Drones, arrogance, and fate

Drones, arrogance, and fate

Summary: Sometimes, particularly when you look at someone else's mess, you can see the rock coming but not get them to move out of the way - and in that situation the only thing you can do is speculate about what greased the slide it's on.

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TOPICS: CXO
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One of the key problems management in the organization I've been looking at faces is that IT has retained much of the insular arrogance it inherited from its original role in Finance and is externally protected by the free movement of senior IT people between the buyer and seller communities - meaning that departmental managers seeking outside expertise get insiders because only those who have pledged unconditional allegiance to the people, technologies, and processes in place make it through the qualification screens.

One consequence of this is that the wintel youth cult is not in evidence - most of those with more than personal responsibilities along with the outsourcer's on site staff are in their forties or fifties, and even the on site juniors pretending to the help desk probably average out in the high thirties.

Another is that the people involved know that their jobs depend on community approval - meaning approval among their IT peers and seniors, not their users or departmental management. As a result the generic Wintel cultural tendency to see users as lusers gets exaggerated with many users complaining that IT people patronize them - and, in particular, that IT's tendency to do things either not at all or without explanation both expresses their contempt for users and is intended to keep those users dependent.

Sometimes the situation throws up results that almost make me feel sympathetic: for example a senior official's request for help using old Norse in his password apparently caused a major panic in IT before it was realized that a government-wide Peoplesoft standards committee could be invoked to deny the request. (In reality, they use something derived from Peoplesoft's 1998 core financials but have put so much money into customization that "recent" client-server environment updates like AL32UTF8 absolutely have to be kept outside the bubble.)

Less amusingly, ordinary users asking ordinary kinds of things face significant organizational and personal barriers to resolution. Thus a user asking for an aphabetization change on a report was directed to an authorization and approval process worthy of a decision to invade Saskatchewan; while another, who asked for connection help with the client on a Windows 7 laptop with a misconfigured firewall, was treated to visible disbelief and public contempt before repetition coupled with repeated appeals to higher authority led IT to re-install the core Windows OS and authorized applications.

Now, it's pretty obvious what this organization has to do - but because I don't believe it will happen any time soon, and certainly not with the current players in place, my view is that the top people should just out-source the whole mess and then start rebuilding internal IT on a more user oriented basis as opportunities to do that come up.

But the experience raises, I think a more general question: since people who really are competent and enthused about their jobs tend not to be arrogant about it, and yet Wintel help desk people generally look down on "lusers", it follows that there's something about the job that either selects for pretenders or imposes a significant moral hazard on otherwise decent people.

I don't know what that is, and certainly the DP influence on Wintel management has a significant role here; but in watching some of these guys do help demonstrations by clicking through screens like a ten year old setting up to play Raymond's Raving Rabbits - thus leaving users no opportunity to orient themselves to any of it - I begin to wonder: is it possible that Wintel technology itself has evolved to be far too much like a poorly thought through video game and not enough like a knowledge based enterprise?

Topic: CXO

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17 comments
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  • ... Glad you got that off your shoulders (nt)

    .
    x21x
  • You will get trashed for this by many IT professionals.

    As a former IT consumer I couldn't agree more with this blog.
    Bill4
    • Former IT consumer?

      @Bill4
      How did you manage that? I want to stop consuming IT...
      Erik Engbrecht
      • RE: Drones, arrogance, and fate

        @Erik Engbrecht
        I got old and no longer consume corporate supplied IT with its ingrained dislike of the (l)users. What goes on behind the scenes at Time-Warner, MS, etc. has no apparent affect on my behavior. It's all mine to break! Less tongue in cheek, you can't avoid consuming IT in our time without living under a bridge and maybe not even then.
        Bill4
  • incompetence increases bluster

    the less you know, the less inclined you are to prove it.... Lowering the bar by creating easy to use tools does little to improve one's ability to think in a crisis or create a method to solve a problem, since the person knows little of the real workings inside the "black box".

    I think that you take your knowledge of the computer for granted, that it's so ingrained in your being, that you can't even imagine what it's like to be a luddite in today's complex world of insanely engineered software.

    I have been a computer user, and follower since the 70's though without a formal computer degree. It has taken me years to learn 40% of the knowledgebase, and finally become aware of the other 60%. Most people are not that committed. Have a bit of compassion.

    Hey, why aren't you weighing in on Oracle's power play using that rusty sun weapon, java???
    sparkle farkle
  • RE: Drones, arrogance, and fate

    Murph, the examples you present are more in-line with general corporate policy-making and bureucracy rather than any single department/technology in particular. Working for a subcontractor (non-IT) serving a major manufacturing outfit, I've seen people get involved in interdepartmental screw-ups over things like desk size, dect phone ringtones and the brand of soap in the can. Meeting after meeting may ensue, in the hopes that someone clever (read: senior) comes up with a solution (read: compromise). It is a result of having your operations grow too large to manage by common sense, which entails a defensive response in the form of a persistent reproach against initiative-taking at operational level. Even Unix folks would have a hard time maintaining a more liberal outlook under such scrutiny.
    Stormbringer_57th
    • Management complexity as factor

      @Stormbringer_57th

      I partially agree - but there are very successful and very large organizations (like the US armed forces) which try to devolve action responsibility to the lowest possible levels - and that's the model IT should be following with service people empowered to make (and act on) service decisions.
      murph_z
  • RE: Drones, arrogance, and fate

    First off Murph... the IT arrogance factor is not isolated to the Wintel crowd. I've seen it in coming from multiple platforms. Alot of the issue/corporate direction is coming from finance... but your lumping finance with IT is an archaic connection... It's true that IT came from finance, but you are talking about the 60s, not the IT people of today... Most of the ITers now, have never worked in the finance departments of the companies they work for and most IT departments in most major corporations are 3 or more decades old.

    That being said, if you work for a major corporation, you are getting major pressure from above, from people who care little about the niceties... but that you get the work down in as productive manner, in a cost effective manner, in a manner that doesn't disrupt other parts of the business... etc.. Too many corporations view IT as an expense.

    All you have to do is ask why something like COE would evolve.

    Do you actually think it is the IT departments who wanted something like this. Do you think it is the IT departments who WANT to run with as few people as possible... with only the skills needed to maintain this...You must be insane. It's the finance people who want this... the beancounters. The people who sign the paychecks.

    As for your example... of the person with a misconfigured firewall.. if she was running a COE machine... Chances are she fiddled around(aka doing something that she was probably not qualified to do) and just cost the company a thousand dollars in lost productivity...(her own, some technician + shipping costs). Kind of changes the perspective on the same problem, doesn't it.

    You may think that what you want to happen in an IT department is obvious to you, but to the people up in financing you are a LOON who wants the company to spend a boatload of money. I understand where you are coming from... but I also understand their point as well... but they are the ones paying the bills(and the paychecks) and most people end up respecting that, since it is coming from the name at the bottom of their paychecks.
    scotth_z
  • Yes - but

    I agree that arrogance is obviously not limited to the wintel crowd - duh. However.. to a large extent wintel began as a rebellion against corporate data processing - but has now become data processing. That's where the arrogance and isolation from user concern comes from, and those attitudes go back to the 1920s and DP's role in finance.

    One of the most difficult factors to get your head around here is that the OS, by itself, means nothing in terms of IT behavior - DP people using Solaris use it the same way they use other tools: making it look, in opertaion, just like some poor imitation of either OS/360 or Windows.

    What matters wrt to the OS are two related things:

    1 - with WIntel (or zOS) there's really only one practical way to do things (the DP way) because otherwise costs and failures will kill you;

    2 - with Unix there are multiple ways of doing things - and the most cost effective put users in charge.

    With Unix, in other words, user abuse is a choice - but with wintel and Z, it's not.

    What matters organizationally, of course, is history: people expect DP treatment and DP results because that's what they're used to: trying to get finance to approve an IT change in face of contrary expectations is often hopeless so you have to change the expectations first.

    To do that, start small: kick the DP people aside via out-sourcing (in this case), react to user service opportunities by growing new internal IT on a service basis. Ten years later the outsourcer's gone and you're running a decent shop. Maybe.
    murph_z
    • convinced of my ignorance yet again..

      aside from the play by play, could you provide an example of how the DP method differs from Unix, as a theoretical. I don't understand how the user could be in more control by using a centrally controlled system where IT is involved (I have to assume re-writing or modifying) someone's program to suit, rather than installing (and letting the user configure) a program they already know. On the client side (the user) has a long road to re-learning or learning software in the first place.
      I could cite a program like photoshop, and it's linux counterpart Gimp. there's no way the two are the same. (I will admit I'm getting better at using the Gimp, but just not the same in terms of ease of use and functionality) In a creative environment, there is not a real replacement for photoshop, or Autocad in it's many incarnations.

      So you are left to virtualize, spend on licensing for the whole business etc. How could a centrally controlled entity make this any better?
      sparkle farkle
      • More next Sat?

        @sparkle farkle

        In brief: wintel, like DP, forces centralization of both processing and control. Unix allows (but doesn't force) people to separate these: centralizing processing while decentralizing control. Do that, and running IT (i.e. the gear etc)becomes a part time job, while IT people working inside user communities work for those users in making things (i.e. software) happen.
        murph_z
  • Wintel Youth Cult?

    Well Rudy, I'm 58, so I actually was there for most of the computer history you try to rewrite and the arrogance of IT has been there since the start.

    It was there when scientsits first started crawling around a computer room in their underpants changing valves, it's there when the Linux youth cult barricade their IT departments (usually academic as no else will have them) and that arrogance is especially noticeable in you - the last non-Windows IT consultant or software archeologist.

    MS and Windows have brought computing to the users, which understandably upset the high priests and you who want to be alone in their ivory towers.

    No you're not a one-eyed man in the kindom of the blind Rudy, nor are you going to bring back Sun or Unix or that godawful Java - although I'm sure there are arrogant IT departments out there still pushing a lnaguage that no-one uses or has a JRE for.

    However, the most shocking thing you've said is that it appears someone is actually using you as a consultant - I'm afraid no-one really deserves that ;-)
    tonymcs@...
    • Mirror, Mirror.....

      @tonymcs@...

      "No you're not a one-eyed man in the kindom of the blind Rudy, nor are you going to bring back Sun or Unix or that godawful Java - although I'm sure there are arrogant IT departments out there still pushing a lnaguage that no-one uses or has a JRE for."

      Substitute Windows, .Net and C# and we have the perfect image of YOU. It's time for the two of you to come of those mountains you sit on and join the real world...Sheesh!
      linux for me
  • It's the system (now)

    There are also issues with hierarchies and job splitting that fed into this problem. 10 years ago there were no separate storage groups - ditto for middleware and (non mainframe) virtualization. 15 years ago there were no security groups. Every new IT advance only grows the number of specialties. This also grows the number of connections between groups (subgraphs of K5 and K33 fully connected graphs . . .). In order to keep communication working, one needs to create hierarchies. It's just mind boggling how many L1, L2, and L3 support groups exist at my new employer.

    This distances the computer expert from the lusers. In the old days, if you had a problem you just needed to walk over to the support guy's desk to get help (this was my own personal situation 15 years ago - as the support guy). I would sit down with the lusers and see what their issue was, and fix it right there. This created high morale and great working conditions - as users were happy to see you and gave you much respect. In fact the lusers preferred this over the Help Desk monster (I was support for UNIX workstations and we didn't use an impersonal helpdesk system - unlike the Windoze group).

    ITIL tries to manage this communication issue as the "service desk" OWNS the ticket throughout its lifespan - and they become the one-stop-shopping for information on status. In practice, ITIL processes do not map 1 to 1 to organizational departments - which means you get variable implementations.

    I don't prefer your outsource idea - but I would have to agree. Your description follows my new job perfectly - the company outsourced everything, and is now bringing L3 talent back in house. I appreciate that the outsourcing idea attracted dumb managers in the past, and now there is a demand for me . . .
    Roger Ramjet
    • RE: Drones, arrogance, and fate

      @Roger Ramjet
      I agree with you Roger.. that many companies have added layers.... but this is part of the cost factor issue...
      Companies don't want to pay 3 people to be level3 skilled... when an l1,l2,l3 will do.

      Paul's idea about outsourcing to clean up is hair brained... 1... outsourcers are doing the same DP methodology thinking that he is complaining about... 2.. the outsourcers don't like wild card/unprofessional/consultant type people, like Paul, and they would move 'his' servers under their umbrella toot (see my comments below about responsible computing) sweet. 3... the issue he thinks is an IT technicians problem... is really a management problem..., if you try and rebuild a team from scratch after outsourcing...and you didn't bring in a new manager... then you are right back where you started from....4.. the outsourcers will bring in a boatload of SLA's... the same SLA's that he complained about, the previous week(aka.. Paul is contradicting himself... AGAIN).
      scotth_z
      • Hair-brained but works

        @scotth_z Murph is talking about nuking the entire team and starting from scratch - which is usually the ONLY way things can change. The best way to do that is outsource them all - not because it's a better solution, but because it's the only way to achieve the outcome (nuking).

        Only after the management has experienced "buyers remorse" will they be in a frame of mind to actually do their jobs (or start hiring and firing to get there). It's really a stupid way to do things - but we're dealing with human nature here. It's working here at my new employer - it's why I have a job today.
        Roger Ramjet
  • RE: Drones, arrogance, and fate

    There is nothing that forces wintel or any other platform to be centralized based on the OS, except one advanced feature in z/os. If you understood the outsourcers you would know this. Most of their support is de-centralized on all their platforms.

    What forces centralization is...
    1) responsible computing...
    Things such as having servers/air handlers under a UPS/generator. insuring backups for disaster recovery. Responsible documentation of processes/procedures. Regular disaster recovery drills, change control processes, regular refreshes(hardware/software) within acceptable support cycles.

    2) sharing of resources(read saving money)... SAN or direct attached disk arrays... networking equipment, servers(read virtualization) and standby backup(redundant) systems... tape backups( virtual or otherwise), common monitoring tools, a common hot site, common offsite storage location
    .
    3) security... standardization of access, as dictated by full time security people. regular system audits, building and server access(and onsite security people). 24x7 onsite or monitored support in most cases...

    A true IT professional understands these things and either plans for them or warns the owner of the server of the risks not having these things entail. Some systems require these things because the LAW says it is required.

    None of these things would exclude a UNIX based systems. One of the major outsourcers(HP) likes to centralize their mid-range systems.

    Of course, the two major outsourcers are slowly moving towards a COE model for midrange systems too... They both offer free Solaris to Linux conversions. Neither IBM or HP(aka... the 2 biggest outsourcers) would shed any tears if Solaris were to disappear from the marketplace. So you might want to rethink your 'send it to the outsourcers' idea, if you are looking to preserve Solaris as more than a museum piece. LOL
    scotth_z