Wednesday, March 11, 2009

What I have learned from IT

Here is a somewhat overstated summary of some key principles you should understand if you work with IT. This is not taught in MBA courses (and it should be). That explains why organizations (private and public) do such a poor job of leveraging their competitive advantage through software and hardware. Most business managers and Chief Information Officers do not understand these principles.

In fact I would argue that if a Chief Information Office (CIO) or a Chief Technology Officer (CTO) cannot take the one-liners and provide the paragraph of explanation, you should not hire them.

  1. Software salesmen lie: Software salesmen say that they sell integrated suites of software. They say that their software will work with other companies software (open standards, supporting third party software). But you don't have to scratch very deep (sometimes just below the company branding) to realize that the components are built differently and integration is a code word for customization after installation. e.g. Microsoft Office is an integrated suite. NOT.
  2. The primary work of IT is software and hardware integration: See above. Nobody has any idea of how difficult, complicated and frustrating software and hardware integration is. There is no repeatability in software or hardware installation. Update one software component and the ripple of unanticipated integration issues can bring the entire network down. IT's primary work is not software scouting, implementation and maintenance. It is the continuous task of troubleshooting and developing custom software to deal with integration issues.
  3. IT prefers "one throat to choke". IT prefers single source supply versus best of breed. See above. If IT can catch software salesmen in a lie ("we have an integrated suite"), they can force the software supplier to troubleshoot and solve the integration problem. Buying "Best of Breed" allows software salesmen from one company to point to software salesmen from another company and say: "They Lie; their product is the source of your problems. Not Us". IT is forced to become software developers and integrators in order to stitch software applications together. This is why your IT people know the software better than the software developers.
  4. Business rules precede software: Software salesmen love to talk directly to business users. "Business users understand their needs best". This is patent nonsense. Business users, shown a shiny sports car, will want a shiny sports car when what they need is a minivan. Until business users do the hard work of defining the business process, the workflow, the supporting information in and out of the process, they do not know what they need. And they certainly can't define a hierarchy of wants. Because software is built over time to satisfy many wants and needs, the tool becomes a giant "Swiss Army" knife. Business users get lost in the complications of the Swiss Army knife when they need a steak knife. The whine: "It's too complicated" is a symptom of software purchased before business rules. Simple takes work.
  5. The pathway to innovation and business improvement leads through IT: Every time a CEO, a deputy minister or a politician announces a new innovative way to do business, the people affected hear the message and turn to ..... their computer. If they can't find the supporting tools and information there, the innovation is stillborn. The innovation or the process improvement isn't real until it shows up in the tools that people interact with.
  6. The business management guru that came up with the concept of IT outsourcing should taken out and shot: See above. If the people who work most closely with business units in improving their business processes and developing the underpining software supports for business innovation have their work outsourced to ...... India??? What about intellectual capital that the organization needs to keep close for competitive advantage? Isn't that at work here?
  7. Nobody says Thank You: When IT works well, things just arrive at your computer. When things break, work stops. Guess what IT hears about. Consequently, some very intelligent and gifted people get cabbages and contempt much more regularly than thanks. See Number 5. Can your business afford over time to erode the enthusiasm of intelligent and gifted people? Nobody says Thank You to IT. So it is incumbent for those who work closely with IT to do it on the organization's behalf.

So Thank You, IT.

1 comment:

Brenda Thibault said...

Hi Neil:
Great points that took me back to my time in government doing business integration. I didn't let my mind stay there too long!

I am in the financial services industry these days that has a very traditional approach to learning that needs some radical adjustments to respond to the 21st century. The need for change in the business models, increased use of technology at the delivery and learning levels, faster transfer of knowledge in an increasingly complex environment, facilitating the application of this knowledge, and increasing the level of financial literacy in our country are some of the many challenges.

Best of luck on your new endeavours,

Brenda Thibault