Leadership

Five things I hate about corporate IT

Patrick Gray shares some unsavory aspects of corporate IT that he's come to detest.

Having started my career in the trenches of corporate IT slinging code in a dark corner of a cubicle village, to gradually working my way through ERP implementations and project management, to my current consulting role, I have seen all levels and all shapes and sizes of corporate IT departments. From the trenches to the C-suite, there are some unsavory aspects of corporate IT that I have come to detest. Here are the highlights:

1. Using defensive jargon

At all levels of IT, technical jargon is often deployed as a defense mechanism. Box an IT person into a corner, whether it's the CIO or the most junior programmer, and rather than admit they were wrong or have no idea what you're talking about, they'll start spouting off impressive-sounding technical terms, abbreviations, and jargon-laced pontifications. The most respected people in IT I have worked with have an ability to articulate a complex technical, process, or business problem in simple, understandable terms, not the other way around.

2. Not developing leaders

Corporate IT tends to promote people with technical skills, bulk up their teams, and then act surprised when they fail, a methodology akin to finding someone who plays decent basketball at the local street court and plopping them into an NBA game without any additional coaching. Yes, I've heard all the excuses about how times are tight and there are no staff-development budgets, but you really cannot afford not to develop leaders and effective managers, and the best are coached and groomed, they're not just born that way.

3. Focusing on the wrong "customer"

We've all heard the cute little term "the customer" bandied about in our IT shops. When one goes looking for this "customer," they're pointed toward someone over in accounting or marketing, not an actual consumer of the company's products. Guess what, even IT is part of the core business of the company and has just as much claim on delighting the real, cash-in-hand consumer rather than being delegated to the role of an internal order taker. Sure, you're going to need to a deep knowledge of your company, its products and its markets, and an ability to speak in technical and business terms to play in this space, but if you don't want to be an internal order taker, stop talking and acting like one!

4. Living like a cactus

I'm not talking about the low-maintenance plant on the admin's desk. I'm talking about the prickly, ornery guy or gal a few cubicles over, who always has more work than anyone else, a surfeit of snide remarks about those "idiots" in management, and a long tale of woe and persecution that would make Jesus, Gandhi, and Nelson Mandela's combined struggles sound like a stubbed toe. For some reason these people never seem to be let go, and like a cactus they survive round after round of economic drought. I have yet to determine if they have lurid photos of the CEO or their one redeeming quality is an innate ability for self-preservation, but I usually don't spend enough time around them to find out!

5. Celebrating disorganization This is not unique to IT, and we have all interacted with someone who never responds to e-mail or voicemail, then proudly proclaims that "I have over 6.8 million unread e-mails in my inbox!" This same person tends to show up for meetings 15 minutes late and pontificate endlessly rather than attempt to resolve a problem or share critical information, then assign responsibilities and actions related to the outcome. Everyone gets too much e-mail and has too many meetings, and if you don't have a methodology to deal with your various inboxes, it is just as bad as not knowing how to dress appropriately for a day at the office. Request training, read the excellent book Getting Things Done, or ask your peers for help, but no organization should let people celebrate their inability to perform basic organizational tasks that are the foundation of working in a modern IT department.

Tune in next time for the next five things I hate about corporate IT, and please share your own pet peeves.

About

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 ...

86 comments
ayaz.haniffa
ayaz.haniffa

Leaders who have no clue about technology...

Zenith545
Zenith545

Patrick Gray, consultant = someone who gets paid much to talk much about how he has the answers to many things. From all the "bad" IT people who so annoy you by keep the businesses running, in spite of having to deal with telling managers and others company policies and procedures over and over again. In spite of being some of the lowest paid people in the company and the ones most forgotten about. In spite of not being given a position in the company, but kept as a contingency worker, year after year, with no paid vacation days, sick leave, health benefits, or financial benefits company employees enjoy. We say this to your comments about IT; Take a hike!

TheProfessorDan
TheProfessorDan

I am always amused by the person that has staked their name to a technology such as an antivirus package or mission critical app that they were part of the team that selected that app and will stand by that app NO MATTER WHAT, regardless of how bad the app is. We used to use an antivirus app called Sophos. When we had virus issues, if you even slightly suggested replacing Sophos, we had a guy that would go right off the deep end, not that Sophos was a bad app. It just amused me that replacing Sophos was 100% out of the question as far as this guy was concerned.

andrewv
andrewv

Perhaps a follow up should be to describe the environment we would love to work in?

paul.leigh
paul.leigh

Patrick is on the money here. I don't quite agree with his view of the customer. Perhaps it's a maturity level thing. We are low on the maturity scale and it's a step forward for our people to talk about (internal) customers instead of "users". I hate that term and until something better comes up, we'll call them customers.

bentgellerich
bentgellerich

Just hit serach and replace! Seems to me these top 5 things can be applied to any function within the business. Fairly shallow point of view in this article I'd say.

mafergus
mafergus

Organizations will start to become focused on proving how organized they are that you end up at meeting planning meetings. Pretty soon you have to struggle to remember what real work was there to be done.

Englebert
Englebert

I've seen too many projects wilt, falter and fail because Sr. Management assumed best-case scenarios to the user community, then crushed IT like a ton of bricks with late hours and week-ends to accomplish. Dont they ever learn ?

byronattridge
byronattridge

Outstanding observations Patrick! I believe these behaviors arise out of the fact that IT for most is somewhat "blind item" - they don't really understand the technology - they just want to be able to use it, and like electricity they just want it work when they turn it on. My belief is that is exactly what we should be working toward - IT as a utility. Again, great observations that all IT folks should heed!

mandrake64
mandrake64

Don't you hate it when your IT department evolves into multiple levels of bureaucracy with heightened complexity over many decades, to become so large it must be sold off because it is not core business. And then learn to hate IT again as its new manifestation, Information Services, sidles incestuously into the new gap between the core business and the freshly outsourced IT and builds another empire across the whole company with differing agendas and interpretations of good corporate policy. Given enough time, large bureaucracies go under the knife in a kind of accelerated evolution but rarely accept organ donations from within the business. No sense in assimilating talent with mixing domain knowledge into an intelligent organisational design. Intelligent life may emerge eventually but evolutionary leaps are rare. With organisational size comes a certain lack of control and inability to cope with fast change. Global IT decisions are not always in the best interests of the whole infrastructure. And local resistance is not always futile.

docspec
docspec

concise, excellent post, until you used nelson mandela as an example. i lost most of my interest at that point. the basic message is still there though and i agree with the 5 things.

altug.gur
altug.gur

Rather fingerpointing and does not offer any solutions to corporate IT's problems, just vents. I must assume the author is not aware of them.

mikifinaz1
mikifinaz1

That person is probably the one that actually does a whole day's work. Most Americans need to have their butts kissed at work and at the drop of a hat need "personal time". I would be surly too if all the jerks I worked with were forever taking time off instead of doing their share of the work.

delphi9_1971
delphi9_1971

You know what I hate? Consultants that come in thinking they know everything and then don't take the time to learn the corporate environment. Consultants who are "always" right. How? They price their projects higher than the budget. When the project works out OK, it's all the Consultant's doing without any kudos to the internal team on the inside who helped facilitate the consultant's work. When it doesn't work out, the Consultant just comes back and says "it would have worked if you hadn't have cut to meet budget..." Considering Mr. Gray's list of rants, it would seem to me he's one of these types of consultants. Why do I say that when I don't know him? Because Mr. Gray doesn't consult us in ways to avoid this behavior or approach these issues to correct them, rather he just pontificates on how much he feels we're all wrong.

Pat9008
Pat9008

1)The Customer Analyst. You know the type. He/she brings in a list of specific changes instead of talking about requirements. So you can't do your job as an analyst to propose solutions. The worst one that I had (from an accounting team) would refuse to give any more info about a situation than she thought you needed to know. Keeping IT in the dark was an advantage? We often had to wait for enough information to finish these requests. 2)IT manager as budget gatekeeper. The first or 2nd-level manager who refuses service requests from users for 'budget reasons'. Without stopping to get a cost-benefit analysis or seeing if the the request could be handled without delaying any other projects. No wonder our customer satisfaction scores were sinking!

DGMcbroom
DGMcbroom

I read this long ago in one of Steve McConnell's books, and I've found it to be true with regard to software developers overall - there is an order of magnitude difference in production between the average developer and the best developers, and there also is an order of magnitude difference between the average and the worst. In a typical corporation, the difference in pay & benefits for the best developer and the average is at best 50%. Simple economics predicts what I've observed to be true - the best developers, who are truly passionate about software, don't work in corporate IT. Likewise, the difference in pay between the average and the worst developers is no more than 50%, and most corporations are incredibly slow to get rid of under-performers. This means any developer marginally good enough to get hired has about the same chance as the average or the best at keeping a job, surviving layoffs, etc. Corporate IT is where inept developers go to die. Or to become managers. That guy who grumbles and complains constantly but seems to be immune from firing or layoffs? He probably has the personality of a troll, but he also is probably a pretty good developer, and his manager knows that even though he's a jerk, he's one of the few who can actually get things done, and who doesn't create more work (through buggy code) than he can do.

Zithrob
Zithrob

If people have their thorns out, there are generally reasons. IT people have power over their programs and machines, but they generally feel powerless dealing with business folk. When you feel powerless, you tend to be in either "fight or flight" mode, so it's not uncommon to find IT people either abrasive, or unavailable. So how do you deal with this person who acts like a cornered wet cat in a bad mood? You need to figure out how to develop a trust model. Generally, IT folk have a need for acknowledgement that is rarely met. User satisifaction tends to measured in seconds (Oh - can you make it do this?). Try thanking the IT guy/gal once in while. Try bringing them in earlier when working on a project. Be open to their problem solving skills - they may not know your business, but they're likely to understand process concepts as well or better than any member on your team. Demands may meet friction, but a sincere request for help is rarely refused.

The Truth
The Truth

People who write short lists of things they don't like.

bblackmoor
bblackmoor

There are a lot of reasons that I dislike corporate IT -- this article listed none of them. 1) Micro-management of software. A skilled worker is competent to choose her own tools. What matters is the end product, not the tool used to create it. Only in the field of IT does a man in a ill-tailored suit think he is competent to choose what tools other people are allowed to use. 2) Marching boldly into the 20th century. If I have to use Microsoft Outlook, Microsoft Office, or Lotus Notes ever again, it will be too soon. It's 2010 -- why are large companies still using office productivity software from 1990? And do not even get me started on people who intentionally use Windows servers, or web applications that only work with Internet Explorer. 3) Security through stupidity. Controlling what web sites I visit has almost nothing to do with security. Preventing me from using SSH is the *opposite* of security. If I gamble on company time, fire me. If I sit and look at porn instead of doing my job, fire me. Crippling my internet access has only one consequence -- it makes it more difficult to do the job you are paying me to do. 4) If they can't see you working, you aren't. It's 2010. Gasoline is expensive. Pollution is bad. Even the notoriously inefficient Federal government has policies in place to encourage telecommuting. So why do federal organizations like DECA and otherwise reasonably well-run companies like Royall & Company forbid Unix systems administrators from telecommuting? I will tell you why. In both cases, it is because management thinks that if they can't SEE you working, then you aren't working. Welcome to 1950. 5) Responsibility without authority. As Information Technology has become a commodity, the people who support that commodity get less and less respect. We used to be experts. Now, we are just a line item in the budget next to "janitorial services". We have responsibility without authority. We aren't permitted to make decisions to ensure that systems are reliable (that exalted status belongs to the well-paid men in the ill-fitting suits), but we are held accountable when things break. We are told what we need to deliver when, after it has already been promised, even though no one ever asked us if that was a reasonable thing to promise. We are burdened with minimizing the consequences of the bad decisions made by others, trying to make silk purses out of sow's ears.

Jeff7181
Jeff7181

We're in the middle of a rollout currently where the end users have received ZERO training on a completely new computer system, the IT support staff have received a 1 hour training session where we were basically shown the hardware and it was never made clear at what point the rollout team turns over support to the IT support staff until half way through the rollout. Absolutely terrible project management.

sboverie
sboverie

The thing I hate is the aspect of always being in reactive mode rather than proactive mode. This shows up when you get a response from a customer who says "thanks and I hope I don't see you again too soon". If the customer associates the IT tech with problems then the tech is seen as the bringer of misery. I worked for a company that did courtesy "preventive maintenance" to get the tech onsite when there isn't a problem to build stronger sense of satisfaction with the services provided. The customer gets to see the tech when there isn't an emergency and minor problems can be addressed. The customers got to know the techs by name in a more relaxed way and not as "someone who was here 2 weeks ago fixing the same problem."

herzlich
herzlich

1. I think some of that jargon is laziness on the users' part. Not trying to learn the corporate software standards or trying to work around them with downloaded (unapproved) software. If it's good for the company, it should be a standard. If it's just for you and it is a risk, are you willing to take responsibility for your actions if it crashes your computer or spreads a virus? 2. Didn't you hear? The IT leader was fired during the recession and contract technicians were hired (the disposable employee). Then, your company decided that IT should report to the CFO rather than a CIO or other "technical" leader? Corporate data is the lifeblood, but you treat managing it as an cost (expense). 3. I'll give you this one. A myopic view of the world doesn't help the IT organization. I'm wondering if you are willing to hear that I can't fix your printer right this second because I'm working on a broken piece of hardware for 50 other users? Or that I can't recover the file you deleted from your workstation should have been in the datacenter and not on your USB key? 4. (see my item #1). However, I agree that being a cactus is not good for anyone. IT is a service organization. Unfortunately, you're down to your one-and-only IT person left to keep things running so there is no rest for the wicked. Oh, that's right, you're a good corporate citizen and you called the Helpdesk first rather than walk down to the person nearest to your desk for help. 5. If you were interrupted at all hours of the day and night to respond to fix self-inflicted wounds, you might feel some pain. If you came to tell me about a system issue affecting more than you, I bet I'm already working on the solution. Unfortunately, I can't leave my work and go home to the family until this is resolved. Can you?

blarman
blarman

Why? 1) The material changes all the time. It is not unreasonable to look at what you did even three years ago and see that what is being done now is vastly different. IT is the only business area that has little precedent to rely on. Every challenge is new in some way and the solution usually involves more than problem recognition. 2) Few companies know how to manage their processes. In the end, IT is all about process. Most companies don't take the time to examine their processes critically before expecting IT to implement them. And then the resulting systems don't fulfill needs. And people blame the IT department. 3) Managing IT means involvement. And not just for weekly status meetings. It means that the non-IT leaders have to include IT leaders in discussions about the direction of the company and ask how IT can help them get there. It means that non-IT managers have to respect IT when it answers their questions. And it means doing more than simply leaving them to their own devices. 4. Effectively Managing IT means having a working knowledge of every other aspect of the business. IT has to see the forest AND the trees in order to develop solutions that will work and last. While IT management doesn't have to be an expert in each area, they do have to understand enough to see how the pieces fit together. And trust me, IT is going to have to learn this themselves, as no other line-of business manager is going to go out of their way to help it happen. In short, managing IT is far more complex and time-intensive than any other management job if they want to get things right, because they have to understand not only their own constantly-changing world of technology, but the rest of the business as well.

maj37
maj37

What you say is too often true, however it is not limited to IT. The finance people, the operations people, the marketing people, and everyone else, all have their jargon, they all have their cacti, etc. maj

dhearne
dhearne

Usually stays around because that person knows what they are doing, and the 'idiots in management' are afraid of what will happen if/when the cactus leaves. Also, the cactus is glad that you stay away.

docspec
docspec

i agree, it seems to me as if they are comfortable with it and no matter what, they will stick with it. example - our "mother" company uses mcafee, recently it was let known that mcafee's last update managed to screw up the windows xp registry causing system reboots. now, the "mother" company still wants to standardise the systems and use mcafee because they, the "mothers" (pun intended) use it. They dont wish to change their systems. it is almost as if it is to much hassle for them to learn/adapt/change their systems for the better. they would rather have the downtime and the irritation. go figure......

Frgood
Frgood

Teammates, co-workers, peers? How about something along those lines. I suggest the elimination of the us/them attitude. "We've built some reliable infrastructure for this business and have some free time. How can I help you with your work?" Too altruistic?? After supporting large scale payroll system for over 15 years, I've found this balance produces great results and is a rather pleasant environment. Rife with success.

tbmay
tbmay

That may be our goal but the simple fact of the matter is we can't set anything up to magically make thoughts reality. Users will ALWAYS have responsibilities and, as such, they will blame the systems and IT when things don't do what they want. In jobs past I was given all the complicated spreadsheets to write. My peers in IT didn't like it because they saw it as the IT Department being asked to do someone else's job. They felt the precedent was bad. It might have been but the fact was I had much more Excel experience than anyone else in the company so macro's, vba, and the more complicated problems were mine to do. Of course, the lines weren't drawn clearly and it mutated into requests to do very basic Office work, which of course was refused by all of us. This caused complaints about IT being difficult and unfocused on making users happy. This ubiquity is the issue. Just as IT may inflate their budgets and egos, users can often avoid learning their responsibilities and point the finger at IT when the time comes to give an account.

mhunter392
mhunter392

Altug ...The author is taking his years of experience and observations to point out undesirable traits that we should use to look at ourselves. Honest self critique is key to personal, business & relationship success. Dealing with others who fit these traits is unique to the situation a person finds them self. After 30 years in Telecomm & IT industries in military, corporate, gov't, small business and my contracting world, I found this article a reminder of the sad & humorous trip we make thru life, and hopefully we can improve ourselves and those around us. Keeping a sense of humor when dealing with idiots and self-important people is critical, and remember, we are not as smart as we think of ourselves. Cheers!!

Dyalect
Dyalect

GOLD. (support plan) "We can do that!"-consultant Broken misconfigured programs, endless support calls, and unanswered emails later. 5 things to hate is just not enough.

Sensei Humor
Sensei Humor

My main gripe with corporate IT stems from the viewpoint of the cactus. In my experience business dictates to IT which solution they want rather than partnering with them and saying "We need a solution that does X, Y, and Z." If, as the article says, IT is a core part of the business then the business side of the house needs to provide them with criteria to implement a solution, not cram Edicts From On High down their throat. Considering what most companies pay to maintain their IT staff and infrastructure, if they do anything else there is some major justification for the viewpoint that "management is a bunch of idiots" because at that point in time management is squandering those high priced resources. Telling your auto mechanic to replace your starter when the problem is a flat tire does not make you look smart. And while you're considering the above, google the terms "fecal funnel" and "fecal umbrella" only replace the word fecal with its cruder counterpart. In short, business degrees teach one to maximize profits over the next 90 days. They completely fail to teach one to manage people in addition to processes or to ask the advice of your technical expert prior to making a decision that affects said expert? The cactus is the product of its environment. If you don't like the cactus, try changing the environment. You know, troubleshoot the problem instead of just griping about it.

CIO3PO
CIO3PO

I appreciate you voicing these issues. Do you have ESP? **applauding loudly**

Dyalect
Dyalect

Had to let the b.s. buzzwords get posted first. -reactive mode rather than proactive -pmp / itil -project management -going forward Quite the article that for sure. Very thought provoking. Personally I am happy to have a JOB and don't stress the corporate b.s. The IT profession will always be a what have you done for me lately profession. Work hard/lead by example/ and COMMUNICATE with you peers/management. Dumb it down if you have to. The vendors do!

donaldmyers1
donaldmyers1

Some of these problems can be resolved with process. Get a PMP in house. Find a certified ITIL consultant. Implement CMMI.

tbmay
tbmay

Probably better than some will give you credit for because on the surface it will appear to some to be just another techie with a bad attitude. I re-branded myself a few years ago as a business professional specializing in I.T. I no longer call myself a tech, admin, or engineer because it only contributes to the idea that your function is to be all things to all people. I did the IT Department techie thing for years in multiple I.T. Departments. One thing is abundantly clear, the VAST majority of users, including many C level positions, do not understand the complexity of the work. They are pretty sure, regardless of what you do, their teenage son or nephew could do it better and if you can't get through on time you must be incompetent. Many will quickly tell you your job is to make the users happy. Now tell me, is that your job if you work for a corporate IT department? I submit if that's your job, you're company is wasting money. But we all know that's NOT your job. Your job is to make sure they can do their jobs and survival depends on your ability to stroke their ego while you do it. Is it fair? No. But it's the nature of the beast. This is not unique to IT but IT is unique in that it is very invisible and misunderstood by people. This makes it easy for both techs and users to take advantage.

hitchcock416
hitchcock416

why can accounting hire another warm body when IT needs to cut half of its work force and cut back on the budget? i thought that IT made it possible for everyone else to do their jobs, so why are we the red headed step child?

DaemonSlayer
DaemonSlayer

What we need here is the ability to convince everyone else, ESPECIALLY the bean counters, that IT is a powerful tool when they are given what they need, which does include everything already said, instead of seeing IT as a money pit and worthless (until their PC breaks.)

CIO3PO
CIO3PO

I could not agree with you more, very well said and spot on. Now if we could only get the other C-suite members to see that, we could make some headway. The conception of IT leadership managing a "service" department is outdated. While IT does service the organization, a partnership view of the department is much more applicable. This will hopefully change with the new generation of IT professionals and the inclusion of technology as a commodity in everyday life.

mjc5
mjc5

The author makes a three blind men and the elephant mistake here. The cactus, who has by virtue of competence, managed to remain employed all those long years, has seen enough to know where it's at. If a brand new college graduate comes in, spends half the day on Facebook, and the other half on their cell talking to "mummy" and trying to get mummy to intervene and call Human Resources and complain that since the kid's been coming in on time for two freaking months already, so where's the promotion? And anyhow all these old dudes are kind of old, so they don't know anything anyhow, right mummy? Yeah, forgive me if I don't have a lot of time for that. Something the kids might want to try. Find that old "grump", and pay attention, and ask real questions. Just maybe, if he or she finds that you're actually serious, you might find that they have a lot to offer. I've done that for a long time, and learned a whole lot. Now I is one. And I'm not really a grump, I just don't suffer fools as well as I used to.

mafergus
mafergus

I think we all have had our share of dealing with these "types" and although most of of strive for bette3r, sometimes we have all had pieces of these people in us.

mjc5
mjc5

Part of the process is an executive caste system. And that's already been conceptualized, action itemed, initialized, actualized and brought to fruition. Works well as long as you are close enough to the top.

sboverie
sboverie

No offense, but you certainly showed why defensive speaking is the first item on the IT hate list.

AnsuGisalas
AnsuGisalas

The business side of the enterprise probably feels that computers really should just be working, magically transforming their intent into reality. As such, because it invariably fails to live up to expectations, they begin to see it as a nuisance, not seeing how much it helps their productivity. IT-pros get to be bearers of bad news, no wonder a pariah label starts to develop. Users might also feel that IT restricts their freedom for unknowable reasons, possibly just to be obnoxious. That's not an endearing way to be seen. I don't think the tech tendency to do software bashing in public helps matters... it helps people to stay in the belief that the computer and the IT department in extension, is being purposefully pigheaded in not performing "as it should".

minstrelmike
minstrelmike

The problem with sitting in with the management team is that IT is the one that says exactly why the new idea won't work. Mgmt is the worst at coming up with solutions before they even describe what the problem is. When you ask for a problem description before implementing a new inventory system (the 5th one in 3 years) or a new ERP (because the last one didn't work), then you are labeled a cactus instead of a realist who wants to solve real problems instead of spend money on dreams.

donaldmyers1
donaldmyers1

Sboverie, your thoughts were correct. Just messing around. I should have used my rolling eyes emoticon, or the [] to indicate my sarcastic remark.

sboverie
sboverie

I couldn't tell if he was joking or just stuck acronym mode. I found it amusing but if he was serious then ...

slm
slm

Don't be afraid to give offense, that was pure BS

tbmay
tbmay

That is as good a summary of the rift between IT and general users as I've seen.

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