A bad strategic or tactical move can unleash an avalanche of negative effects on your organization, some lasting for years to come. Here are some of the worst of the worst — and a few suggestions on how to avoid them.
1: Locking in to the wrong technology
Years ago, standardizing all IT around a single vendor made a lot of sense. You might be a Microsoft, SAP, or Oracle "shop" and could usually get beneficial pricing and reduced support and training costs. However, moving toward a monolithic architecture in the days of cloud computing should be carefully considered lest you end up with a significant investment in a platform that's expensive to maintain, inflexible, and no longer supported.
2: Investing in overpriced science projects
It's worth pursuing some experimental technologies and monitoring the pulse of where enterprise IT is headed. But investing heavily in untried technologies with unresponsive vendors often ends up being an unending "science project" in which you're tweaking components on a daily basis.
3: Driving users to mutiny
Once upon a time, IT could unilaterally deliver low quality systems and effectively tell users, "If you don't like it, leave." Now, users can mutiny with little more than a credit card and access to one of the myriad public cloud services.
4: Selecting an expensive "integrated" future
While no entity or company can accurately predict the future, the best technical architecture and vendor selection processes produce an IT infrastructure that's flexible and can accommodate future technologies ranging from mobile to social connectivity. Choose poorly and you're doomed to a custom integration (and potential science project) to take advantage of these technologies.
5: Viewing IT as separate from "the business"
Hearing references to "the business" makes me cringe, since the speaker has consciously or unconsciously adopted an attitude that technology and IT are somehow a separate and distinct from the rest of the company. Usually, a series of bad decisions has driven a wedge between IT and the rest of the company — or IT has completely lost touch with the company as a whole. Neither is something that should exist or be tolerated in a successful IT organization.
6: Becoming seen and not heard
While being run out of town is the ultimate expression of dissatisfaction with bad technology decisions, the near alternative is not much better. After a series of bad decisions, IT can become marginalized and trusted for little more than infrastructure, completely isolated from anything that even vaguely resembles a strategic decision. In this scenario, IT is called in when all the key players have agreed on a course of action, and IT is left to implement and pick up the pieces.
7: Getting saddled with cost as your only metric
The ultimate expression of a low-value commodity is one that is evaluated primarily on cost. If your metrics and measures are gradually focusing solely on cost, this should be your first warning sign that IT has made some bad decisions and is headed for marginalization. The only way to resist is to cut your way to complete commoditization and face being run out of town or to shift the discussion to some of the high-value ways IT can enable and accelerate the company's strategic objectives.
8: Retaining "dead head" staff
No longer the exclusive domain of the technically savvy, there are unprecedented sources of information available to employees — from competitive salary information to access to corporate news before most companies have a chance to break the news internally. Your staff are probably better informed than you realize and will sense an IT organization that's headed in the wrong direction. If they're sticking around, they may be overcompensated and underperforming or biding their time for a better opportunity. In either case, they've effectively become "dead heads" no longer contributing.
9: Developing abusive vendor relationships
Make a few bad decisions and have a costly failure or two, and you'll likely end up in an abusive relationship with some of your vendors. This might be to the vendor's advantage, where it holds your inflexible technology selection over your head in the form of high license and maintenance fees. Or you might have a vendor you've browbeaten into providing unfair pricing and unreasonable service terms due to size or scale. In either case, the injured party will often see the light and quit the relationship, leaving a painful separation process in their wake. If you're guilty of abusing your vendors, or rolling over and taking it when they offer their latest licensing increase, you're headed for trouble.
10: Being run out of town
Outsourcing entire IT departments is no longer unusual. While this used to be a complex, multi-year effort, now there are dozens of companies that can take over even the largest IT departments on the high end and cloud providers that will happily take over infrastructure and applications for even the smallest companies on the low end. Make enough bad decisions, and it's not all that difficult to "rip and replace" an entire corporate IT department.
- The future of IT: A strategic guide (ZDNet special feature)
- Executive's guide to strategic tech planning: 2015 and beyond (free ebook)
Living with a bad tech decision
Have you ever made a tech decision you regretted later — or inherited someone else's faulty choices? Share your lessons-learned with fellow TechRepublic members.
Patrick Gray works for a global Fortune 500 consulting and IT services company and is the author of Breakthrough IT: Supercharging Organizational Value through Technology as well as the companion e-book The Breakthrough CIO's Companion. He has spent over a decade providing strategy consulting services to Fortune 500 and 1000 companies. Patrick can be reached at email@example.com, and you can follow his blog at www.itbswatch.com. All opinions are his and may not represent those of his employer.