Forget strategy, IT managers are too busy fighting fires

Forget strategy, IT managers are too busy fighting fires

Summary: Instead of mapping out strategy, IT managers are spending almost half their time dealing with the day-to-day issues they face, along with the odd crisis.


The average IT manager knows that they should be focused on business strategy and the future progress of the organisation they work for — the problem is that they are too busy fighting fires to find time for blue-sky thinking. That’s the conclusion of the latest research from IT services company Calyx.

Here's what is really worrying CIOs, right now

Here's what is really worrying CIOs, right now

Here's what is really worrying CIOs, right now

Research involving 200 UK IT directors and CIOs showed that when asked to name what they felt were their key roles, only a third (33 percent) identified driving strategic growth as one of them. More worryingly perhaps, only 11 percent said that developing strategic concepts was a key priority according to the survey by Calyx. Only 16 percent could say the same about using IT to drive the future development and direction of the business.

So if they are not using their time to think of ways to use IT to drive the business forward, what are they spending their time doing? According to the survey, they are too busy trying to fix the day-to-day problems that bedevil IT departments.

Nearly half (46 percent) of those surveyed said that their day-to-day tasks mainly involve fire-fighting — despite the fact that more than half (64 percent) said that they sat on the board of directors. As the survey points out, if the most senior managers are too busy to focus on the strategic direction, who is steering the ship?

The survey paints a picture of IT managers being dragged from one problem to another and with little time left for any strategic planning or goal-setting. The managers said they were too busy dealing with data management issues (60 percent of them), and/or security (44 percent) and dealing with board-driven demands for cost effectiveness and cost cutting (33 percent).

Further reading

Topics: CXO, Outsourcing, Project Management


Colin Barker is based in London and is Senior Reporter for ZDNet. He has been writing about the IT business for some 30-plus years. He still enjoys it.

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  • IT departments were thinned down during the 2007 - 2013 years ...

    successful companies that want to be nimble are seeing that staffing up a bit with specialists to take care of day to day operations, and generalists who can see the interconnections between departments (within and outside of IT) and help navigate the issues that needs longer range planning should be in demand. IT, like a lot of things goes through cycles, but it seems to me that some IT generalists who can bring a broad perspective to IT decision making could be useful. As pointed out, Managers are so often bogged down with the day to day tasks/requests that getting them some additional help will help the company in the long run.
  • Why isn't more stuff focused on data management?

    "The managers said they were too busy dealing with data management issues (60 percent of them)"

    Why isn't more stuff focused on data management? Why is "the cloud" focused mostly on "social networking" rather than actually managing your data? Whose bright idea was it that "social networking" would solve all of IT's woes?

    "and/or security (44 percent)"

    Which "the cloud" promised to solve because - on a purely theoretical level - it could focus on security. Problem is, they lied. Almost every day it seems we hear about yet another breach, exposing the passwords of everybody to the world. Hackers also call support staff, pretending to be legit people who have lost their credentials. ID theft is at an all-time high, and getting higher.

    Turns out, "the cloud" offers no more security than anything else. The hackers just find different back doors. Yeah, they lied to us.

    Sounds to me like "the cloud" (in its current form, at least) tries to solve all the wrong problems. And doesn't solve all of the problems it claims to solve either.
  • management thinking over the years

    Cut, cut, cut, ... see its still running... cut, cut, cut... still running, cut, cut, cut.

    That's how you get to where you're just fighting fires... any ol knucklehead could figure that out.

    Management: I guess we took some criticism but, we got it done didn't we.

    You see, they don't get it at all... They think yer all just whiners and malcontents and they'll get somebody else if you tire of holding the bailing wire.
    • Nail on the head

      And the people forcing us down this road? They enjoy a year-over-year exponential increase in earnings, options and golden parachutes.
  • Cut cut cut needs to be smart smart smart

    We all agree; cut cut cut + repeatable incidents = insanity. Let's discuss a smarter approach.... Problem Management - the practice of looking into the root cause of incidents and permanently fixing them - is the only way to cut the cycle of perpetual fire fighting.
    Some IT professionals do this for a living. They pay for themselves many times over simply by demonstrating the cost of actually fixing the problem (as opposed to another band-aid solution) is far less than the cost the problem is to the business.
    Some Problem Managers apply proven methodologies (like KepnerANDFourie) that quickly determine the priority, cause and solutions to problems.
    I recommend zdnet readers look into these options before picking up the fire extinguisher again. I look forward to a good chat about strategy once the smoke has dissipated.