5 tips to prevent IT extinction

5 tips to prevent IT extinction

Summary: Here are 5 tips to help IT avoid extinction.I pose this question to IT departments everywhere: "Is your department evolving upwards or fading away on a seemingly-inevitable tide of outsourcing?" If the latter, I suggest you study these points carefully.

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TOPICS: CXO
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5 tips to prevent IT extinction

Here are 5 tips to help IT avoid extinction.

I pose this question to IT departments everywhere: "Is your department evolving upwards or fading away on a seemingly-inevitable tide of outsourcing?" If the latter, I suggest you study these points carefully.

1. Recognize and embrace change. Survival depends on our ability to adapt, rather than swim against the tide of economic and social forces over which we have no control.

ZDNet blogger and fellow Enterprise Irregular, Dennis Howlett, describes the human and organizational dimensions of IT-related change:

What we’re seeing is the wholly human problem of an organization that has been variously called upon to deliver ‘value’ from an evolving IT landscape that once placed emphasis on control but which now demands productive innovation. Both demand very different ways of working, require different disciplines and absolutely require change.

Blogger Kate Carruthers is more concrete in her analysis:

I reckon that IT is diverging into two separate streams - firstly mission critical systems, that must be highly reliable and resilient. Secondly non-critical systems that are being democratized. I don't think any of us want to use medical or financial systems that are user generated, not tested and not highly secure and fault tolerant? But for other business systems I see socialprise as taking over.

So we see the divergence. Where high levels of reliability, redundancy and resilience are required IT departments & engineers are critical. But for the rest roll on the revolution!

Whether one agrees with Kate's view is beside the point: IT must acknowledge, rather than fight, change.

2. Focus on customers with dedication and intensity. Great customer service requires empathy, experience, and a real desire to serve. Unfortunately, merely being "nice" is sometimes confused with adding customer value, a far loftier goal.

Commenter mlaudisa described his organizational mandate:

[From the previous extinction post:] IT leadership is alienated from senior management.

That would be "POOR IT leadership"... I'm a CIO and I don't speak to my boss the CEO in technical jargon, but ultimately I'm paid to manage technology, so I better understand my portfolio and be able to translate its relevance & risks to the business.

The commenter understands his value to the enterprise; that's the basis underlying excellent customer service.

3. Add value through innovation. Despite appearances to the contrary, IT is not doomed to be slave of commodity economics.

Enterprise Irregular and EDS fellow, Charlie Bess, pointedly describes the risk:

[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.

Blogger Kelly Shaw transforms commodity thinking into high-level IT value:

If all a company needs is vanilla IT, then it doesn’t make sense to maintain an internal IT organization. If all you need is standard power, would you bother generating your own, or would you buy it from the grid? In some cases, however, innovative IT is a strategic weapon, not merely a defensive necessity.

4. Improve communication. IT must communicate its value, pressures, and constraints in straightforward business terms rather than in technical, mumbo jumbo.

Marketer David Politis says:

[J]argon in any form between any technical person and a non-technical person is communications death.

UNLESS (of course) the technical person KNOWS for an absolute certainty that the non-technical person understands the basic, underlying concepts/premises of the matter being discussed. The problem is that such certainty is very, very difficult to attain. Hence, in almost all instances, IT does lose credibility by speaking in technical jargon.

Enterprise Irregular and blogger, Vinnie Mirchandani, expresses IT's perspective in straightforward, eloquent language:

[T]he CIO or IT is not the enemy. Just a bunch of folks trying to juggle a wide range of competing technology initiatives."

5. Lose the arrogance. Condescending attitudes toward the business destroy IT's credibility in the enterprise, making IT weak and vulnerable.

A blog called It Ought to be Simple says it well:

If IT’s condescending attitude resulted in nothing more than a few hurt feelings, it wouldn’t be such an issue. But the attitude causes much bigger problems: It gives IT a free pass, the right to blame mistakes on users…who are, after all, too stupid to know what they’re doing.

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.

Topic: CXO

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24 comments
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  • Jargon - useful, concise, natural extension of vocabulary

    IT personnel should be reasonable in their use of jargon just as much as professionals in other disciplines - Medicine, for instance. A user who needs to be spoken in language devoid of any technical terms might also need his proctologist to refer to a colonoscopy as a 'look inside his butt-hole'.
    johndoe987
    • Tell that to the users...

      When they are treated like idiots by IT folks. Doesn't generate a lot of love and respect, I can assure you.
      mkrigsman@...
  • "Stupidity" deserves recognition

    Many electronic devices have functionality which is not used because the owner doesn't know it's there, and would have to work with the manual for a long time in order to make it work if he did.

    When Microsoft asked people what they wanted in the new version of Office - an important issue because upgrades often require reasons for spending money - more than 80% of the responses concerned features which were already present, but unnoticed. The interface was changed and suggestions provided in order to make the "new" functionality available.

    If a recognition of "stupidity" leads to simplicity, that's worthwhile.
    Anton Philidor
  • RE: 5 tips to prevent IT extinction

    It is all industry dependent. I work in for a company in a heavily regulated industry, and thus all IT systems have to be tightly controlled by the IT department which I run. Socialprise as it was put cannot exist here, and IT will not become extinct because of all of the controls that need to be in place.
    jfp
  • Pictures are better than words

    Mike,

    IT exists for <a href=" http://www.keystonesandrivets.com/kar/2007/09/it-exists-for-o.html " rel="nofollow"> one reason</a>: to manage the flow of data between business assets. As long as we need flows of data, we???ll need IT - be that in-sourced or outsourced - it really doesn't matter.

    To manage change successfully, improve service, add value, and communicate clearly, it helps to have the easy to understand ???big picture??? of the business and IT relationship.

    When we can role the <a href=" http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/OBASHI " rel="nofollow"> big picture</a> out on the boardroom table and let the business quickly understand exactly what we do and how much each flow of data is worth, then ITs credibility in the organisation will improve dramatically.
    Paul Wallis
  • Pictures are better than words (again)

    <p>Mike, (hope the html works this time)</p>
    <p>IT exists for <a href=" http://www.keystonesandrivets.com/kar/2007/09/it-exists-for-o.html " rel="nofollow"> one reason</a>: to manage the flow of data between business assets. As long as we need flows of data, we?ll need IT. </p>
    <p>To manage change successfully, improve service, add value, and communicate clearly, it helps to have the easy to understand ?big picture? of the business and IT relationship. </p>
    <p>When we can role the <a href=" http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/OBASHI " rel="nofollow"> big picture</a> out on the boardroom table and let the business quickly understand exactly what we do and how much each flow of data is worth, then ITs credibility in the organisation will improve dramatically. </p>
    Paul Wallis
  • Life isn't Fair or IT People are from Mecury and Business People...

    Just as "women are from Venus and men are from Mars," IT people are from Mecury and business people are from Pluto. They think differently, see the world differntly, and most importantly, communicate differently.

    Life isn't fair, and since the suits control the company, that means IT executives and managers need to change--- need to understand how the other side thinks and communicates. You cannot trust that you work for the enlightened few(I forget which CEO [F500 co.] decided to keep IT in house as competitive advantage, JP Rangaswami, or B-prof. Dr. Amit Basu (WSJ article "How to Tap IT's Hidden Potential").

    1) Even if IT is only infrastructure in your company, there is value and importance in it's proper operations and scale. To borrow an analogy, a bridge is just a bridge or a road just a road until it goes out (think Minnesota and the twin cities).

    2) Michael is right, for an IT group that serves its company, the users are [internal] customers. However, there has been general overall erosion of customer relations w/ external PAYING customers, so, how can internal customers hope for better?

    3) Business types want to know the main issue and be able to ask specific questions. Tech people want to supply all the details and data to eliminate the need for questions.

    4) What's the level of importantance of this solution to the requestor: Nice idea? Vital importance? How important is it to get it by such and such date: 25% increase in cost?

    5) Do I really understand my company's business and how I (IT) fit in (and not just to the bottom line)?
    elizab
  • RE: 5 tips to prevent IT extinction

    A few notes
    1) IT are people just like everyone else, treat them as such and you will manage wonders... just as with anyone else.

    2) More often than not, when a problem arises it IS user caused(whether the user would like to believe it or not). However, approaching the user whilst pointing a finger never solves anything.

    3) People interact with computers on different levels and in different ways. What seems like an obvious line of thought to one, doesn't necessarily imply the same for another.
    vsamarakoone
    • Very sane comments

      I totally agree. Being flexible and reasonable can accomplish a lot.
      mkrigsman@...
  • Why are corporate IT shops bothering to run commodity services?

    One thing that I do ponder these days is why companies bother to run commodity services such as email in-house? You can leverage economies and scale & mitigate risk contractually by outsourcing commodity IT services. On the other hand retaining in-house capability to deliver key strategic & competitive advantage IT solutions makes sense to me.
    kcarruthers
    • <span style="font-color:red">In house capabilty</span>

      <span style="font-color:green">That's exactly what companies here in London are realising now.</span>
      <span style="font-color:green">They're building stuff internally on FOSS</span>
      <span style="font-color:orange">FOSS believers finally get a payoff</span>
      mark@...
  • Move No. 2 up to the No. 1 spot

    Do that and the rest of these items will follow.
    ejhonda
  • 5 revised tips to prevent IT extinction

    1. Communicate in both directions.

    2. Solve problems instead of treating symptoms.

    3. Increase productivity.

    4. Increase profitability.

    5. When the job gets old, move on.
    markyannone
  • Professionalism

    Maybe I just work with professionals, but the key issue is professionalism - IT people are performing a service for others, and need to do it professionally. I don't do much of the cable running/computer repair stuff anymore, but the guy having the problem is the reason I have a job, so it's my professional duty to solve it -- I wonder if the arrogant IT person isn't just a stereotype, though.
    scott1329
  • From a tech perspective

    The points in the article are good, but...

    Supporting IT issues isn't as easy as communicating in "softer" terms, etc. There are situations where you're asked for information and there's no way to relay it except from a technical viewpoint. Well, users/customers will be "put on the defensive" because they think you're trying to snow them.

    If you care about your user/customer, you WILL find a way to help them or communicate in an understandable fashion.

    But, IT mgmt talking with CEO mgmt...this scares me, since the CEO admittedly isn't technically savvy and IT mgmt can't talk about it in "meaninful" terms without becoming technical. Catch-22.
    Bob in Atlanta
    • Definitely a catch-22

      Nonetheless, for IT to be really successful it must figure out a way to express issues in terms business people understand and are comfortable with.

      You absolutely raise a difficult and valid issue.
      mkrigsman@...
  • Re: Its Business That is Going Extinct...

    The issue recently on this blog always seem to be what It can do for the business; how IT can change for the business; how IT can get along better with business; etc..., etc...

    The issue really, for those that haven't studied business sociology is that many managers are just sheer incompetents and that crosses quite significantly into IT management as well.

    Information Technology is a scientific discipline but it is instead treated like a garbage pail for all the whims and desires of management who most often need to be well trained to deal with the IT infrastructure. This is something that most refuse to do... they don't have time is the excuse of all resorts. IT managers on the other hand simply acquiesce for the sake of looking good driving most technical professionals into states of depression as they attempt to meet senseless deadlines.

    One look at some of the material that Stephen McConnell has written, a noted software engineering analyst, will corroborate all of this. Unfortunately, as I have found, as well as many others have, trying to bring some sense to the traditional IT way of doing things bares as little fruit as "just all getting along". In the end nothing has really worked so we now get a lot of blather about IT going extinct, socialprise networking, Web 2.0, and a host of other fads that are currently making themselves prominent in current jargon; most of which will produce nothing for any company that is serious about their IT processes.

    If management doesn't begin to understand that of they want to have successful IT organizations than they must begin viewing them in the perspective they require; not as some commodity that you can trim to the bone to save costs but as the primary service organization in the company that must follow certain principals and methodologies in order to produce the desired quality that most managers only pay lip-service to.

    IT managers on the other hand must begin to get some real back-bone and learn to negotiate for proper resources and development methodologies so that development schedules can be devised along rational processes instead of the knee-jerk reactions of technical managers who always pretend to know it all.

    Until this happens everything else will be simply hot air...

    It seems that IT is always expected to
    blackfalconsoftware@...
  • RE: 5 tips to prevent IT extinction - I agree in my case

    In my case, being self employed as a small web host for 11 1/2 years, I agree with points 1 - 4. Point 5 doesn't apply to me.

    Hosting has become a commodity to low budgets. But superior and personal service is worth more than $5 per month to some, particularly the larger companies who consider a $20 invoice to be a joke to begin with.

    As Microsoft continues it's apparent "greed" (another way to look at it of course is Microsoft's continuing to make a profit, and competing with a changing marketplace (Google)) they claim they will be competing yet again with another portion of their partners with SAAS. But there are open source / *nix hosting alternatives and there will continue to be. This fits under the point regarding innovation.

    I also think most large medium and large sized companies will want to retain control over their data and keep things running in-house. It just doesn't make sense to me they would want any of their data "in the cloud." Small companies are a different case of course, as they have less of a risk regarding their data having a security breach, I would think.

    I'm not too worried about IT going out of business. Yet I'm far removed from the corporate IT departments so I don't know everything most readers here are experiencing regarding change. I am more worried about the commodization of web hosting than corporate IT.
    bearlyworking
  • RE: 5 tips to prevent IT extinction

    Some end users do not take responsibility for learning to use their tools and some IT staff are both helpful and discreet in the extreme while dealing with these individuals. However, human nature being what it is, the one or two IT priests that are in the field for the self-stimulation they get from making others feel stupid while grudgingly doling out requested service will give the whole IT department a black eye.
    romingerd@...
  • ZDnet needs readers!!!

    It's obvious this article was written, especially with a fire-breathing headline, only to get gullible readers to visit. Darn, I fell for it.
    Narg