Enterprise Software

The Department of No

Whether IT staff is noting that a technology is unproven, IT lacks sufficient resources, or some other potentially legitimate quip, eventually a perception grows that IT exists to point out every tiny cloud on an otherwise sunny day.

There's an exceptionally dangerous perception in many corporate IT departments, and it is one that threatens the very existence of an internal IT department: being perceived as the "Department of No." This description applies to IT organizations where the unstated goal of IT is to insert itself into every technology-related discussion and highlight all the reasons why an initiative won't work. Whether IT staff is noting that a technology is unproven, IT lacks sufficient resources, or some other potentially legitimate quip, eventually a perception grows that IT exists to point out every tiny cloud on an otherwise sunny day.

But it's our job!

Many technologists note that IT's job is to provide technical expertise, and part of that is noting the flaws in a particular endeavor. While no one would suggest taking a cavalier approach to every task and ignoring the risks, I would contend that IT often approaches this from the wrong angle, cementing the impression of being the department of no. Rather than immediately considering the technical implications, the most effective IT departments do two things. First, they help their peers solve a business problem, and secondly, they consider that problem from the perspective of the "real" customer, the one that pays the company's bills, rather than some notion of an "internal" customer.

While it may sound nuanced, this aligns IT's goals with the person requesting something of IT. Rather than interacting as adversary at worst, or "customer" and order taker, jointly solve a business problem by placing revenue and tactics first, and technical questions later. It also forces the group working with IT to recognize the constraints of any business problem: time and resources.

A tale of two IT departments

Rather than belaboring the point, consider two examples-a "department of no" IT shop and one motivated to solve a business problem. In the case of the former, they are usually called in at the last minute, after most decisions have been made. This is based on their tendency to leap toward technical solutions to every problem, but is also based on a past history of saying "no" to anything and everything. Just as most people do not relish the thought of spending time with negative personalities, no one wants to spend any more time with a "department of no" than absolutely necessary. Since most critical decisions have already been made, IT is given a pre-defined answer to a problem, one that it has little ability to challenge, so the "department of no" naturally attempts to point out as many flaws as possible, creating a vicious cycle.

The problem solving IT department brings not only a knowledge of technology to the table, but a broad understanding of the different divisions and processes in place in the company. In short, they have a grab bag of solutions to business problems, and are therefore perceived as an asset at the earliest stages of a discussion. Rather than their input revolving around "you can't do that," it focuses instead on "have you thought of... ." Since this IT department aims to please the paying customer, it can rise above and challenge parochial behavior, and also provide legitimate input about where the company's limited technology resources are invested.

Getting started

Like all good things, this likely sounds wonderful but difficult to implement. While this transition may take months, I'd suggest a simple start. Investigate projects and technologies your IT organization has implemented with great success on a limited scale. Perhaps finance has an amazing document management system, or a collaboration tool for sales is receiving rave reviews. Consider what other business problems these tools could solve, and approach those business units responsible for that particular area. Be sure to frame the discussion in terms of the internal or customer problem that's being resolved, not the technical wizardry being deployed.

This approach instantly shatters the "department of no" stigma since IT is proactively presenting a potential solution to a business problem, and it also gains IT some clout for "recycling" existing resources by expanding their usage. When IT starts becoming a trusted advisor and group that is looked to for answers, you'll find yourself being invited to kickoff meetings rather than called two weeks before go-live.

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 ...

39 comments
etreglia
etreglia

Long before we became "The Department of No," we were the "We bought this software/hardware for boku bucks, now make it work and soon." When we finally were even mentioned in the early part of the decision making process, if we didn't mention even the slightest possibility of a potential problem, it became "but you guaranteed that it would work!" Basically, we've become the Department of No-Win.

anealysr
anealysr

I am an Engineer for a very large company and our IT department is somewhat like that. But it's not really the department as the some people in it. My motto is if you can imagine it, it can be done. Now we all have to think is it cost effective? I have an example of the negativity of some IT professionals. I designed a wireless monitoring and control system. I got intouch with IT for a bank of IP addresses that would not interfere with anything they had. Well I finally did get the addresses but got so much grief of how it would not work without "THEIR NETWORK". Well I invited them to come out into the plant and see the prototype. Of course that did not happen. Truth be told most IT professionals I have met want to keep the rest of the business in the dark. By the way the project was a total success and is still growing with no thanks to our IT department. And with NO intrusion into "Their Network" so there is no security risk. Now I do agree that a good IT department would be more interactive with the rest of the business but have yet to see that. Ideally when a project meeting is coming up an IT rep would be there if nothing else to listen in. They are smart enough to know after the initial meeting if they need to be involved. That could save a lot of grief for everyone. I will say that our IT department is partially outsourced and the outsourced personal are much easier to get along with and more accessible. I guess that is because they realize that we are the customer. This really no different as any Engineering or Maintenance Department. We are a service organization and work for production as they are the ones making the money we just support their efforts. Best advice I can give to all IT departments is open your eyes you do not make money. You are a service just like the rest of us.

WCarlS
WCarlS

Here's the root of the problem: "All too often they are more concerned on whether people should be using facebook, and what other sites can they block due to "security" or "bandwidth issues"." What people (often deliberately) fail to realize is that IT spends so much time repairing damage caused by inappropriate and unnecessary use of the web that there is no time left to accomplish the business-essential goals. So, the business can pay more upfront for additional personnel and equipment, and time, or pay more on the backend by delaying other projects. The problem is that most people, most business leaders don't see it that way. Be honest. How many other corporate departments do yo see ROUTINELY working 60, 80, or more hours per week to fix or repair the same problems time and time again?

cybershooters
cybershooters

IT is technical and I'm afraid if you don't understand the technical complexity you often feel like we're saying "no" but what we're saying is "not possible" or "not possible yet" or "too expensive". I've had people who seem to think computers can think for themselves asking me why their month-end or whatever isn't done. The other problem is money, especially at the moment. I get really sick of smartasses going on about their Apple whatever it is - yeah, (a) try getting your bit of bespoke accounts software (or whatever) running on it and (b) they cost too much. Anyway, anyone can moan all they want, all I know is that the only way I've ever found to really get control of an organization is to set up restrictive GPOs that lock down users computers. Otherwise you have stupid people asking why their mouse pointer can't be seen against a pink background with a green font, or whatever. Honestly, this is my personal view - the real goal of IT should be to get rid of people. People are the main problem in any environment I've worked in. For example you get people who want to sit at desk A instead of desk B, and desk A isn't near a network port, so that costs money - when it makes no odds which desk they sit at. Automate everything and get rid of all the damn people then there would be no-one to moan. And as for saying "no", at least we get to say "no" - we could move it all into the cloud and then they would have no-one to ask in person, *sarcasm*.

carol.fuhr
carol.fuhr

" they are usually called in at the last minute, after most decisions have been made. This is based on ...a past history of saying ???no??? to anything and everything." My first thought to this was, which is the actual cause? The author states they are called in at the last minute because they always say no, but I think it is at least as likely that they say no because they are called in at the last minute. After all, if the budget, timeframe, and solution have been decided before anyone talked to IT, then the honest answer is most likely "no". I remember a company I once worked for decided on a new software program, signed the contract and paid the $$ before talking to IT. Most of the company's computers didn't meeting the minimum hardware specs. I was as positive as I could be in the situation; provided them with the list of the computers that would have to be upgraded, cost to do so, time it would take, cost to bring in temp help to do it faster, etc. I got the job done in the amount of time and within the budget I said it would take. Did they learn and involve IT sooner thereafter? No. Who knows, maybe they were OK with handling things that way, but I sure hated it. Don't work there any more.

GSG
GSG

For example, Dr. A wants to do XYZ, and I have to give an emphatic NO because what he wants to do will violate at least 3 regulations and could result in a huge fine from the OIG. That was a real scenario, but for the most part, if I have to say no, I explain why I can't do exactly what they want, and I try to help them find alternatives. So when the answer really is no, they may grumble, but they know that I'm not just saying no because I don't want to go to the effort of implementing their idea.

LR-Grapeape
LR-Grapeape

I'm seeing a lot of talk about projects and software dev, but also consider traditional IT; PCs, apps, and now days, smart phones. With the proliferation of consumer electronics these days, everyone thinks they are an IT genius. All ???I can get my office email on my iPhone so I don???t need the device you provide???. Well guess what? I just deleted your ability to ActiveSync with Exchange. So, NO! (followed by the sound of a slap on the wrist). Users think we IT Nazis just ???plug it in and turn it on???. Sure, that is the extent of my training and expertise, how to plug things in without getting shocked (sarcasm). But seriously, users see us as the Department of NO because they are not in control of their devices and software while at work. They can control their personal devices but get really miffed when they aren???t admins on their own PC. What the users fail to understand is home and consumer electronics are not ready for the enterprise. Yes, they may ???work??? initially, but what tools do I have at my disposal when they break? Neat and Cool are not factors that consider into an enterprise implementation. I???ll allow neat and cool when; #1) I???m not responsible for making it work. #2) I don???t get my a$$ chewed out when it doesn???t work. #3) most importantly, the user makes a business case for the technology and secures its funding. That #3 usually gets them because there is no business case for neat and cool, especially in this era of tight IT budgets. So users hear me! This place is called WORK. You are here for a reason. So hear me one more time, NO!

mwclarke1
mwclarke1

Do you want it now? Do you want it right? Pick one You can have it - On time - On Budget - It works Pick two

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

Just need a little help to be the department of Yes. Ask the right QUESTION! Can you fix this bug. Yes... Can you do it cheaply, yesterday, without risking anything at all? No... Could you have written the software without this bug in it. Yes... Could you do it cheaply, the day after I asked for it, without risking anything at all? No... Cheap, means poor, no risk means you don't do much. So when I said No, that was the answer you would have said I should have given, instead of being somesorft of eejit and saying yes, when I know it couldn't be delivered. Give me something I can say yes to please, doesn't have tio be often, once a year maybe. Come on you can do it if you try.... Are there departments of No, maybe, not many, Are their departments who daren't say yes, all too many.

seanferd
seanferd

Sometimes people are told "no" because they are asking for irrelevant stuff that really isn't business-aligned itself, and possibly frivolous to the point of absurdity. Sometimes requested services are technically impossible - I see this all the time. If it is that big of a deal and you have a real business case, but IT says they don't have the resources, go to management with your request to get IT what they need to get you what you need. You can work with IT - it's allowed you know, and it might even help. I'm not discounting the fact that there certainly are IT departments that just won't work with others. But that is not always the case. Nor are IT departments immune to having personnel as clueless as those found elsewhere in a business. And if you see IT as a monolithic entity which likes to pronounce "No", just remember that IT sees an endless sea of faces saying "Gimme gimme gimme. I want my little thing and I want it now and why can't you magically make this thing do what I want it to even though what I want is not remotely a function of this thing."

scratch4653
scratch4653

And all the budgets went over operating plan by Q3... Mr. M - Fortune 5 company

blarman
blarman

Having worked in IT for >15 years as both consultant and internal employee, the IT department can do a lot for its own image, but there is something to be said for the right type of collaborative atmosphere from the business-side as well. I've been on the IT side where we bent over backwards to accommodate requests from a customer even when we pointed out that there was a better way to do things. We let them get what they wanted and then got to help them upgrade it later. The worst part is when the business makes all the decisions about the project and then tries to micromanage the result like a PHB. That has disaster written all over it just like in the Dilbert cartoons.

Dyalect
Dyalect

I think "no" to every task requested is bit much, but IT should attempt to facilitate new ideas and test things. The reluctance stems from maintaining stability and keeping the house in order. Rolling out a shiny new penny every 3 months, because a big wig was "dazzled" by something at a trade show is not pertinent and feasible for a IT department, but IT should make some effort to look into newer technologies. Or alas, they will be worked around and have to bear the burden of not being involved in processes until it is too late and the shiny penny falls over and needs to be supported.

bwesaala
bwesaala

I have recently worked in a Department of No, which some even feared. I totally agree that IT should always be seen to supporting the business and in some cases even enabling the business. However, the IT department should be careful not to lose control as this can also be disastrous to the business. Taking on projects you can not adequately resource, technically or financially, even though they seem 'good' for the business is a risk no No Department should take. On the other hand IT leaders should never be seen as a stumbling block to business growth. If it is even remotely feasible give it a try, give/get feedback, and provide sustainable solutions.

Magic_8_Ball
Magic_8_Ball

I think one element that is missed in the ???Getting Started??? section is having the discussion of the big picture with the business. Aligning the IT department with the organizational goals is rather crucial when IT has limited resources since these goals can tell you where the greatest impact of not saying ???no??? might be, both politically and business wise. Another issue duscussed is changing the business unit???s perception of the technology team. Business???s often think a three week project will only take 3 seconds (I was going to expound upon my encounters with this scenario, but that is a book to itself) and IT is lazy or incompetent if they cannot complete it in the business timeline. IT needs to proactively outline to the business that resources are limited and systems are complex. The discussion needs to center around the business engaging the IT staff and how that engagement needs to proceed so that both parties have an understanding of the roles involved.

TooOldToRemember
TooOldToRemember

Do we say "No" to users? Of course we do, but I prefer we allow the users to say "No" to themselves after reviewing what is best for solving the problem. Every forum at some time talks about IT needing to be more business-oriented, speak in business terms, etc. Make no mistake, I fully agree. But when other departments make decisions based on consumer-level IT they have in their home or they have seen somewhere, it is up to us to educate them without coming off as condescending. Many times we can do exactly what they ask, but the results compromise data, security or even common-sense. This is where we have the opportunity and responsibilty to take the time to bring them up to speed with what we are tasked to do for the company. As business requires more technology today than yesterday, both sides of the equation need to work to better understand the other. IT typically never solely drives the business, but we should not be required to accept without the ability to question. At the end of the process, the only entity that should win out every time is the entire business, and neither IT nor any other department should accomodate something that can be shown to be detrimental to the business itself. Just an old guy's $0.02 worth...

Englebert
Englebert

It is because they have been burned badly in the past. All too often, I see projects initiated and discussed at length between the business stakeholders who then tell IT ' All you have to do ' ......I truly hate that expression ' All you have to do ' .... The next worst expression is ' hit a button ' and everything should work perfectly. I have sat at project initiated meetings where failure is staring me in the face. I keep my mouth shut while the business talking heads go at it. Project starts and boom, the exact reason why I thought the project would fail, happens. I have sat at other meetings where an impossible deadline has been assigned, keep my mouth shut and boom.....not even close. Management should realize that IT does not wave a wand and everything magically falls into place. Much as they would like it to happen, pie-in-the-sky pipe dreams and actual execution are 2 different things. That's not to say they should not be explored, but listen to your executioners. For example, " All you have to do is make the dishwasher wash clothes "

jameson_55
jameson_55

I might not be laid off right now as Business Software Specialist. Senior Management and my immediate supervisor (IT Manager) had no clue how all of the software packages were cobbled together and would often make demands that were close to impossible. I was considered negative because I was the only "non-bobble-head" in the room telling the owner that not everything was possible. And when projects were approved by the Sr Mgmt, many times I would be half way through and the plug would get pulled because a Sr Mgmt had a different bright shiny project that they wanted done. So, I'd change focus and work on that one - and at review time, be criticized for not completing the first project (even though it had been determined that it was no longer 'mission critical' for the company). I'm sure I'm better off not working for a company that changes focus as often as I change my socks, but being unemployed was not on my life plan. Hopefully my next job will have upper management that understands the importance of sticking with a plan.

melbert09
melbert09

Ive worked in a variety of business sectors and very rarely do IT departments seem to want to help and be engaged with the business. All too often they are more concerned on whether people should be using facebook, and what other sites can they block due to "security" or "bandwidth issues". I see many departments think that they are running the business rather than supporting the business. All the while the business almost becomes afraid of IT. It took me a few years to learn this, but when IT does come from the finding a solution attitude, then the business listens and IT is the hero again. Yes there will always be specific projects or other implimentation issues that go wrong or are more work then what they may be worth. But I bet you that their are Marketing projects or Finacial plans that are more work than what is expected by the business and I bet that they are complaining about the same kinds of things that IT does.

JamesLeeP
JamesLeeP

The most poignant bit from this article: "Rather than interacting as adversary at worst, or 'customer' and order taker, jointly solve a business problem by placing revenue and tactics first, and technical questions later. It also forces the group working with IT to recognize the constraints of any business problem: time and resources." This is how I actively approach requests as an IT manager in my organization. Although this doesn't often have the desired result of changing the perspective of IT as the department of NO, it is the proper approach to business solutions.

tbmay
tbmay

1. Sometimes IT staffers are working for bosses with unstated personal agendas that are not part of the official organizational agenda. Agency problem. 2. Almost every non-tech decision maker underestimates the complexity of the projects. I've literally had people think 3 weeks worth of work should have been 3 seconds worth of mouse clicks. Running my own business after years of working for someone else really served as an interesting experiment on the issue of IT value. When I changed my business model from "jump when a customer said jump" which got me overworked and broke...to agreements, up front payment, all my time and costs must be paid timely....period....I was surprised how my phone stopped ringing. But when it rings, the customer is serious. Unfortunately, a corporate IT project can't work under the same terms. There's not a motivator to keep managers from simply pretending 3 weeks should be 3 seconds. I dig where you're coming from. IT departments are often very controlling. However, even in this day and age, there are still a lot of decision makers who either intentionally, or unintentionally stay blissfully ignorant of technical realities.

robinfgoldsmith
robinfgoldsmith

Not only does the typical IT response turn off others???amazingly to our surprise???but it actually can be interpreted as our promising to deliver failure, which in turn destroys our credibility. There is no reason for others to believe or follow advice which is certain to create failure. More importantly, rather than helping us prevent failures, focusing mainly on ways to fail in fact increases chances of failure because it prevents our seeing ways to succeed. The key to project success is to start with a commitment to delivering results. That is not merely commitment to work hard and care, which are givens. Rather, commitment to delivering results is what is necessary to persevere past inevitable obstacles. Without it, we deliver excuses instead of results. Ironically, commitment to delivering results is what enables our minds to be open to finding ways to delivering the results. Then, identify what time and resources it will take. Only with a reasonable way to deliver desired results is there the credibility needed to negotiate budget, schedule, and possibly revised results.

cybershooters
cybershooters

I think this whole phenomenon frankly is an indication of poor management in most companies. People don't get sufficient oversight from their manager, so it's left to the IT staff to tell them "no". I remember one meeting I went to where there was this pie-in-the-sky discussion of how these two companies were going to link their networks together and I almost burst out laughing it was so stupid, I kept pointing out that no, you can't link them together using a $30 a month ADSL connection, it's too unreliable. But no, totally ignored me, the whole thing never worked, it literally went down at least once a day. And of course who gets the blame... Poor management - fails to listen to (in fact fails to respect) technical expertise. Poor management - doesn't understand in detail what their staff actually do and what they actually need. Poor management - fails to enforce company policies that are there for a reason.

tbmay
tbmay

I would submit it really isn't I.T.'s place to tell the users, "You're at work." And I've been one who did so. At the end of the day, that's between them, their boss, and upper management. Now, if your organization has policies against bringing their own device, so be it. But if it doesn't, you probably need to take the conversation up the food chain. I personally would be very hesitant to give out wifi keys to employees for fear of them getting out in to the world. (Just to talk about an example.) We already know Androids have an opt out policy regarding parking the keys on Google servers. This is the type of thing you can express your concerns to management about. However, if they insist you support byod, you'll probably just have to suck it up. If something happens, they made the call.

blarman
blarman

That simple rule is what most business managers don't understand about IT. If it has to be perfect and on time, it's going to cost you. If you have to have it tomorrow, it's going to have a few bugs. Of course, if the business would simply document the processes they use, it would greatly simplify IT's job in duplicating those processes in their logic...

AnsuGisalas
AnsuGisalas

"Could you have written this without that bug in it?" "Can you fix this bug?" etc. It's just that they always have those conditions there, unspoken, which make it into a 'no' after all.

Solenoid
Solenoid

Gimme gimme gimme. Priceless.

n.gurr
n.gurr

I saw an article recently, although I cannot remember if it was on TR or not which stated that one of the biggest drivers of Cloud adoption was avoiding the IT department. I fear the negative attitude is driving IT into being replaced or outsourced, only for later disappointments to come altogether too late!

tbmay
tbmay

...good point, and I'm not taking away from Patrick's points. BUT..... The crux of the point he and you seem to be making is something I can't imagine anyone would disagree with. Basically it's, "Be a professional." I couldn't agree with you more. But don't expect that to secure good-will, or even your job. To think that would be as naive as to believe rich people are rich because they were smart and worked hard. ;) I believe it was Tony H who said it best. He said something to the effect that often I.T.s biggest value is that of scapegoat. In running my own business, I feel like I more or less confirmed that. You wouldn't believe the resistance I've gotten from business owners regarding making decisions. You wouldn't believe the number of times they said, "You make the decisions about X or Y because that's why I hired you." NOPE. You hired me to do a technical implementation. Y is better than X, but it will take me 3 more weeks, and you will pay me for three more weeks. Their answer almost always was, "Do X." Typically said with a great deal of irritation. Patrick's assumption is people actually are interested in working as a team to begin with. If a person works in such a place, this will take care of itself. If one doesn't, it's much more complicated.

n.gurr
n.gurr

If we are positive and look to be a part of delivering a solution from the beginning we are able to provide a sense of realism. Being a part of the planning team allows for guiding the solution and ensuring that from a technical standpoint reality is a part of the project. The alternative is being handed a project which is bound to fail or be delivered in an unfortunate fashion?

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

before they knew the required resources? Or at least some finger in the air guess they would be held to no matter what else changes during the lifetime of the project. In some ways our job is to deliver failure. We never know enough, we never will know enough, we never have enough, we never will have enough. That's the game, our role is to deliver as much as we can, as best we can, and then get asked "What have you done for me lately". No point in whining about it, it just is. Pretending it isn't, causes far more real and percieved failures than anything else. Let's try to be real here. The key to project success in business IT, is manage the definition of success, it being something vaguely approaching one seems to be a bonus. You find me a businessman who'll given an open ended commitment to deliver, with no idea of what, when, why or how, I've a bridge he really needs.

blarman
blarman

That comes from a manager who wants to be liked and doesn't want to be the bad guy. Or its from the manager who is too busy to take a look at the varying projects floating around. Anybody else noticing the distinct lack of good managers around?

tbmay
tbmay

...you can darn near do anything.

n.gurr
n.gurr

Sometime a good enough solution at the right price and on time is a better solution rather than a technically superior solution at the wrong price and the wrong time. Is this something you have seen in the cases where you put in the 'other' solution? I would value your experience with these least cost choices.

tbmay
tbmay

But understand people want what they want, and when they are afforded the opportunity to ignore the costs, they can want quite a lot.

wdewey@cityofsalem.net
wdewey@cityofsalem.net

I tell people this pretty regularly. It can be done, but it will be very expensive. Seems to answer the question a lot. Bill

tbmay
tbmay

However, some folks don't understand the correlation.

sire_tim
sire_tim

The IT department that gets the funding to do darn near anything, and I'll show you the business that's making severe losses..

tbmay
tbmay

I have made that point countless times. However, your customers (users) often want the superior solution at the inferior solutions price. Quite obviously, I refuse. In corporate, you don't always get to do that.