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Why do people still hate their IT departments?

Apr 19, 2010 Business Daily, Management

“You may think that hate is too strong of a word for feelings toward a corporate department. I don’t. Yesterday, I was interviewing an executive on his perceptions of IT and he couldn’t spit his frustration out fast enough. He said, “In the quest of getting things organized, they are introducing a bunch of bureaucracy and, in the process, they’re abdicating their responsibility for making sure the right things get done.” This is completely typical of management’s frustration – no, management’s hatred – of IT.”

SUSAN CRAMM, blogs.hbr.org (2 June 2008)

Susan Cramm posted a hard-hitting blog on the Harvard Business Review‘s website some time ago. In it, she pulled no punches about why information technology is still management’s bugbear, and why IT departments are regarding with such resentment. Any senior IT manager should pay plenty of attention.

No modern business can function without IT – it enables so much in today’s organisations that it comes as a surprise that people still express ‘hatred’ of IT and its keepers. Cramm listed 8 things people hate about IT; I will cover the ones I think resonate most in Kenya.

Here’s one: Cramm equates IT managers with financial extortionists. Every investment in IT, she says, is an emergency, and it always has to cost a zillion dollars! There’s a lot to think about there. I have watched many CEOs reel under the onslaught of new technology. Issues like the ridiculous Y2K bug, the requirements of Sarbanes-Oxley, virus attacks, etc are always communicated as huge issues, and the attendant costs make your eyes water.

IT managers appear to have no incentive to seek the value-for-money option, and are forever touting the most expensive enterprise software, the most ludicrously priced implementation consultants, the highest-end hardware, or the lastest fad such as CRM or VOIP. The truth is, most employees have no need for the sophisticated laptops, desktops and software that they are given – a simple netbook with only the necessary programs would suffice for most corporate tasks.

A second gripe: IT projects never seem to end. CEOs tell me that even after months and years of fraught implementation, there is a rarely a time they feel like celebrating. The much awaited ‘go-live’ is invariably a time of setbacks and unforeseen disasters; the promised functionality never seems to materialise; and there are always new, unplanned modules of the software to purchase for the ‘real results’ to finally be realised. This has big emotional repercussions: if you can’t celebrate something and if its promise is never quite realised after massive spending, then negative feeling will be pervasive.

And a final one: often the IT professionals are the ones who are the least “with it” when it comes to the new technology. In fact there is more to learn about modern computing from the average teenager than the seasoned IT professional, who is often stuck in the paradigms of the past. In the average corporation, IT professionals have been very slow to latch onto the power of cloud computing, mobile devices and social networks. They are still frittering their IT dollars away on high-end software and hardware and cabling when the future lies in smartphones, mobile apps and crowdsourcing.

Let’s not give the IT boys too hard a time: they often have to deal with clueless business leaders with unrealistic expectations. IT is no panacea, and it certainly can’t mitigate for a poor business model and defective strategy. But there is little doubt that in many cases IT professionals, notoriously opaque and uncommunicative as they are, are responsible for the bad press that they receive. The more enlightened ones will want to raise their game in managing expectations, running projects, communicating in English, and understanding human beings, not just machines and networks.

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