Extinction of the IT department

Extinction is a strong word to use for what many view as a fundamental business service. The need and value of IT to the organization isn’t in fear of dying out – just the departments and the people who run those departments. In order to survive we all need to adapt, evolve and improvise to some degree.

This article from ZD Net… 5 tips to prevent IT extinction Posted by Michael Krigsman brings up those important issues that pit the IT department and the enterprise against each other. It’s hard to believe that these are still issues in this enlightened day and age, but they are in many environments. Read the article for the details – and they are very good details, not just the rehashing of ‘alignment with business needs’ that’s been beat to death.

Here are the headings and my thoughts on them . . .

1. Recognize and embrace change.

It’s hard to believe that a group of professionals who live in a world of technology that changes at the speed of light don’t recognize and embrace these changes. Sorry to break the news to you but COBOL is dead! Quite often the folks (the geeks) on the front line know more about what’s happening in the world of tech than managers do. Why not? That’s what they live for and what drives them. Managers on the other hand live to manage people, budgets, performance, production and the things that make an IT department not much more than a white collar sweat shop. I heard of an IT manager who canceled the regularly scheduled deparment meetings because all he saw from the meeting was, “…a weeks worth of work not getting done!” My advice to managers? Listen to what your feet on the street have to say … after all those closest to the problem are often closest to the solutions.

From the ZD Net article . . .”…once placed emphasis on control but which now demands productive innovation

2. Focus on customers with dedication and intensity.

For many years the folks who used our technology were called ‘users’ by IT departments. When a  new employee was given access to the system it was quite often called granting them ‘user accounts’  and when they left they were ‘dis-usered’. In the back rooms some were called ‘ab-users’. We started calling them customers or clients, but the view of them was still as users. There is a dark sarcastic humour among many IT professionals who say things like “I help computers with people problems” or “my network works fine until those damn people start to use it” or the famous urban legend of a call centre tech support agent who suggested that the caller, “pack up your computer and send it back to where you bought it because you’re too stupid to use a computer”. There are front line tech support and help desk and service desk people who try to deliver ‘knock your socks off customer service’ but many times they are constrained by restrictive IT department policies. I’ve seen help desk analysts walk on a razor trying to balance ultimate customer service with the demands from the CIO office to follow these strict and often outdated service policies and practices.

From the ZD Net article . . . “merely being “nice” is sometimes confused with adding customer value, a far loftier goal” (amen!)

3. Add value through innovation.

I find this similar to item number 1. Larger organizations typically thrive on bureaucracy and entrenched procedures and such things as innovative thinking is discouraged and sometimes even punished. Remember the ‘If it works don’t fix it’ catch phrase and its many versions from many years ago? There is innovation in technology but also very important to the success of a business – innovative business processes. Annual review is part of a managers job description. They review budget goals, stats, production goals, employee performance, sometimes customer satisfaction surveys and other key measurement points they see as of value to the successful management of their department. Do they have a column in their spread sheet on how many innovative ideas were produced, discussed and implemented?  

From the ZD Net article . . . “innovative IT is a strategic weapon, not merely a defensive necessity

4. Improve communication.

I’ll go directly to the ZD Net article for this one – “IT must communicate its value, pressures, and constraints in straightforward business terms“. If your CIO thinks that communication means publishing your policies and procedures and an irregular monthly newsletter reporting the details of your IT projects . . . they might be missing the point. One of the things I like about working with small business owners is that they are very close to their customers and their employees. Smaller companies thrive on the interaction and sharing of ideas that their size provides. This closeness supports true ‘communication’ opportunities that larger organizations need to tap into. A definition of the word communication from the online Merriam-Webster dictionary and what IT managers and IT professionals should grasp…”a process by which information is exchanged between individuals through a common system of symbols, signs, or behavior
; also : exchange of information b: personal rapport
“. Dialog, two way street, speak once and listen twice – one mouth and two ears. To support this two way exchange of information requires a manager to press the reset button on their mindsets. Or have it replaced entirely. Web 2.0 is seen as a threat by many managers because the people they speak to can talk back. The organization needs to listen as well. IT has the same problems they do – budget, people, surprises, time. Maybe the next item causes some of the problems IT has in getting the rest of the organization to take their problems seriously.

5. Lose the arrogance.

This following quote from the article is sad but true . . . many (not all ) IT workers feel this way about the (ab)users of the fruits of their labours (see my response to item number 2).

From the ZD Net article . . .”Here’s what a CNET blog commenter said: Users are stupid and that needs to be the starting point…for software developers. Such nonsense undermines IT and only hastens its path toward extinction.

It’s not just about jargon or ‘geek-speak’. Many hardcore tech people (not just IT) look upon mere mortals as just too stupid to appreciate the significance of their creations and their supreme knowledge. They become bullies who get a charge out of talking down to those who ‘just don’t get it’. Or they walk away in disgust. These folks need to be sent to sensitivity training to help them get over their problems. Yes, they are the ones with the problem. An alternative is to lock them in the back room and slide pizza and Jolt Cola under the door on a regular basis – which isn’t always possible in organizations with a smaller IT department. There was a TV commercial (I don’t remember who the company was but they may have provided outsourced IT tech services) that featured a young surly IT ‘guru’ as the tech support for a company. They showed staff going to  him with their problems and he was rude and un-supportive. Why didn’t they fire him? “He’s the only one who knows how our IT works”,  said one frustrated employee. I shook my head every time I saw this ad but I couldn’t help but imagine that many customers of IT departments would be nodding their head. They may see their IT departments as this rude, obnoxious punk. Very, very sad. An extreme stereotype but how far from reality is this portrayal?

I think this sums it all up . . . 

From the ZD Net article . . . “[T]hose IT organizations not focused on delivering ever increasing business value (”caretakers”) and actively making decisions about their future will be extinct, since someone will step in and make decision for them or their company.”


3 thoughts on “Extinction of the IT department

  1. There are no (sorry 7 in London from CWJobs.co.uk) jobs in COBOL. So I agree “COBOL is dead”.

    Why not do a University course and learn COBOL then you can apply for all these jobs. If you wont believe it some universities are starting teaching COBOL and I you may even get a bit of JCL, CISAM. And how can you be a programmer/developer without learning about punched cards.

  2. Thanks for the input James . . . I’m not sure if you’re knocking COBOL or supporting it as a working language. The interesting thing about ancient languages is that they are still in use somewhere and if you end up being the only one still using it you become an expert who can be in high demand.

    COBOL was on my list of languages studied when I attended college back in the 1990’s. We even did some work in RM COBOL – the PC version probably still used on IBM point of sale systems. It’s not a bad idea to be teaching COBOL and even Assembler in IT schools. There is a lot of structure and deep understanding of how data and computers work with these older languages that new programmers should know. Things like .NET and newer languages move us so far from the heart of the computer (the black box model)that we end up building bloated code relying on hardware and OS to optimize our systems.

  3. Hi good day!You have an interesting post…It is very true that because of fast growing change of technology nowadays, many were experiencing extinction yet trying to beat it. I like your way of telling us or sharing us your knowledge regarding with this. It help me think of a better approach regarding with this.Keep it up!

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