Why Are So Many IT Managers So Bad?

The author marvels at what he sees as a remarkable lack of skill among many tech executives.
I’m angry about our inability to police ourselves against self-inflicted wounds. I’ve been at this for a lot of years and I cannot believe how often the same problems repeat themselves and how otherwise impressive companies find it impossible to get the most basics things right. Why is the business technology learning curve so damn flat?

Not long ago I visited a large company that had 11 ERP systems and 19 instances of them. Shortly after that I found myself talking with technology executives about their failed attempts to standardize their hardware, and right after that I helped a company think about how they should train their business technology professionals to think more about the business value of technology. I then found myself talking with some CIOs about whether they should think about outsourcing desktop support and their help desks.

Is it me, or are these issues like ten years old? Where the hell has everyone been, and why is it still so hard to practice discipline in the acquisition, deployment and support of technology?

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I told the CIO of the company with the 11/19 ERP problem that I could guarantee $250M to the company’s bottom line if he’d agree to practice some discipline. I know, I know, you think that $250M is an exaggeration: I assure you that it is not. The company in question has an annual global IT budget of over $2B and is wasting a ton of money on the installation, support and maintenance of unnecessary hardware and software.

I can guarantee a $250M savings if the company commits to a disciplined approach to standardization and deployment that would forbid the deployment of redundant applications. Hell, I even offered to forgo a consulting fee to make it happen, offering instead to take a percentage of the savings that was actually achieved – a completely risk free deal. They declined.


Why do companies continue to make the same mistakes year after year?

Well, the answer is almost too simple – and equally exasperating: they just can’t bring themselves to tell people things they don’t want to hear. Reducing the number of ERP applications “might upset some people” – I was actually told. Standardization makes people angry. People don’t like being told what to do, I’ve been told a million times. Of course, these same people complain all the time about the cost of technology, arguing that IT should be cheaper every year because, after all, IT’s all been commoditized.

Enough of this stupidity. We all learn early in life that we can’t have it both ways. Either we adhere to best practices or we pay the price. I really resent management’s insistence that technology costs be reduced when they fail to discipline the acquisition, deployment or support processes. I really resent the CIOs and CTOs that don’t have the courage to make the tough political calls when their corporate cultures might support these calls. There’s no excuse for the lack of discipline which is sometimes avoided just to avoid tough conversations with the boys – who I guess might not tell the bearer of bad news about Saturday’s tee time. An even more serious concern is for the shareholders of public companies that waste millions and in some cases billions of dollars on perfectly avoidable technology mistakes. Who is accountable to them?

It’s epidemic. Too many companies have too many applications, too many servers and too many laptops. Too many CIOs are afraid to make anyone mad. Too many CEOs fail to demand discipline from their technology executives – yet still complain about technology costs.

Much of the “technology-is-hard” crowd doesn’t pay enough attention to the lack of discipline that makes IT so hard! It’s not about performance, reliability or even security. These are solvable problems. The really tough problems are exacerbated by lack of will, poor discipline, our need to be liked, our tendency to avoid conflict, just about everyone’s desire to take the easy way out and our desire to dodge accountability whenever we can.

No one thinks they will end up in the woodshed. Maybe we should bring it back.

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