8 Things We Hate About IT Critics


The last thing an opinions writer wants is to be discovered by their least “defendable” post.  But sometimes a little unvarnished opinion leads to a moment of clarity that objectivity would otherwise muddle.

Such a moment was provided to me a month ago when I was doing one of my (many) daily digg and reddit clicking rituals.  I happened upon an article from Harvard Business, picked up by BuisnessWeek called “8 Things We Hate About IT”.

Source credibility and dissonance –

I must admit, I only made it to the third bullet point before making the assumption that the author was simply “blowing something out of their someplace”.   But it’s a Harvard Business article, so I gave it a full read… and then another… and another.  I can describe it like this: You know those tragic stories where the protagonist is also the antagonist, seeing problems as they are, but impervious to the notion that their own world view is the cause?  It’s like that.

I am always a little irritated when people who understand business can’t identify business problems.  Let’s take point #1 (which is actually two points). 

1) “IT Limits Managers’ Authority. You bring in 10% of the company’s revenue but can’t authorize a $100,000 project if it requires IT. Furthermore, IT’s bureaucratic governance process rivals the tax code in complexity and inhibits rather than promotes innovation.”

To which I say –
Those who learn to cooperate with their experts may bring in 20% of the revenue. When you think you’re great and everyone else is just in your way, that’s not even a business problem, it’s a professionalism problem. Bureaucracy, on the other hand, is a reflection of how the business approaches process management.  Your IT reflects the values of your organization… so if you want more innovative, less bureaucratic IT, hire more innovative, less bureaucratic IT Execs. That’s a business problem, and one that continues to grow.

I know you are, but what am I? –

IT is often an unknown quantity, seemingly mysterious in how it works, but I assure you that the same forces that influence other portions of your business will also influence IT.  What your organization values will be reflected.

But, and here’s the part that may surprise you, Susan’s observations are, in fact, *very real and true*.  Real and true in the sense that promoting simple top-down blame, rather than harnessing the unique features and natural motivations of your organization and its people, is what gets everyone into trouble in the first place.  This article is an demonstration of that failing.

The 8 Things We Hate About IT and their ilk are perceptions which are seeded, cultivated, and sold in bulk within organizations that do the LEAST effective job of integrating IT into the mission and functions of the business. It is the norm, not the exception, and why such an article might resonate with a good percentage of those likely to read it. As such, each point should be taken seriously and addressed at every available opportunity until the organization begins to understand, instinctively, what IT’s role really is.

IT Pros, on the other hand, can learn a very important fact about the IT industry from this article.  That fact is, in your IT careers, you will be criticized and congratulated, mostly, for things that simply don’t apply to you. That’s just the way it is, cope and adjust.  IT is often the mirror by which an organization unwittingly puts its own flaws on display.

Blame fills what comprehension leaves empty –

I will illustrate with a dramatization that is typical in IT, but would be absurd in another profession:

Imagine a plumber goes to a customer’s house to clear a bathroom drain.  The plumber does so… and the customers says, “Hey, now the garage door doesn’t work… what did you do?”  The plumber attempts to explain that the plumbing has nothing to do with the garage door, but the customer still calls the plumber’s boss to complain.  A week later, the same customer says “Hey, my car has been running great since you came by, thanks!”.

This… and I wish it were an overstatement… is the life of the average IT person.  It only takes a few months for most organizations to drive IT staff to pure cynicism… and perhaps alcohol. Unfortunately, IT eventually stops explaining itself and becomes essentially complicit in the perpetuation of false perception, which is just as bad as the perceptions themselves.

IT is blamed for all sorts of things which are, ultimately, the very business problems the organization has as a whole. Let us examine the rest of the 8 Things We Hate About IT for the real story (Read the full text of each Thing here):

2) “They’re missing adult supervision.” The argument here is that Senior execs are so elite that the only person capable of helping them is a senior executive. If you’re worried about talking to junior IT staff, grow up and get over yourself. Most IT groups embrace a very distributed management style… they have to nowadays, just to keep up. It is likely that the mid level IT person you find IS the decision maker for your problem.  Be an adult and deal with it.

3) “They’re Financial Extortionists.” If there is a lack of visibility in how IT spends dollars, then the organization doesn’t value such numbers, or isn’t managing risks effectively. If dollars are being wasted, that’s a business problem.  Often, IT is forced to overspend to deal with political realities and insulate against criticisms founded in similar ignorance. When the CEO asks "This is a billion dollar company, why did you go cheap on that server?" what do you say? The million dollar solution may have crashed all the same, but the CEO probably doesn’t know/care/respect the realities of computing. We spend because it looks good, not because it is good… and that is a prevalent business problem.

4) “Their Projects Never End.” Again, if project management isn’t a value to the organization, no one will be called to the carpet. Worse yet, you may not have competent people capable of gauging what is and isn’t "timely" at sufficiently high levels of the organization to deal with it. If your IT is off course and spinning and there’s just no reasonable explanation for it, that’s a business problem.

5) “The Help Desk is Helpless.” Now, I will agree that sometimes the Helpdesk requires some convincing that a problem exists… but if you’re having a problem, you can demonstrate it. If you can demonstrate it, and don’t get service, you’ve exposed a management problem. If you can’t, then *you* may be the problem.

6) “They Let Outsourcers Run Amok.” As I have written before, if your company (given sufficient size) is so adept that it can effectively manage an outsourced IT relationship, it would save a lot of money by *not* outsourcing. It is *very* hard, even under ideal circumstances, to extract value from most kinds of IT outsourcing, and that is most definitely not an IT issue.

7) “IT is stocked with out-of-date geeks.”  I agree on this one, and even more, I’ll say that IT is also stocked with a lot of young, underdeveloped talent going nowhere quick. As I wrote before, education should consume about half of an IT pro’s life. If it doesn’t, that’s a management problem which does have a real cost and IS noticed.

8) “IT Never has Good News.”  No, it’s just that the bad news is important to the execs, and the good news isn’t. I am currently saving my organization about $50K/year by making a change to the way it does server storage and backup instead of continuing an old system, just one of many cost saving tweaks. But frankly, it had no visible impact on the users, and thus, I received no pat on the back. God forbid a server is down for an hour, though… that is a different story. This is why CIO’s are so focused on headlines, and why IT pros are congratulated and criticized for trivial or irrelevant matters, and why IT undergoes cyclic erosion and major rebuilding within most organizations. The perception that IT never has good news is merely the visible artifact of an organization’s failure to equate success of the business with success in IT and vice versa.

Clarity from absurdity –

As a referendum on IT, this article misses the point. There are a lot of valid reasons to hate IT, and these aren’t they.  As a referendum on what happens when we fail to integrate critical components of our businesses into the organization, the article speaks volumes to us from the white space.

To the IT pros and CIOs out there, take note. The next time you’re faced with one of those situations where the nuance just doesn’t seem worth the time of explanation, just remind yourself that you’re propagating the misconceptions that this article is based on.

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Reader Comments

Sweet mercy this was a great blog post. I will have to tweet this.

You nailed it, that certain industries (law, insurance, etc.) are notorious to blame IT for their own lack of desire to include It as a strategic partner in the business mission.

There seems to be a pervasive “cost center” mentality placed on IT from executives in certain organizations, and then a resulting passive animosity that seethes below the surface and emanates from the line managers and their teams or the user groups and communities within production sectors of the business.

The “8 things they hate about IT” are really the 8 things they hate about their culture. It is reflection of the approach to innovation within these businesses.

Typically there is a poor understanding of who and what it is and typically the complaints are coming from an entity that a a culture only notices IT when they “get in the way”.

However, there are companies that have not only embraced IT as a strategic partner to the business but have used IT as the chief enabler via components like BPO, Architecture, applications (CRM/Portals/ECM) etc.

Companies that have done this have created channels within IT and cross functional project managers to align IT tightly with business and the user communities and hence these are the companies that the HBR writes about frequently in it’s blog posts about innovation.

write on!