Wednesday, July 07, 2010

No more Mr. Nice IT Guy

No more Mr. Nice IT Guy

It's time for IT to stop being so helpful
Backspin By Mark Gibbs,

"If I touch your computer, you'll think that every future problem is caused by something I did. You'll tell everyone I ruined your computer. I'll be obligated to solve every computer problem you have from this day on. My own projects will be left to wither as I show you for the ninetieth time how to select a new font. If I refuse to help, you'll tell my boss I'm not a team player." – Dilbert

In this Dilbert cartoon a coworker asks Dilbert for help with her computer and he responds, "It's a trap!" To which she replies "Do you need a hug?" Dilbert responds: "Only if you can squeeze hard enough to kill me."

This observation is spot on, but also applies in a much larger context, to how IT gets asked to do things that have long-term ownership issues and yet we can't turn them down without looking uncooperative.

I was having a conversation with a friend who works in IT for a large company and what he said about the demands for service and expectations of the rest the organization gave me an idea. Before I explain what this idea is, let's consider the current condition of enterprise IT.

Today IT mostly finds itself in an uncomfortable situation. To recycle a much over-used metaphor, IT has been caught in a perfect storm created by budgets that are collapsing or barely staying level, increasing internal demand for solutions to improve line of business financials, and external services that undermine IT's authority and the integrity of internal solutions.

The budget issues aren't going away any time soon and neither is the internal demand for solutions, the latter because lines of business are aggressively looking for ways to improve the bottom line that the former issue makes impossible to satisfy.

The undermining of authority is particularly tricky because, given the budget and solution demand issues, the seductive lure of software-as-a-service and cloud computing makes it hard for IT to defend an internal strategy that the rest of company doesn't understand or, for political reasons, refuses to accept.

Given that some enterprises don't have IT represented at the board level it's hardly surprising that IT tends to get less respect than it deserves. Even where IT gets board level recognition, in most organizations IT becomes everyone's favorite whipping boy because no one really understands what IT actually does. The trouble is that everyone outside of IT expects a level of service that, given budgetary constraints, can't be supplied.

Just imagine if you went to sales and asked them to start organizing building maintenance or you went to accounting and asked them to run your customer conference? They'd quite rightly look at you as if you were nuts and tell you to be on your way. Those aren't things on the menu of stuff they do.

But they are the first to expect IT to add anything and everything to their menu and the idea that you won't do whatever they want is seen as your failure, not as you planning your work and working your plan.

So, my idea? Stop providing all of those services that involve anything that isn't absolutely defined and quantified. No more Mr. Helpful. No more "sure, you can use that application you think might be cool." You've got to justify it and we'll tell you what it will cost to support it and you'll have to find the funding. No more "we'll show you how to set up a Word document with two columns." We'll have scheduled Word classes (if we can afford them), otherwise read the freakin' manual.

The goal is to make the rest of the organization think twice before they ask for something that you, IT, doesn't have on the menu. It's a tough position to adopt but, given the current realities, it may be the only strategy that IT has to ensure it gets the core work done and to stop from wishing for the hug of death.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I love the article. However, IT as an adversary never works. IT as a solution maker does work. I've worked for/with six CIO/CTO's that became adversarial and lost their position. IT is considered a commodity or a necessary evil to many C-level execs.

Our job is to develop and implement solutions. If the organization has a problem or need we meet and fix it.
In short our job is to be Mr. and Ms. Helpful within reason. RTFMing and JUSTIFY just don't work unless the organization has a project based method for handling issues.

The problem you described is a communications breakdown between IT and other departments. Someone at the top is not delivering the right message or any message for that matter. Ergo, the middle and bottom of IT suffer. The best bet for anyone in the described situations is to get user experience information to the top fast. If they don't handle the problem quickly, then parachute out of that firm. They aren't worth the hassle.