizza places you can see how they make there pizza this comment makes little sense, you for sure care about how food is treated and cooked when it is served in a restaurant, many pizza place's are very transparent. Not so with many restaurants.

    • Re:He is correct (Score:5, Informative)

      by thetoadwarrior (1268702) on Tuesday January 19, 2010 @05:48PM (#30825036) Homepage
      I don't care how good the pizza tastes if it's made with pig anus and old fore skin. So how something is made does matter under certain circumstances.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by droopycom (470921)

        If pig anus taste that good, and is healthy, there shouldnt be any issue with you eating it.
        Unless you have a religious objection.

        Religious preferences in IT should not become an issue.

        Replace "pig anus" by "Microsoft" or your favorite bad guy and then you sentence become:

        "I dont care how well it works, if its made by Microsoft I dont want it"

        Thats is just a stupid reaction. The problem is people are not objective. You hear "its pig anus" and their mind make it taste bad. If instead somebody tell you a gene

    • by h4rr4r (612664)

      Yes I do, I have zero interest in eating pizza with too thick a crust or not cooked in a very hot oven. I also want to only eat pizza made with real cheese and real tomato sauce. No processed crap for me thanks.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Kjella (173770)

      As a more slashdot friendlier terms, do you really care how a pizza place makes your pizza? No. You only care about how good it tastes when you eat it.

      But you seem to have missed the biggest reason why you try to run IT as a business in the first place, and that's to make the business side come up with something resembling specifications or business needs or some sort of picture on where they'll be going with this. I've been working for some time now with a public service who has split off their IT services and trying to professionalize their relationship, but I see plenty signs of how it has been.

      To use a baker's analogy, the service side (equivalent of

    • by catchblue22 (1004569) on Tuesday January 19, 2010 @06:12PM (#30825390) Homepage

      Interesting article. From what I have observed over the past few decades, there has been a steady growth in ideology in business schools and economics departments. These ideologies are usually simplistic models or sets of ideas that are supposed to be broadly applicable. Many of these ideologies have come and gone like fads. Many of them, while useful, are not axiomatic. Business school graduates often treat the "management" skill-set that they learn in school as broadly applicable to any field. Thus, MBA graduates may move between extremely diverse positions. I know of one that went from managing a train manufacturing plant to managing a food manufacturing facility. Because he had no previous experience with working with food, he faced significant difficulties both in making the food plant operate smoothly, and in making a profit. He didn't have a clear idea of where he could cut within the operation without endangering food safety. He lacked both detailed knowledge of production methods, and had a poor understanding of scientific principles. Under the ideology of business school, this person's management skills should have been directly transferrable between many different fields. The reality on the ground was quite different

      In the case of the topic at hand, it seems to me that one particular model, consisting of customers and service providers with all such relationships entail, is not optimally applicable to a specific situation (IT). The economy, and the world, is far more complicated and subtle than simplistic and faddish business school ideologies.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by TubeSteak (669689)

        Under the ideology of business school, this person's management skills should have been directly transferrable between many different fields. The reality on the ground was quite different

        Managing people is directly transferrable between many different fields.
        Managing business processes and operations is almost always industry (if not company) specific.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by nine-times (778537)

        He lacked both detailed knowledge of production methods, and had a poor understanding of scientific principles. Under the ideology of business school, this person's management skills should have been directly transferrable between many different fields. The reality on the ground was quite different

        I think this really gets at the point of the article, and it seems to me like a lot of people are missing it. The point is that IT often isn't a service that can be offered uniformly between different businesses in different industries. At the level of a helpdesk tech running around servicing desktop computers, yes, he can probably switch from one industry to another without too much extra learning. However, when you get into IT management, you can't just know IT stuff an operate independently from the r

  • Nicely put (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ilovegeorgebush (923173) * on Tuesday January 19, 2010 @05:13PM (#30824576) Homepage
    Spot on.

    I work for a large insurance company in the UK. I'm a 'senior developer' if you like. One of my biggest gripes? The notion that work on the website - for a purist such as myself (and web designers and editors that also work on the site) - is subject to zero requirements, the 'customers' want everything for nothing, time-based 'estimates' that are taken as the law of the land. Every approach the customer wants you to implement is never in the right frame of mind for how the web works (noone understands the medium in which they're presenting to the customer outside). Your work is governed, oriented and OK'd by people who have no interest in how to do things properly. Fat-cat bosses who think their 10 years experience in Fortran 30 years ago makes for true understanding of how a website should work. Their way, no matter how stupid it seems to you the unenlightened one, is the right way. Trust me, I'm a fat-cat!

    What ends up giving way? Quality. And it pisses me off. I can't do my job properly. Code reviews, unit/mock/functional testing, analysis, UML *all* have to give way because of all the above and just to get it out on time. Maintenance costs increase, but as long as it's out of the door it's OK. Would you build a house without blueprints? Would you remove an accountant's calculator from their desk because *you* don't work that way? Nope. [Excuse the crude analogies, they still get the point across]

    The following sums it up well:

    Your ticket to the promised land begins with this: No one inside your company is your customer.[snip]

    When IT is a business, selling to its internal customers, its principal product is software that "meets requirements." This all but ensures a less-than-optimal solution, lack of business ownership, and poor acceptance of the results.

    I've always hated this is approach to web development and steering change on websites. It's backwards. Archaic. Frustrating.

    • Personally, I can relate to this:

      Architecture -- another victim of having internal customers
      One of my former clients -- a large financial services firm -- had embraced the IT-as-a-business concept. When my firm arrived on the scene, the client's information architecture was in shambles because IT's internal customers weren't willing to invest in sustainable engineering. Why would they? To achieve a quality architecture, the internal customer of one project pays more so that a different internal customer, some time in the future, receives the benefit.

      The client's IT staff described the resulting mess as going far beyond the usual spaghetti or spider web. They called it "The Hairball." In an average development project, much more than half the total effort was devoted to coping with The Hairball, leaving relatively few resources to devote to new features and functionality.

      So true, but Bob Lewis' approach of asserting a more active role in shaping IT is not doable for everyone. Because you need some clout in the company or you will be flattened in office politics when you resist the day-to-day whims of the users. It seems Bob Lewis addresses his article to CIOs, which is the proper management level to start such an initiative. Lower managers or even individual programmers are more likely to get fired than to achieve something.

    • by qoncept (599709)
      Am I crazy or did you just say the article was accurate and then disagree with everything it said?

      Anyway, what you just described works completely independently of how an organization handles requirements. I've worked in places where requirements were all that mattered, to hell with intentions, better ideas and all other common sense. I've worked in places where the customer has only a vague idea of what they're looking for and expects me to make it up as I go along. In either case, any date you happen t
      • The issue of requirements is one that I've always found interesting.

        There always seems to be an assumption that customers know how to write requirements. Personally (from the position of a hobby coder who needs to use the services of professionals to get real applications written) I've always found it difficult to write intelligent requirements.

        Don't get me wrong, I know that this is my fault, but I find that I need assistance from people who actually understand the ways that things _could_ be done and know

        • By requirements I'm referring to the standard "requirements building phase" of the standard development lifecycle.

          It rarely happens.
      • You're crazy. I didn't agree with it at all. Please re-read.
    • I totally agree with this. I've been working on something that's taken easily twice as long as it should. Given the time we've taken, if we were were allowed to do things our way it would have been flawless and work exactly with our needs.

      Instead we've been forced to work with a bit of software that wasn't much better than beta software and putting more effort into making it work around business requirements than we would have working from scratch. Combining this with clueless people demanding silly thin
    • by gbjbaanb (229885)

      Code reviews, unit/mock/functional testing, analysis, UML *all* have to give way because of all the above and just to get it out on time

      Man, you're so lucky. We have to actually *do* all that shit. Its hell.

  • by elrous0 (869638) * on Tuesday January 19, 2010 @05:21PM (#30824668)
    I actually went and read the article (I know as a /.er, I'm not supposed to, and I apologize). The whole thing sounds like a cheap excuse for providing even LESS customer service than IT departments deliver already (and most IT depts I've worked with have already been FAR from customer-friendly). When I'm working on an important project, and need a critical piece of software or hardware upgrade, I certainly don't expect IT to drop everything and come running immediately. But I damn sure don't expect them to tell me "Sorry, but we don't answer to you as an individual anymore--we have our own grand plan now and, if you want an upgrade, you'll have to present the big picture at next year's board meeting. We don't install specifics."
    • by Xzzy (111297) <sether.tru7h@org> on Tuesday January 19, 2010 @05:35PM (#30824830) Homepage

      Really? Where I'm at, as IT gets progressively more like the exact thing TFA advises against, I think "customer service" is actually getting poorer.

      Back in the day, users would send an email to IT to get stuff fixed. If the problem warranted, a discussion would develop, an agreement would be made, and work would be done.

      Today, we have a faceless ticketing system where users are forced to fill in drop downs that categorize their problem, to make sure reporting is nice and easy for the management. If IT has to query the user, they're supposed to put this query through the ticketing system. Direct communication is becoming less and less desirable, as is customization. If a user asks for something special or unique, the response is almost always "we don't support that".

      • by rtfa-troll (1340807) on Tuesday January 19, 2010 @05:47PM (#30825024)

        I think you really hit a nail on the head here. The trick is that "a business" has one product. If you go to ford you expect to get a car. They are "customer oriented" I'm sure, but if you ask for a pizza, you won't get it; or, if you do, they'll charge two thousand bucks and get a car designer to deliver it to you.

        IT can't work like that. We also went to the "faceless ticketing system" and now our IT managers run around worrying about "submerged IT"; or basically business people doing it themselves. That's obviously going to happen if the IT people aren't involved in doing what is actually needed for the business.

        • by Belial6 (794905)
          So, the more the PC gets treated like the mainframe, the more people look for a new PC. Go figure. Every time I hear an admin complain about how every last little thing should be locked down for the good of the network, I always get visions of frustrated '80 users setting up an Apple II in the corner so that they can get their work done because the mainframe isn't cutting it.

          It basically comes down to the old adage: "Meet the new boss. Same as the old boss." Much to the dismay of the new 'boss', the
      • You do realise its the business that has pushed the faceless ticketing system onto IT since that enables them to slash the helpdesk budget.

        Its also the budget constraints and business decisions that mean that the remaining helpdesk staff are paid so poorly and are invariably temp contractors with no career path so are you surprised htey are braindead and have zero technical nous.

        But hey said automated system can provide XYZ reams of inaccurate stats, but the stats look good which justifies the lower budget.

    • NO (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Posting anonymously for my protection. As a long time sysadmin and somone who provided phone based tech support for a couple years as well, I hate the whole IT a business thing. Whenever I hear a manager say something like "we're here to serve the customer" and they mean other employees, it tells me that the manager fundamentally doesn't understand how good IT practices work. As a sysadmin, I'm supposed to have the power to tell a co-worker that the password they are using is too weak or that they need to

      • Re:NO (Score:4, Insightful)

        by Samalie (1016193) on Tuesday January 19, 2010 @06:06PM (#30825304)

        Not posting anonymously...

        And not trying to start a war, but that attitude is exactly what is wrong with IT today.

        Yes, we have to make sure everything is secure, obviously. But what you describe, the "Follow IT's rules or go find another job" is fucking stupid, and only encourages the Shadow IT in an organization who, without training or knowledge that we have, are liable to open up security issues that we don't even know about now, because they're hiding it all from us.

        In my opinion, I agree with TFA completely, in that IT is no longer the Preventer of Information Services and slave to the end user...BUT...it is our duty to provide the business with the tools and education they need to efficiently perform their job role.

        In other words...we're the fuckers driving the business, but we serve the business, not the user. By serving the business, our users are no longer our customers, they're our peers, helping us drive their efficiency and ultimately driving the business.

        I dont "sell" my programming/etc to the users here. I write code which enables the business to be more efficient, and have better tools available to the end user than what they had before. Anybody that doesn't get that in IT is on a path to future failure.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by JWW (79176)

        Screw it, I was going to mod a whole bunch of posts in this thread, but your comment is so stupid I just have to respond.

        While you're right that "IT as a Business" is wrong, what your advocating is "IT as Lord high protector of all Technology" and its just as wrong.

        IT must work to achieve the business goals, and IT's software must work to achieve the business goals. The buisness' primary goal is to make money, not to have secure IT. Sure, a secondary goal of the business is secure IT, but its SECONDARY to

    • I The whole thing sounds like a cheap excuse for providing even LESS customer service than IT departments deliver already (and most IT depts I've worked with have already been FAR from customer-friendly).

      What it actually sounds like is providing more responsive "service" that amounts to commiserating over your unfulfilled IT related goals. Your project is important. IT wants to walk a mile in your shoes and really feel the pain of watching it flounder.

      This way, failure is shared and everyone understands.

    • by schon (31600) on Tuesday January 19, 2010 @06:06PM (#30825316)

      The whole thing sounds like a cheap excuse for providing even LESS customer service than IT departments deliver already (and most IT depts I've worked with have already been FAR from customer-friendly/b>).

      The whole point is that you're thinking about it the wrong way. There should be *NO* "customer" anything.

      When I'm working on an important project, and need a critical piece of software or hardware upgrade, I certainly don't expect IT to drop everything and come running immediately.

      What you *should* expect is for IT to be a part of the project from the beginning, rather than just being asked to provide something after the fact. They don't need to "come running" because they're already there.

    • by natehoy (1608657) on Tuesday January 19, 2010 @06:17PM (#30825470) Journal

      In olden days when I was a young IT pup, IT was generally considered to be a subsidiary of Finance, which made sense at the time since most computing was done to crunch numbers, so we worked for the number crunchers. Later, as IT evolved, it tended to stay under Finance because people who do inscrutable things are just seen as similar in the eyes of management. This led to serious conflicts as, say, order entry or inventory management wanted changes but all fell subservient to IT's overlords in Finance. Finance, understandably, didn't want to spend their budget supporting other department's goals.

      Eventually, IT started either being broken out into subgroups and living with their business areas as scattered fiefdoms, or centralized and moved up the management chain so the CFO and CIO were on the same level. As this happens, managing the IT teams becomes a unique challenge, because IT is in so many ways integrated into all aspects of a company in ways that other organizations simply aren't. So you either have (potentially well-managed and aligned) fiefdoms that use different platforms that can't talk to each other, or you have a group that tries to meet everyone's needs with as few discrete solutions as possible and, at best, succeed partly at satisfying everyone.

      Money spent on IT is almost always considered "lost revenue", and a holdback from the old Finance days of IT is that every department needs to justify its existence. Thus the chargeback model was born. So concepts like charging rent for floor space (forcing managers to vacate space that will never be occupied to save their "rent" costs, and cramming their people into spaces too small for them to work effectively) or finding a profit model for IT (forcing managers to forgo any systems changes that didn't actually save measurable amounts of money, even if the ideas really would help in the longer term) were born to try and force the idea of efficiency into each department.

      Once you do that, you will always find that you can get a specific task done in the short term by hiring someone who can just solve the problem at hand without being bothered by all the consequences like incompatibility with existing processes and systems, long-term support costs, etc.

      You'll also almost always find it's cheaper to do a crappy job on your project now while your expense code is on the line, and leave the cleanup to future projects who have to deal with it and spend more money to use what you've built (but it's on THEIR expense code).

      Plus, of course, IT itself is given very finite resources at most companies (which is appropriate) and has to fulfill specific goals of the company to "earn" those resources (which is also appropriate).

      But there's generally a lack of appreciation for the benefits that creative IT can bring to a company, so few companies give their IT staff much in the way of leeway to explore new technologies (outside those mentioned in CIO magazine and implemented "right away" with little input as to whether it's the right solution for any actual problem the company is facing, or even what the solution is meant to do, and most of those are explored by a consultant anyway).

    • by pileated (53605)

      I guess you missed this part in your reading:

      Nobody in IT should ever say, "You're my customer and my job is to make sure you're satisfied," or ask, "What do you want me to do?"

      Instead, they should say, "My job is to help you and the company succeed," followed by "Show me how you do things now," and "Let's figure out a better way of getting this done."

      The article is to have IT treated as a peer not as an order-taker. Anything other than that is a waste of the talents of IT. This doesn't have anything to do

  • by Luthair (847766) on Tuesday January 19, 2010 @05:28PM (#30824740)

    While I do agree that running IT like a business is often not the best way to go about it, some of the things said in the article are simply bizarre. For example, what does this even [b]mean[/b]:

    Instead of reacting to users, he should be their peer. Primarily, I asked him why he didn't transition from building Web apps to instead creating a solution using cloud technology and true mobile devices like BlackBerrys, iPods, and emerging tablets. He could offer a better solution, at about a quarter of the cost.

    While buzzword compliant it doesn't really mean anything.

    • While buzzword compliant it doesn't really mean anything.

      I think what it is trying to get at is that the IT shop should have expertise in IT in the same way that the business shop has expertise in the business, and that the IT shop should be proactive in offering alternatives that are more efficient and useful as to the how of getting things done.

      I think its stated poorly -- not merely because it is vague and awkwardly worded, but also in the sense that this is still "reacting to users" and "building softwa

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by nine-times (778537)

      Yeah, I stumbled across that passage too, but you can understand what he's getting at if you strip out the buzzwords. What he's pointing out is that there's this mode of dealing with IT where businesses make requests on IT like, "Make a web app that do exactly this," and then the IT department goes about producing those regardless of whether it's the best solution to the problem. The IT department doesn't necessarily ever learn what it is that the business is trying to accomplish; all the IT department do

  • Why is he dead wrong? Because his definition of a business is a 'arms length relationship' between customer and provider. His IT 'business' targets delivering the lowest possible acceptable product and uses monopoly power to set the price. While there are definitely IT shops run like this it is a terrible model for an actual business. You will never hear a successful non-monopoly business pushing a strategy of separation from the customer and merely adequate service.

    This might be a guerrilla movement to

  • Selling to customers (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Enderandrew (866215) <enderandrew@noSPam.gmail.com> on Tuesday January 19, 2010 @05:35PM (#30824824) Homepage Journal

    Here is the problem with most businesses, is that often the lowest paid employees handle customer service. Should IT departments focus more on good customer service, even if their "customers" are fellow employees in the company? Certainly. But this is a failing of all businesses.

    Focusing on customer service may in fact entail paying more to hire better employees, and spending cash on training. How many businesses are doing this?

  • by grasshoppa (657393) <skennedy@tpno-c[ ]rg ['o.o' in gap]> on Tuesday January 19, 2010 @05:38PM (#30824868) Homepage

    The article highlights the flaws of poor communication skills, attributes these flaws to "IT as a business", and then suggests a new method...which is just as susceptible to communication flaws.

    I dig what they are trying to say, I really do. But it's nothing new, and certainly nothing beyond what we already have.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by PPH (736903)
      The difference is: When your IT support is internal, you can just run down the hall and talk to someone. When its outsourced, its a contracts issue. Now your legal and purchasing departments start whining about changes, negotiations and costs. And you can forget about tweaking stuff that didn't quite work right the first time around. Internally, the IT people have the same goal you do; to build and run the best system for your company. The IT vendor will be hunting through the requirements documents for you
    • by GooberToo (74388) on Tuesday January 19, 2010 @07:17PM (#30826218)

      The article highlights the flaws of poor communication skills, attributes these flaws to "IT as a business", and then suggests a new method...which is just as susceptible to communication flaws.

      I don't think you understood what you read else you couldn't have come to the conclusion you have. Right now, "IT as a business", creates a multitude of barriers which by their very nature inhibit communication. In many places this is actually by design and intent.

      By stopping the impenetrable castle defense of IT from hiding behind ticket systems, voice mails, and layers of management, IT needs to be in bed with business. A shared pain is a fixed problem so long as money can be found. And if it can't, everyone understands rather than it being, "that damn IT group preventing my success."

      Since IT is always treated as a cost center, the rest of the company is always looking to save money but axing IT. In turn, for IT to justify IT's continued existence, IT is always looking to build a billable project out of a mole hill. This does nothing but create an internal adversarial relationship between IT and the rest of the company. This in turn creates the human factors which create barriers in communication.

      In most every large shop I've been in, IT actively works to provide value to the company and desperately wants to contribute to the company's overall success. The problem is, the entire rest of the company sees IT as a cost center and they are therefore actively working to eliminate IT, directly or indirectly. This requires IT justify EVERYTHING.

      Until corporate culture changes, the "rest of the company" is the sole reason why IT not only costs more than it should but why mole hill tasks becomes a mountain of a project. Simply put, IT has no other choice as survival rides on it. Which finally brings us full circle. Companies have two choices; one, isolate IT and demand they justify their existence every day at every turn, whereby human factors take over, including breakdown of communication. Two, integrate them and empower them to help them help you; whereby IT's business becomes the company's success. Integration requires communication. The later of the two means those same human factors which cause so many problems in the first case, actually benefit the entire company in the second case. The second case is only possible with effective communication, and tearing down barriers is in everyone's self interest.

      In short, communication is important to all businesses. The question is, are you creating barriers or enlisting everyone to assist in your success? Right now the common business mantra is the former rather than the later. If businesses want better IT bang for the buck, they need only look at their own corporate culture and ask, "how can I help you help me?" Synergy, when not used as a worthless buzzword, really can be a wonderful thing.

  • by HangingChad (677530) on Tuesday January 19, 2010 @05:39PM (#30824878) Homepage

    Bob Lewis dispels the familiar litany that 'IT should be run as a business

    IT is a service, a service that makes your business run better. And the better that service is shaped to your business, the more adapted to how you work, the more efficiently your business operates. The biggest payback from IT is saving money. A dollar saved is better than a dollar earned. A dollar saved is pure profit. A dollar earned you have to subtract the cost of overhead and doing business.

    Too many times IT people operate from a perspective that's more religion than service. The time to upgrade to Windows 7 is not when SP 1 comes out, it's when upgrading saves the company money. A service mentality does not try to force-fit technology where it doesn't belong. Maybe not everyone in the company needs Windows 7. Maybe the call center can use Ubuntu workstations, maybe the graphics departments work more efficiently with Macs. A service mentality focuses on what works best for the company and saves money, not what your technical people know and where they've invested their training. Yet I see that a lot. Not what works best, but what the techs know. Their expertise limits their technology choices instead of expanding them.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by realmolo (574068)

      I understand what you are saying, and even agree for the most part, but:

      Technology changes constantly. One of the important jobs of the IT department, and one that tends to annoy the people that pay the bills, is to keep the IT infrastructure from becoming so obsolete that it becomes unmaintainable.

      Trust me, the IT department doesn't like upgrading stuff any more than you do. But you HAVE to keep things modernized. Would the company rather save $40k now, or have to spend $150k in 10 years to have all of the

  • by digitalamish (449285) on Tuesday January 19, 2010 @05:40PM (#30824890)

    This concept will only work in an 'enlightened' company, ie one that IS IT. In a company that sells things or services, it's all based on how many beans you can count. If you have this completely integrated IT organization, how does the company keep the IT budget under control? Unless you segregate the work into it's own silo, and then yell it like those Burger King "Angry Whopper Onions", how will costs go down.

    No one sees IT as a partner. We're not even a business unit in a company. We're a collection of desklamps and staplers. I've seen management boggled by the fact that a Windows SA doesn't know anything about tuning an Oracle database. "But you're IT!" I've seen very skilled people moved over into jobs they are not trained or qualified for, and then eventually let go because they didn't have the skills for the job.

    I haven't seen many companies that don't down right object to the fact they have to pay for IT. They don't blink at ordering 1000 new business cards for all the sales people, but ask for a $50 piece of software and you might as well be Oliver asking for more pourage.

    Outsourcing has just made it easier for them to do this. How are you going to have a strategic partner doing IT, when the IT person you are dealing with is loyal only to the contract you've signed with them and really could care less if the company is growing or not, as long as they get paid.

    Yes, I'm bitter. I'd love to see the fantasy land where IT is cherished. Especially outside of an IT company. I haven't seen it.

  • As other people have said, IT is a support function for most businesses. In some cases, this can create an authority problem - the IT section is expected to do what ever the rest of the organisation requests, and also to then wear that cost. It also can mean that as the rest of organisation aren't in the "IT business" they don't know or don't allow for internal and ongoing IT originated work to be performed.

    Because businesses are in th business of making money, there should always be a business case for wha

  • The fundamental problem with many internal IT departments and particularly with regard to the development of software is the lack of discipline that the customers have because of the absence of price as a constraining behaviour.

    When you are a good external provider of bespoke software you end up being able to use the price of your overall service and in particular, intra project "changes" in order to make sure that the customer is disciplined about defining and holding to a realistic set of requirements. I

    • You would think businesses would understand the difference by now. However with most public companies focused on the next quarterly or yearly report, the operational factors seem to overwhelm the strategic, until something like a major recession slaps them upside the head. "IT as a business" and best practice frameworks for IT work well for operational tasks. Software development, among other functions of IT, are strategic tasks and those tasks will function best when well integrated with the needs of the b
  • Ideally, as someone who isn't in IT but uses technology, I like to think the IT guys are on my side. If something is broken, and I can't fix it myself, or something could be better and I can't improve it (due to lack of knowledge or resources or access), they're there to help me out. Setting up IT "as a business" fundamentally changes this way of thinking about things, though. My group then sees IT as a cost center: we want to use as little of their stuff as possible, or we might get billed for them doing stuff for us. IT sees us as customers to whom a bunch of crap can potentially be sold, generating revenue for their IT business.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by scamper_22 (1073470)

      The problem is that fundamentally, every other 'business support' eventually finds that it cannot be ruled by business... and as such makes itself a profession.

      Lawyers - check
      Accountants - check
      Constructions and other engineering fields - check
      Trades people - check

      Right now, I'm looking at the elevator and it has be inspected by a licensed inspector. Yet, I'm working on software that runs the very internet... and I know they can bring in someone who has no experience and no knowledge and no licensing to bu

  • "[Fawaz] likens IT's proper role to that of an engineer designing a car."

    Dammit!

  • Building Services keeps the lights on, AC running, water in the pipes and toilets unstopped but they don't really know all that much about the business process and don't need to. Depending on the structure of the company, IT may operate at that level and super-users in different departments handle the business side of the IT.

    For example, IT maintains the servers for file stores, database, etc. The SQL administrator is in IT. There are two big products that run on the SQL server, one for accounting and the o

  • Most of the things he complains about would be bad practices for any business. How can a business keep customers at arm's length and expect to have a good relationship with them? How can a business let its customers completely dictate how they do their work? If you run a business, you are responsible for keeping it sustainable, and sometimes that means you have to say no to your customers.
  • by Mr_Tulip (639140) on Tuesday January 19, 2010 @05:50PM (#30825064) Homepage
    The sentiment portrayed by the author of that article is a very common one among IT workers. That somehow, our best efforts are undermined by the need for our work to be costed, audited and planned by external (to us) business interests.
    I personally try and produce code that meets and exceeds the business requirement, and does so within the time-frame set by the business. The problem, I think is that software engineers, in general, are a bunch of perfectionists, and we like to hold off announcing a 'final version' until the last possible moment. (Google Mail was in beta for how long?)

    What I have come to realize, though, is that it is not just the IT departments that feel this way. In general, there are some people in every department, of every company that belive that their performance would improve if only they had a greater measure of self-determination. Perhaps the number of people who feel this way is highest in IT, but it is certainly not exclusive to IT.
    So what it comes down to, I feel, is that we are slowly drifting towards a business culture where the individual has more control over their job, and where sucess is measured by job satisfaction instead of economics.

    At least, that's the direction I hope we are heading in.

    • The sentiment portrayed by the author of that article is a very common one among IT workers. That somehow, our best efforts are undermined by the need for our work to be costed, audited and planned by external (to us) business interests.

      That's not how I read it. IT is going to be subject to business requirements and budgeted and audited no matter what. The relevant question is how to do this. The choices mentioned in the article are "IT as a business" and "IT as part of the business". In one, IT is re

  • The blind spots. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by v(*_*)vvvv (233078) on Tuesday January 19, 2010 @05:56PM (#30825148)

    IT is still young. And we have an extremely muddled labor pool that is mixed with young geniuses and out-of-date veterans, as well as idiot young guns and some older people who *really* know what they are doing.

    The problem with this situation is that from everyone's own perspective, it becomes extremely difficult for everyone else to make the right decision.

    A novice non-IT business is the perfect target for a one-stop shop type of IT outsourcing company. They will never truly understand what you need, teach you anything, or explain exactly what you are paying for. You will get propriety solutions and pay a heavy margin for maintenance. Yes, they will meet requirements, but this is far from ideal.

    Another pitfall is hiring the true techie to *manage* an IT department or an IT solution. There is a HUUUGE difference between someone who excels at technical knowhow and accuracy, and someone who sees the whole picture, can work with people, and can make compromises when weighing non-technical priorities.

    The best scenario for any company is to find a savvy insider early and hire them. This person might not be able to do everything themselves, but they will know good from bad. They will also be close to management and will be pragmatic about implementing the needs of the company. Give this person sufficient resources, and you are good to go. Of course, whether or not you hired such a person, you may never know. If you actually have such a person *in* management, then you are ahead of the curve.

    One thing is for certain though. New businesses that embrace IT will have a distinct edge. If you work at a fairly young company that doesn't care about their web page, or is losing business to competitors that do, I would get ready to jump ship. Seriously, IT can make or break even a restaurant (eg. SEO and yelp management).

  • Tell that to SCO. For the past six years their business has been based on ruining IT for the rest of us. For a second opinion ask a patent troll. Even though it might be a bad idea it is certainly a good business for some of them.
  • ...than behave as if it's a self-licking ice cream cone. IT exists for the productivity of the other employees. All too often, IT folks lose sight of that and start feeling that they can call the shots and that the end users' needs aren't as important as IT objectives and IT vision.
  • by Thaelon (250687)

    IT's job is to facilitate the rest of the company with regard to technology. Period.

    It's their job to make IT stuff work, make it work faster, make it more reliable, and easier to use.

    Running it as a separate entity, or one in which the IT staff don't have to have a clue about the domain the company works in is foolish.

  • Driving An Airplane (Score:3, Interesting)

    by DynaSoar (714234) on Tuesday January 19, 2010 @06:23PM (#30825550) Journal

    Running IT as a business is like driving an airplane:

    It seems like a logical extension of known abilities.
    In the situation, if you try a few driving techniques, they'll probably work out fairly well.
    But the first time you try something that seems simple but works very differently, say try to turn left by turning the 'steering' wheel to the left, you're going to be sorry.

    Making parallels between IT and business is what business people do when confronted with having to run IT based on their business experience rather than learning how to do it right. They are rationalizing using the tools they already have, and protecting their ego by trying to make the rest of the model fit them. When they try to turn left and end up pranging*, they can blame the IT department for not falling into line with the business model. They can use that excuse when interviewing for their next position and get the sympathy of all the other business people who commiserate with colleagues forced to work with the IT people.

    Do your business-based IT manager a favor. Soothe his ego by telling him he drives like Mario Andretti. Then brief him on the basic differences between driving the track at Indy, and moving in 3 dimensions using pitch, yaw and roll, and how if he tries to take the first turn the way he used to, he's going to get a valuable lesson in roll, as well as in pranging. Then take him out for a few touch-and-goes and let him hold the stick for a bit on the level. Then sign him up for beginner's ground school, which would be learning to be a help desk droid. If you're stuck with him, you might just try to get him to learn to be part of the department rather than part of the problem.

    And if he refuses? Fuck it, strap him in and let him solo. It won't take long. There's lots of these guys that the big kids upstairs want sent your way, for various reasons, and 'making IT work' may be the mantra but it's not always the reason.

    Pranging, from prang v. (Brit.): To land an airplane nose first, usually at high speed, often under power, almost certainly by someone with no previous experience landing an airplane in that fashion. The lucky tend to learn to land in other ways after this, the smart learn to before this, the rest never get a second chance.

  • bad management (Score:4, Insightful)

    by DaveGod (703167) on Tuesday January 19, 2010 @06:47PM (#30825872)

    Don't confuse problems stemming from bad management with problems stemming from a bad model.

    The idea of internal customers comes from Total Quality Management. TFA bears absolutely no resemblance to TQM. TFA describes what happens when you have the old style business structure (divisions/departments) and a pointy-haired boss learns accounting are calling IT a "cost centre" and then mistakes an accounting technique for a management technique.

    People like to blame accountants for this, but that's because... accounting is a different department. Sure, this "hairball" IT system I'm supposed to be in charge of is all someone else's fault, but that "chargeback" system, well accounting is in charge of that aren't they!

    FWIW TFA is quite disappointing for Infoweek. It displays numerous hallmarks of a self-help book. It massages the ego by implying that yes, you are being looked down upon, you should be more important and given more freedom and control ("IT should relinquish its increasing stance as an order taker, and earn and advance its intended role as the qualified engineer of what makes a business hum"); it's all someone else's fault ("hard to get the business leaders to step up"); and genial bashing of accountants in order to be all like-minded and chummy ("full employment for accountants"). Ironic then that all does is suggest adopting a business structure that has been core material in accounting studies since Japan started making cars, all wrapped up in executive-speak babble and buzzwords (unsurprising given the reference material).

    By the way, most of the time people seem to assume doing the whole integrated thing will automatically be more productive and satisfying. It can be, but don't for a minute assume it's also easier. One thing the traditional model does supply is a command structure and set procedures - take that out and everybody finds they have to do stuff that previously they associated with management.

  • by FatdogHaiku (978357) on Tuesday January 19, 2010 @08:06PM (#30826670)
    I like the idea of IT as a fiefdom.

    Squire!
    Yes My Lord?
    Call the Wizards of IT, and tell them we want louder keyboards.
    At once my liege! The Wizards will want a description the problem with the current keyboards...
    Of course. Tell them I can not hear the serfs toiling in their cubicles!

    Man, is it too early to start drinking?

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