If you’re new to technology management, then much of what appears in this Advisor may strike you as opinionated, cynical, and arrogant. But if you’ve been at IT for a while now, you’ll see the contents as accumulated wisdom. This Advisor is for those who have been in the trenches for a long time as well as for those who want to jump right into the advanced course in gonzo technology management, skipping the pleasantries of undergraduate interning at your average consulting firm or within the discontented ranks of your typical struggling company.
The assumption here is that the business technology relationship can be widened and deepened to yield significant business value. But there are land mines everywhere. Many of the explosions that result are self-inflicted, almost deliberate, since we seem nearly incapable of fixing the same-old problems in regards to people, process, organization, and corporate culture — as opposed to technology — which by and large works pretty well.
Technology management is challenging. At best, IT’s a moving target. The technologies themselves keep changing, and the role we expect them to play continues to evolve. The nuances of managing in such a fluid environment are multidimensional: it’s about the biases of management, vendor manipulation, and ambiguous project requirements — and lots more insidious, nefarious realities. Right?
Year after year, project after project, we seem to take two steps forward and one-and-a-half backward, and today there’s unprecedented budget pressure to reduce costs, reduce costs, and — reduce costs. I’m personally frustrated by our inability to routinely integrate best practices of acquisition, deployment, and support into our technology management routines. How many toes must one shoot off before it’s impossible to walk? What haven’t we learned in 50 years?
But I also realize — after decades in this business — that, by and large, cost-effective technology management is much more about people, relationships, and corporate culture than it is about the technology itself or so-called management best practices. In fact, I could argue that technology and the processes we use to optimize IT are fairly meaningless unless you’re surrounded by the right people allowed to do the right things. Put another way, IT doesn’t work if you’re surrounded by bad people and stupid processes immersed in a deranged corporate culture.
Everyone knows this. We just choose — because we’re bad, stupid, and deranged — not to talk about it. We prefer talking about servers, desktops, operating systems, business intelligence, customer relationship management (CRM), enterprise resource planning (ERP), and anything else that distracts us from what really moves technology management: the human factor. Let’s agree that the digital stuff is easy; it’s the organic stuff that’s hard.
There’s no conflict avoidance here. We need to blend realistic best practices with the best and worst of the human species. Let’s also openly acknowledge the huge effect that corporate culture and the knowledge, skills, personalities, and experience of the senior management team have on how well or badly we do IT. We all know that the talent of the senior management team varies widely from company to company; we hate telling undergraduates that many CEOs are idiots and that they obtained their positions not because of their performance but because of their personal relationships — who they knew, not what they know or did. But you already knew this.
All of this is about transformation and success. Our successful colleagues have mastered the soft art of people/process/organization/culture manipulation and exploitation — while buying, deploying, and supporting the right technology. But they’ve long since accepted the human factor as the major driver of success. Everyone can improve technology’s ability to save money and make money for the business if they acknowledge the major role that people, process, organization, and culture play. We’ve seen tremendous success with companies that focus much more on these variables than on technology.
Dealing with people, process, organization, and corporate culture is far more difficult than configuring servers, updating desktops, or tracking service-level agreements (SLAs). The former elements are the elephants in the room. If you focus on them more than on the technology itself, you can dramatically improve service and agility. If you fail, however, you will fight one religious war after another. Sophisticated executives and managers know this. The determined ones get IT done right.