Leadership

The value of IT in tough times

If you are unclear as to the role IT plays in your organization, it will soon become apparent to you if it hasn't already. Tough economic times make for a harsh lens and some organizations have leadership that get IT and some do not.

It has been said that in the face of adversity one can determine the true character of an individual. I believe the same can be said of an organization's senior leadership. It is during the tough times that one can determine the true character and motivators of those who have enough power to make decisions that can shape the direction of an organization, or figuratively carry the organization on their shoulders - to success or sometimes utter failure.

We (at least in the US) find ourselves once again in tough economic times. These times have put stress on people and organizations alike and things probably will get worse before they get better. In the mean time, organizations that are not going out of business are belt tightening. In fact, most have already tightened their belts and are preparing to, if not already, beginning to shed parts of themselves in order to stay afloat.

It is during these times that you can determine how senior management feels about IT and what role IT plays in the organization. If management looks first to IT for sacrifices at the budget altar, then it is clear that IT is only viewed as a cost center - a necessary evil for doing business. The more management tears IT down in an attempt to keep the organization afloat, the less engaged IT becomes from the rest of the organization and the less chance (if it had any) to become more enmeshed in the organization - a "true business partner" as the literature would say.

However there are those organizations that look to IT and technology to help work themselves out of trouble. The question is asked "What can we automate, what technologies can we acquire that will allow us to work better, cheaper and smarter?" This is a sign of enlightened senior management that understand the true role of information technology in an organization. Management that sees IT as a multiplier of its existing workforce - a unit that is capable of helping it literally to do more with less - if it is allowed to.

This type of management/leadership when confronted with fiscal challenges asks its business units how they can work smarter, not how they can simply cut costs. This type of management will actually entertain investment in IT during these times to gain efficiencies and effectiveness while at the same time capitalizing on the fact that their competition is probably doing the inverse. To compound this advantage, an organization can attract some of the competition's best and brightest as they witness their own organization squander its information technology investments and talents.

I am witnessing this now with my own friends and colleagues. Two of the brightest CIOs that I know are now in another state working for new organizations simply because they were fed up with giving blood to organizations with seemingly insatiable appetites for cost cutting in IT. These two individuals are nationally known in their sectors and collectively have over 60 years experience between them. Some may read this and say that their IT organizations obviously were not integral to their organizations and they did not achieve true "business partner" status. To that, I will reply that some leadership gets IT and some doesn't and of the ones that don't, they never will - no matter how good of an individual you have in the CIO role. Tough economic times just exacerbate this situation.

Thus, if you are unclear as to the role IT plays in your organization, it will soon become apparent to you if it hasn't already. And while it may be that you have been dealt the hand of leadership that doesn't "get" IT, now is the time to get creative. Think out of the box and try a pre-emptive strike on those who may slash your staff and budget. Put together a plan that shows how investment might actually reap returns and that the belt tightening need occur elsewhere in the organization. You have nothing to lose if you know they are coming after you and everything to gain if you can change the direction of their thinking. Who knows - it just might be your idea that helps leadership turn the corner, both in how they view IT and the organization's struggle. And if not, hang tough, and perhaps you will be one of the "best and brightest" that get cherry picked by another organization. In either case, it's a happy ending for you!

14 comments
delphi9_1971
delphi9_1971

It's easy to blame upper management for failing to see the value of IT. I'd be rich if I had a dime for everytime an IT staff member complained about being a cost center. The fact is other departments in your organization are in the same boat (E.G. HR, Finance). Why is it that Marketing always gets a huge budget? Do they really add that much value to your organization? NO. I't because they don't just market the company or company's product, but they market themselves to Management every chance they get. It is only the organization I currently work in that actually tries to Market what IT brings to the company and to Management. We as IT need to remind the business what it is that we bring to the table, it is our department and thus our responsibility to do that. Is it hard to quantify the lack of downtime? Yes, but it is not impossible. Technologists have a difficutlt time talking to business poeple, the jargon is different. But if we are to avoid this pitfall in the future it must be done. We are no longer in the 90's. You must sell yourself and your department every chance you get or you will be downsized. I'm sure your CIO friends are talented individuals and I'm sure that there are those exectutive committee's that just don't get it, but if IT is to mature as a part of business, we need to engage the business, show them what we bring to the table and remind them of where they would be with out us. That is how you bring value to IT, increase your budget and weather the dark times. This is the one thing that IT does not do very well.

datto998
datto998

Suggestion for your next job search: Find an organization where the highest IT person doesn't report to the CFO but rather, reports directly to the president/CEO. You may find that organizations where the highest IT person reports to the CFO are organizations that view IT as a cost center rather than a strategic asset. Datto

jfg1963
jfg1963

The situation is not different, in Europe or at least in Spain, from what Ramon described. When the top management runs into the epidemic of "cutting cost", especially in large corporations, due to the economy tough times. The first organization that comes into their minds is IT. They usually never think of IT as the factory to increase efficiency to business and therefore become more competitive. The IT outsourcing strategy, is another cutting cost alternative, but instead of strategy it???s being applied as a "must do" to be up to date in the latest management best practices. The driver to get involved in the IT outsourcing process is budget savings, of course at the early stages of the process they didn???t take into account that the delivered applications from the providers have to be integrated with the rest of systems and applications. At this point the savings turn into opex, and usually the professionals capable of quickly integrating those applications are no there any longer, hopefully they have a better job. Knowledge, the most valuable asset in any organization is lost as a result of the outsourced IT activity, no matter the number of breach clauses the contract contains want becomes obvious when it is too late to avoid it

don.gulledge
don.gulledge

As an Electrical Engineer, I found myself moving over into IT exclusively simply because the early nineties was bad times for engineering. Since I'd done a lot of IT work in my Engineering duties, it was a painless migration. Not only did I find good paying employment during a time that most were feeling hard times, but I did better than I'd ever done in my life as an Engineer or otherwise. So, from my experience, IT might not be such a bad place to be during these tough times. Companies always look to IT to cut operating cost, streamline procedures, and bring in effiencies of scale that no other aspect of business can do. While being a wrench turner or an assembly line person may get squeezed pretty hard, IT seems to become the golden child during tough times. Companies are hard pressed to eliminate the dead weight and get down to real business during tough times. They are forced to rethink their entire business strategy which IT is a large part and take more drastic actions than in good times. Petty managers that aren't all that tech oriented seem to become more useless during tough times because business wants people that can operate on the front lines more than well behind the lines. I don't like to see tough times coming to the US, but as I've learned in the past that it might be a blessing in disguise.

herronan
herronan

As an IT manager, purchaser and strategic developer, it is my job to ensure that IT is used to the best of everyones abilities. In these tough times, that are also hitting the UK. One thing I have been concentrating on is developing the existing infrastructure, streamlining, existing processes, and giving in-house training on existing software packages. I have found that by doing this, Senior Leadership values the IT support department more than before, as we are 'seen', and they can see that we are trying to save them money. Other departments are demanding our help to streamline how they work so they can look good in the eyes of Senior leaders, and generally pass on their thanks to IT, for our hard work. In these tough times, my department has grown, and has also been given a larger budget to replace older equipment, because the demand for IT has risen dramatically. Follow simple streamlining measures, will show IT in a whole different light.

RPLines
RPLines

I was in the hardware end of IT support and was the first cut. Printers being the first culprit. Now, high end color printers can be bought for just a few hundred dollars, which typically $200 equals a basic service call if you lucky you might get a new separation pad or some rollers in that total, but, it's a throw away world, and where I was part of an IT department supporting the hardware end of PC's, Server's, laptop's and terminals, now I feel like a has been. The Company decided it wasn't worth managing a weaking department of hardware support and didn't even pursue service contracts, and have since focused efforts on remote services. So, take this story and ponder the result of budget cuts in this day and age with consideration to the IT Department.

reisen55
reisen55

Management does not "see" the value of good information tech support be it hardware support or service. All are vulnerable in tough times to the siren call from WiPro, CSC, ACS et al who promise COST REDUCTIONS, BETTER SERVICE if we just transfer everything to INDIA. These snake oil salesman are marvelous at killing off American IT support and the results in India generally are sooooo poor it is not funny. But then management congratulates itself on reducing those pesky salary expenses and health care benefits, no matter if the STAFF AND FRONT LINE TROOPS in the company are dealing with the curse of poor support all of the time. Management does not SEE the value of IT anymore. Hell, all those computer guys ever do is browse the web and play games. Everything is working fine, so why bother.

jedmundson
jedmundson

I've worked for EDS and CSC and I'm glad that I did. Both are very good companies. Companies contract with them because they DO save them money. Not only that, most of the employees just change the source of their paychecks. Don't confuse the term outsource with offshore. When CSC started using the talents of people in India, all I saw was the ability to monitor the WAN 24/7. Somebody had do be awake at *Oh Dark Thirty*, why not someone who was awake at 2 p.m. to him/her? I lost my job when the company we contracted to decided to cut back on the contract. That's life. It's not fair but it Is life. You recover from the shock and move on.

reisen55
reisen55

Internal IT Staff at Aon Group; pre CSC Call us, we come quickly. 5 min response time. No helpdesk New Employee: new PC 4 hours New Employee: new email 4 hours Servers kept secure and email up. CSC Transition after December 2005 firing Call Helpless desk in India. Mandatory New Employee: 30 days for a new computer New Employee: 90 days for a new email account 200 Servers hit by worm in 2007. No patch. So, this is good? I became an independent consultant and one of my first customers was???? AON!!!!! Because several executives needed GOOD help instead of the junk CSC was handing out, ooops, BancTec too.

reisen55
reisen55

I often point to my clients, in jest, that the days of the vaunted IBM Selectric (and MagCard) are long gone. Imagine any office with every single piece of computer hardware and software pulled out of it. Their business would collapse!!!! We ARE that important to people and their trades. Which is why people always scream when THE NETWORK IS DOWN. As an independent consultant, I follow the IBM rules of long ago: (a) respect for the individual (my clients), (b) spend alot of time making the client happy and (c) go the extra mile to do a thing right. Good rules. They mean ZERO when it comes to outsourced Information Technology support and that is where the value of IT goes to hell very quickly. But any outsourcing company has a seven year-more contract with many legal penalties built in for cancellation and service level agreements that define the day. Those become THE VALUE of IT. Not achiving results, or just getting things done. Once the outsourcing is a done deal, IT has been devalued and lost.

Ramon Padilla Jr.
Ramon Padilla Jr.

If they don't, do you think it is the fault of your current IT management or the fact that some folks just don't get IT? Is your organization cutting back IT to weather the current economic storm and what is it doing to you as an IT organization? Do you go home at night praying to be cherry picked or do you work for an "enlightened" organization? I am looking forward to your comments!

explorehalkidiki
explorehalkidiki

I work as an entry level techie guy at a financial type company, mostly in a support capacity. While I may be biased, naive, and inexperienced, from my correspondence with our field locations and general impression, there does appear to be those who value IT, and those who see it as an burden. Yes, I do think it is the fault of current IT management that some folks don't get it. I see the issue as two-fold: IT management's approach, at least with respect to support capacities appears to me to be largely reactionary, with too little or no emphasis on the value of investing (not just monetarily, but just in overall management philosophy) in the intellectual growth/improvement of IT staff and establishing a proper knowledge base (i.e. training), This results in a lot of band-aid fixes, not enough forward thinking, and stagnant ideas. I think the problem is also symptomatic of a systemic of lack of communication between different departments, the root cause of which, stems from overall company culture (lack of really trying to pro-actively define a good one), but what do I know? I'm just a green n00b. I wish I had more perspective on these things :'[

helpdeskdude
helpdeskdude

Well I got one for you. My company gets IT, so did my supervisor, he GOT IT too! They let him go a could weeks ago. That left me in charge of three sites, 6 servers, about 150 end users with 40- 50 printers and faxes. Sounds like they GOT IT?? The managment said his lay off was a "business decision". I still haven't found out the REAL reason. I'm just a lowly helpdesk\PC Tech. I have no formal training on the servers at all. I understand a little about them but hands-on training...NONE. But I'm fumbling through and have managed not to blow the place up, yet. :) I have created some new accounts and a few other things. Managment said that they were not going to hire any one to take his place and that I was in charge. Needless to say, I feel I'm being setup to fail. I'm in a no win (sortof) situation. On the other hand thought, I'm getting a lot of experience that will at least go on my resume that I didn't have before. That is the upside to this mess. Yeah.... my company gets IT.

jmgarvin
jmgarvin

Didn't we already go through this!!?? Didn't businesses figure it out the first time!!?? Argggg... On that note, my company *IS* IT, so we get it (mostly). The sales people are a little confused, but for the most part, management is pretty savvy and they know that they have to "dump money into holes" to keep making money or to make more money. I mean, honestly, how do you quantify how many servers DIDN'T go down or how many service desk calls you avoided? You can't...so it looks like a money pit, when in fact it actually MAKES the business money.