CXO

A technology manager's manifesto

Scott Lowe says many of today's businesses are incapable of keeping up and it's not all IT's fault. Here is his five-point manifesto.

One definition of the word manifesto indicates that such declarations can be related to life stances.

"A person's life stance, or lifestance, is their relation with what they accept as being of ultimate importance, the presuppositions and theory of this, and the commitments and practice of working it out in living." - Wikipedia

The world is changing and many of today's business are not capable of keeping up and I have some ideas why... and it's not all IT's fault.

Here is my five-point manifesto.

1. Take some responsibility for your own professional development

"But no one has trained me how to do that yet."

I am a big believer in professional development, but there comes a time when basic skills needs to be kept current.  These days, moving to a new version of Windows or Office shouldn't require weeks and weeks of intensive training.  To me, the consumerization of IT can work in both directions; IT will need to adjust and adapt, but that also means that, in these kinds of organizations, the general user base will need to ante up.

On this front, I have one major pet peeve: An employee that constantly complains that they have not been provided with the training necessary to do a job but that regularly ignores outreach attempts to correct the situation.

2. No, it's not IT's fault

Yes, your computer locked up and you lost 30 minutes of work.  Yes, your project is behind.  But... it's not always IT's fault.  It may become IT's fault when a computer has constant problems and IT fails to correct it, but it very well could be user behavior.  In many organizations, users still have administrative rights to their local desktop - with good reason - so they have to be careful about what they do; if they browse somewhere wrong, it an spell trouble.  In this case, users do need to be educated about safe browsing habits.

On projects for which IT is involved, it's really easy and pretty popular to throw IT under the proverbial bus in a CYA effort for the "business side" of a project.  However, both sides of the equation need to work together for success, not simply blame one another for failure.  Once the blame cycle is avoided, great things can happen.

It's surprisingly difficult to get out of the blame cycle.  It requires strong organizational leadership.

3. You're not our "customer"

I'll admit that I used to think of all of the people that IT supports as customers but lo longer.  The age old maxim "the customer is always right" simply doesn't hold and the word itself implies that people should get whatever they ask for.

IT resources should be as carefully shepherded as an organization's financial resources.  And, we all know that, when asking for money, we often get No as an answer because the proposed expenditure doesn't have a return or doesn't align with business goals.  Given the way that direct financial resources are allocated, why in the world would expensive IT resources be spent on people's whims?  Obviously, this doesn't give IT carte blanche ability to say no to critical items.

Rather than thinking about the people IT serves as customers, they should be considered coworkers or fellow employees.  In an ideal world, a different take on the terminology would help close the perceived gap between IT and other business units - and, yes, IT is a business unit.

4. Business... make an attempt to "get us"

I've read dozens of articles recently about how IT needs to change its thinking to be more like the business.  I fully agree; IT can't think in terms of bits and bytes, routers and switches, but must think about the bottom line and business impact of the services provided.

However, it can't be a one way street or it simply builds mistrust, skewed power positions and resentment.  I believe this is partially why there is a constant perception of so-called alignment issues.

IT needs to think about how each individual business function works, but each function should have at least some semblance of an appreciation for what it takes to run a complex technology organization.  I've been told recently that "no one cares what IT does behind the scenes."  But, guess what?  None of it is behind the scenes.  The core infrastructure is used by each and every employee.  Backups and recoveries keep the business running even when disaster strikes.

The list of what many people consider behind the scenes goes on and on, but IT should not be in the spotlight only when someone wants to play the blame game or when a high profile project does go bad.

I propose a meet in the middle compromise somewhere.  All executives need to have at least some idea of what IT does so there is a shared understanding for the value (or, in some cases, the lack thereof) and better plans and relationships can be built.

5. Hey everybody, we're not Burger King!

First of all, we don't have a creepy mascot stalking around dressed like a circus monarch.  But, beyond that, IT shouldn't be seen as nothing more than a team of order takers.  If that's happening in your organization, there is a leadership failure happening somewhere... and it might not be the CIO, who wields only so much authority in the organization.

The IT team should be seen as partners in business, able to do more than insert widget X into slot Y as per so-and-so's instructions.  In some cases, IT may not be able to build exactly what a user has asked for due to limitations in legacy systems that have to be respected.  In those cases, there needs to be a reality check and processes may need to be modified to meet system needs rather than business ones.

I'm not suggesting that companies become slaves to their software, but I am suggesting that everyone take a healthy inventory of system capabilities and limitations and make educated decisions about how to go about achieving goals in ways that don't create a massive long-term support burden.

Summary

Here's what I'm saying throughout this piece: Let's figure out better ways to meet in the middle.  Too often, pundits berate IT for not going all the way to one side and IT berates the business for not coming to their side.  What is not taken into consideration in many cases is this: There are no sides, at least in a well-run organization with reasonable people.

About

Since 1994, Scott Lowe has been providing technology solutions to a variety of organizations. After spending 10 years in multiple CIO roles, Scott is now an independent consultant, blogger, author, owner of The 1610 Group, and a Senior IT Executive w...

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