The "Can't Do" IT shop

Patrick Gray discusses why IT has to let go of the attitude of "it just can't be done."

There was an interesting response to my last column suggesting that one of the CIO's biggest challenges in the coming years will be supporting employees who want to "bring their own technology" into the workplace. If you work in a company with remotely trend-sensitive or tech-savvy leaders you most likely have already seen this phenomenon firsthand, with the CEO or CFO poking his head into the CIO's office, holding the iPhone in his hand, and demanding "make this work with our e-mail!"

Most of the comments pointed out that there are legitimate security and management concerns for employee-selected technology, but when your competitors and customers are using these devices, the benefits rapidly begin to outweigh IT-centric drawbacks. Despite this, the preponderance of comments to the last article concluded that this "just can't be done." If you have been dealing with corporate IT for a couple of decades, the arguments might have sounded vaguely familiar; these were the same cries and doomsday predictions that rallied against giving the unwashed corporate masses Internet access, e-mail, and even the now-ubiquitous personal computer. When a legitimate business case was presented for each, that chorus of "can't do" reached a fever pitch, often until IT was bullied into joining the party, or merely ignored and bypassed.

Even for less dramatic changes, in far too many IT shops, "can't do" becomes a knee-jerk reaction. From the junior programmer fighting a minor change request, to the IT executive providing pages of reasons why something can't be done rather than exploring the request in any detail, "can't do" at its worst becomes an institutional policy and the sound one hears right before IT ceases to expend the mental energy to look for solutions, options, or alternatives.

I am certainly not suggesting IT should be a cadre of order takers, ready to unquestioningly leap toward anyone's merest whim. What I'm saying is that in too many IT organizations, the pendulum has swung too far in the direction of "can't do." All the well-intentioned management-speak about business alignment, focused execution, and strategic partnering immediately goes out the window when your standard operating procedure is "can't do." How can I be "aligned" with you when I immediately match any request with a reflexive "can't do"?

Expunging "can't do" from your IT organization's vocabulary will not only polish up a potentially tarnished image but also allow you to better grasp business or strategic trends affecting the organization and capture rough ideas and suggestions that can later be refined into a gem of an idea. If nothing else, allowing legitimate requests to be aired and responding in a thoughtful and transparent manner make the requestor feel far better about their interaction with IT, even if in the end the request is denied.

In many areas, the old standbys of security and cost no longer outweigh potential business benefits, and when IT comes aboard as a partner in figuring out how to best deploy these technologies it will likely result in far less heartache than being forced along, kicking and screaming, to comply with a corporate fiat.

Patrick Gray is the founder and president of Prevoyance Group and the author of Breakthrough IT: Supercharging Organizational Value through Technology. Prevoyance Group provides strategy consulting services to Fortune 500 and 1000 companies. Patrick can be reached at, and you can follow his blog at