My last article caused some interesting comments, many centering around the supposition that many IT functions, like the dysfunctional help desk I mentioned, were due to poor management. In essence, IT is not given the resources it requires and therefore is unable to deliver a product of the quality that many IT personnel wish they could provide.
There's some obvious truth and comfort in this statement. Presumably a help desk, or any other internal function, would be exceptional with an unlimited budget, proper staffing levels, and all the best training and facilities. Comfort can be found in this assumption, since it takes the onus for excellence out of our hands. If an inadequate budget is the root of all of IT's problems, and setting the budget is out of our hands, then we can easily tolerate any shortcomings since it's "their" fault rather than our own.
I have yet to meet anyone in a modern corporation who laments an overabundance of time, money, and staff. In short, every corporate function, especially those that are internally focused, is competing for scarce resources and will likely never receive what it perceives as an appropriate budget. This problem is compounded by the fact that IT costs are far more transparent than they used to be. In the early decades of corporate IT, costs were perceived at the executive level as a "necessary evil," with the "right" budget being a bit mercurial. Now the CFO merely needs to mention that he or she is considering outsourcing some IT-related function, and a line of vendors with detailed cost proposals appears outside the door. So how can IT combat this "us versus them" mentality? I'd suggest the following:
Assume the best
Many people assume bad intent when it comes to their direct management, and even worse when regarding upper management. A budget cut is a personal slight, and layoffs clearly the fault of "clueless jerks" sitting in the corner office. This attitude again makes one the victim; if unseen nefarious forces exist to derail your efforts at every turn, why bother doing anything more than showing up and clocking time until retirement. Simply shifting your view may change how you perceive management and its actions. Rather than immediately assuming the worst, assume your direct and upper management are fallible human beings, tasked with wisely managing and allocating scarce resources.
While this may seem like a perceptual game and waste of time, it can provide concrete leverage, whether you're reporting to the CEO or line management. When a decision is made by a bad actor hell-bent on derailing your career, you have little choice but to grumble and accept the decision. If that same decision is made by someone struggling to achieve a difficult balance in allocating scarce resources, you can make a compelling case that there are different ways to achieve that objective that might provide more direct benefit than another decision. In short, assuming the best empowers you.
Look for business benefit in every decision
The other weapon for IT against budget cuts and supposedly misguided management decisions is couching technical and process-related alternatives in terms of business benefit. As I mentioned in my previous column, a company I was considering doing business with set up their homepage so it would not load on Internet Explorer. While there might be technical reasons for this decision, many pointed out the obvious flaw from a business-benefit perspective, mainly turning away potential customers before we could even read about the company's offering. Similarly, if your help desk is understaffed, requesting additional resources clearly spells out the cost side of the equation (hiring and salary expense for new staff) without clearly delineating the benefit. The same thing routinely happens when IT engages in heartrending debates about technical alternatives without considering the inherent business benefit.
When you combine a consideration for business benefit with assuming the best in corporate management, IT becomes a compelling investment of scarce resources. Similarly, management becomes an entity that can be convinced, persuaded, and collaborated with, sometimes with your preferred result, and sometimes not, but in both cases a very human and rational entity, rather than a nefarious and insurmountable entity that beats IT into victimhood.
Patrick Gray works for a global Fortune 500 consulting and IT services company and is the author of Breakthrough IT: Supercharging Organizational Value through Technology as well as the companion e-book The Breakthrough CIO's Companion. He has spent over a decade providing strategy consulting services to Fortune 500 and 1000 companies. Patrick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, and you can follow his blog at www.itbswatch.com. All opinions are his and may not represent those of his employer.