Leadership optimize

Railway stairs, IT demand, and cloud services

Nick Hardiman finds a parallel between an annoying daily challenge and one faced by many IT departments as they evolve toward the cloud.

I live in the country. There is no IT work for a guy like me anywhere nearby, unless sheep suddenly feel the need to get with the Internet revolution. I commute to cities where the global businesses -- the ones who pay the big money required to run Internet operations -- are located.

The elevator and the stairs

I use public transport when I can, rather than my private car. I pack supplies into my bicycle panniers, cycle to the nearest provincial train station, and use the rail network. When I get to the train station early in the morning, I must cross by bridge or by elevator to the platform where the train stops.

The rail company does not let me use the elevator. I get to the station early, and the elevator is locked out of hours because of fear of vandalism. Every time I arrive at the station I feel the pain of carrying my bicycle over the high bridge. The rail company controls this service and there is nothing I can do about it.

I look at the high bridge with its many stairs and I look at my heavy bicycle, laden with a clothes, food, and mobile office. After cycling several miles the bicycle is now looking awfully heavy. Golly, I think, if only I could use the new technology to make my job easier.

Every week I am denied resources and have to pick up my bicycle and trudge up those stairs.

Unmet needs

Sending requests for help from this far-flung corner of the railway company leads to a series of disappointments.

  • Disappointment 1 is a sign saying the elevator is out of commission. Boo! There is however a sign telling me to press the magic help button on the intercom nearby. Hooray! This intercom is my only way of sending requests to a central train company department.
  • Disappointment 2 is the voice coming out the intercom saying, no, sorry, they cannot supply the service - they do not control that elevator. See the train station attendant.
  • Disappointment 3 is the absence of a train station attendant outside office hours. I guess the budget does not stretch to providing this kind of resource to a low-traffic area.

I cannot ease my pain by using the internal network to request resources from this central department.

In every enterprise IT department I worked in, the demand from many departments outstripped the supply. The central IT department cannot ease the pain of every far-flung corner -- the available time, money and resources are never enough. A team leader managing an IT budget of thousands of dollars is going to be disappointed.

Working around the problem

I know as soon as a way of avoiding those railway stairs comes along, I will jump on it --maybe I will abandon the rail company and turn to the bus company, or maybe come up with some dangerous workaround, or perhaps I could constantly complain until the rail company changes its policy.

If a request to a central IT department is turned down or is put in a queue for delivery at some far off time, the department's need does not go away. A risk to an enterprise is that department staff will work around the central IT department in an uncontrolled way -- road warriors go direct to Salesforce, programmers to github, and administrators to Google Apps. Sensitive data is unsecured, cloud sprawl pushes up prices, and duplicated service suppliers stick like barnacles to the hull of the enterprise. Google Apps, Zoho, and Office 365? Sure! Let's subscribe to them all!

The IT world has moved on. The cloud has removed IT scarcity. It's up to the leaders to take the enterprise from the old world to the new by loosening control, enabling back-water departments to get what they need, and allowing the IT department to manage the transition securely.

About

Nick Hardiman builds and maintains the infrastructure required to run Internet services. Nick deals with the lower layers of the Internet - the machines, networks, operating systems, and applications. Nick's job stops there, and he hands over to the ...

12 comments
Deadly Ernest
Deadly Ernest like.author.displayName 1 Like

the fault of the IT department that they work within the existing corporate rules and limitations when others step outside those rules because they can't wait? One place I worked at some years ago we had a department head go off on his own to do something because he said the IT unit was taking too long to meet his request. The problem was the sales department staff did NOT know of the legal restrictions the company worked under in regards to certain aspects of IT management. Sales went their own way to get instant gratification, and the cost of providing what they wanted ended up being triple of what was wanted due to all the extra work to clean up their stuff up. The department head was very surprised and unhappy when his budget got hit with the cost of the clean up and that ended up costing him his annual performance bonus. Over the years I've heard of many cases where units have sidestepped the IT area on IT issues because they felt IT was not responding fast enough, I've yet to hear of one that was a success, or one that did NOT end up costing a lot more due to the way the on OT people went about doing things. I have heard of one case where the bypassing of IT ended up costing the company a multi-million dollar government contract because the company was no longer compliant with the government IT security rules. There are many things that affect IT, security, laws, and budget - like all other departments IT can only move as fast as the budget and staffing limitations allow. Sadly, non IT departments expect the IT people to do things instantly instead of in the due process and when it can be afforded. One government agency I once worked with had a very good way of making sure the other departments worked with IT, it was very simple. Any IT expenditure approved of by the IT manager was out of the IT budget, and all IT assets were under the control of the IT manager. If a department wanted something ahead of when IT could get to it, then the department had to pay for it themselves and also got billed by IT for all maintenance work on it. Once the other department heads saw the costs affecting their budgets and their performance bonuses, they soon changed their minds about how to do things.

info
info like.author.displayName 1 Like

...that this is the first time in my life I've ever seen employees being able to dictate to their employers how the company should be run... and being successful, let alone getting away with not getting fired for it! Sure, I think that speed limits should be relaxed or eliminated as well! Today's cars are all about the speed and control! If drivers seem to have worse skills, bad judgement and a low attention span...well, that won't matter, will it? I'm sure these same people that think it is their RIGHT to be ENTITLED to no control will follow guidelines to ensure a smooth transition, rather than grabbing their 'inch' and taking a 'mile' since their judgement is just as good as the IT guy's. You said it...'dangerous'. Go ahead and lug your bike right across those tracks, rather than having to cross that high bridge. See how long it takes before you're run down, or banned altogether from using the railway! Of course, that's their 'fault', because you're too important to play by any rules, and require instant gratification. Anyway, I'm starting to ramble. The way people are going now, they'll only be confused by what I'm saying. When have things ever gone bad for them? It's getting to the point where things will be secure and stable enough that IT services can become 'pay per use' from the online vending machine of their choice... but it's a WAYS off yet.

genehughson
genehughson

The cloud and BYOD are just a replay of the 80's in terms of shadow IT: http://genehughson.wordpress.com/2012/06/30/what-do-you-do-when-you-find-yourself-in-quicksand/ Trying to hold back the tide just won't work.

Deadly Ernest
Deadly Ernest

King Canute had a lot of advisors telling him he was all powerful and could do anything, so he took them down to the sea to demonstrate that he had no power to turn back the sea and was thus not as all powerful as they claimed. Cloud services are very much the same, people claim they're all powerful and can do anything, but, sadly, we do not have a King Canute in charge, so some of us have to point out it's not at all like the ones who hope to make money off it claim.

genehughson
genehughson

1) I never claimed Canute believed he could hold back the tide. In fact, it shouldn't be hard to find a post of mine that shows I'm well aware of the story. 2) Cloud, BYOD, etc. are symptoms of the real problem - IT failing to meet its needs. Not that that is always the fault of IT, but clearly there are plenty of situations where it hunkers down until forced to accept change (then complains about the disorganized state of what's been dropped in its lap). If you don't stay in front of the issue, you really can't complain when it runs you over.

Deadly Ernest
Deadly Ernest

the organisations seemed to function OK most of the time, despite the senior managers. It seems that when people reach a certain level of management in a large organisation they feel they know all there is to know about anything to make any decision about all things that affect their department or unit. That gives them sufficient reason to ignore lower level specialist when the specialist doesn't immediately agree with what they want. I've seen this in many private enterprise operations and many government agencies at local, state, and federal level. but I've never seen it in any small business operations.

genehughson
genehughson

It sounds like you've worked for some very dysfunctional organizations.

Deadly Ernest
Deadly Ernest

they don't really know what it is they want to talk about or what it is they really need. They don't know how to say exactly what it is they're trying to resolve. They have an idea of what the fix is and that's good enough for them. In many cases someone high up has listened to a sales person and bought into the idea of buying this or that hardware or gadget or service from that company. Because they don't really know what it is they want to achieve by using this great sounding 'thing' they can't lay it out, as they can't do that they don 't want to talk about it as they know they'll only look silly. Another reason is they have a vague idea of the issue they need to resolve and have found what they think will do the job, but haven't yet worked out exactly how it will do it. In short, instead of discussing the details of the problem they want solved, they get focussed on getting a solution they've decided they want and don't want to be talked out of getting what they've decided on. Thus they walk away from the discussion.

genehughson
genehughson

"The sad fact is that most business units will not fulfil their responsibility to enter into real discussions with the IT unit, they tend to wander off and go their own way until it blows up in everyone's face." Assuming it works that way...why? Why refuse to talk? Why risk the blowup?

Deadly Ernest
Deadly Ernest

Second, it's very hard for IT to provide options until the business areas come forward and ask for what they want. Every business unit I've known would hit the roof if IT came forward and tried to tell them what they needed before they asked for it. Third, it is the business of the IT unit to be aware of technical improvements and to look into them to see if they may be of benefit. It is NOT the business of IT to tell others what they have to change to because IT thinks it's better. Nor is it the business of other units to demand IT accept their ideas on an IT solution just because the media or a sales person presented it well. I agree the IT unit should work with the business unit to deliver what they want, I've never said otherwise. I've only said that it's the duty of the IT unit to look at all aspects of the requirement in light of all the restraints I mentioned before, and to work with the unit to come up with a suitable solution within that framework. However, your initial post here comes across as IT having to just accept and do what other business units want in regards to BYOD and Cloud Services, that is just NOT going to work for most businesses, no matter how soon people want it to happen. A workable solution usually requires an effort on both parts, not IT bending over backwards they way you implied earlier. When they have to do so, it's the responsibility of IT to say "No, I can't do that" or "No, I can't do that right now." It's then the responsibility of both parties to sit down and discuss why the NO is there and find out what can be done. The sad fact is that most business units will not fulfil their responsibility to enter into real discussions with the IT unit, they tend to wander off and go their own way until it blows up in everyone's face. The whole situation is like the management training story of the two people and one orange, both want the orange but don't mention why, so the result is they cut it in half and neither can do what they really want to do because they kept their agendas hidden. When all comes out it's found one wanted the peel and the other wanted the juice, so they could have both got what they wanted if they sat down in earnest discussion. The same holds true for all business unit tech requirements that need to go through IT, but few business unit managers are prepared to sit and talk openly about what they want to achieve, they usually sit and talk about what they've seen that they think will be the answer despite having insufficient knowledge to know if it is or not. I started my working life in customer service, moved into logistics, over to accounting, into administration and management and then into IT tech work, mostly with hardware and high security areas. I had management and administration qualifications before I got any tech qualification, so I know how both sides of this problem work. The majority of screwed up IT decisions have been made by CFOs and those without a strong technical background making the technical decision, mainly based on the claims of sales reps. It is the responsibility of a good IT manager or IT tech to give the best advice they can within the limitation of their work situation, if that isn't good enough for the business manager, then maybe they should think about asking the IT unit how they can help them to change the limitation, but that never happens either as the business units want everything now but won't give any resources to help it happen. Yet you advice the IT people to just give in without keeping in mind the limitations they have to work with, well, that's how it comes across.

genehughson
genehughson

"Yes, many other departments make demands, but do NOT bother to take them time to sit down with the IT people and work out what is possible within all those constraints." It's incumbent on IT to provide options, not the business to beg for them. And again you have spent time railing on about the cloud and BYOD rather than looking at how to provide the services needed without the downsides (and options exist for all of the issues you listed). I'm not talking about always saying "yes", but about helping them get what they need within the system rather than saying "request denied".

Deadly Ernest
Deadly Ernest like.author.displayName 1 Like

arrogance by the holder, thus my mention of the real situation, and it also applies to the cloud and byod. Yes people are pushing for the cloud and byod, but the great bulk of that is coming from those who have no full understanding of the depth of issues with IT, especially on those two issues, or those with vested interests in getting them taken up. In fact, I see few IT people with hands on experience with the legal and security issues affected by these two issues who do not yell out to look at them with great caution. I've interacted with many IT departments over the years as both a member of it and from outside, I've yet to meet one that has more than one person in it with some real life experience who hasn't tried to help people do what they want to do. The problems are the IT department is constrained by corporate policies, various laws that are often not known to people not directly affected by them (until they bite them in the arse for ignoring them), budgets, manpower, physical assets, and other demands. Yes, many other departments make demands, but do NOT bother to take them time to sit down with the IT people and work out what is possible within all those constraints. Next time marketing asks for something from IT, ask them how soon they can get a twelve person work force on the ground and selling in a country on the other side of the globe that uses another language - that may give them an idea of how simple what they want is not so simple. This started about the Cloud, areas of legal concern for cloud users that most people outside of IT aren't that likely to know - Privacy laws requiring the data to stay within the country, national communications laws on what can and can't be sent over some of the telecommunications systems, the laws on recording information off the telecommunications systems, then you can run into contractual obligations about the security of the information and those who work on it. In Australia most defence dept projects require that EVERYONE who MAY come into contact with the project or any of the information about needs to have a suitable level of security clearance BEFORE they get near it. I'm sure the cloud service providers are going to get ALL their tech staff cleared to top secret just so a defence contractor can use the cloud. Those obligation have been there for years, but I know of senior people in companies not realise they also apply to the tech staff where the file servers are kept. Then with BYOD you have the same issues, but squared. You have no right to tell me how to use my own property, so when I want to leave the company you have no way to ensure I don;'t walk out with a BYOD jammed full of company data. And that's just a most obvious one. Then you get to who pays for the data usage etc. Then who pays for any maintenance of updates? Who buys the replacement if it gets lost or stolen at work? Sure the sales staff thinks it's easy, but they won't be so happy about BYODs when they get to pay the usage bills out of their own pockets. Bet they didn't think about that one. Tell me, if BYOD is so great, why do most companies have corporate motor vehicles for business use instead of letting everyone use their own vehicle for business all the time? The reason is they had this all out once before and found it too expensive then, and it will be for most here. Sometimes the best thing to do when you see a runaway freight train is to walk away from the railway track and let it go on it's way by itself. I once did that with a past manager after telling him the devices he wanted to buy would not do the job. Half a million dollars of purchases and almost a million dollars of costly consultant bills, and the senior management finally decided I'd told them the truth right at the start. I kept out of that freight train, and I may have to do the same with this one. I've always said the cloud answer is great for uni student, but not for any serious corporate usage, and BYOD is much the same.