IT Management: It's Organic, Not Digital

Effective tech management isn’t about machines, it’s about changing stupid processes and deranged corporate cultures.
If you’re new to technology management, much of what appears in this column will 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.

I wrote this column for those who have been in the trenches for a long time, and for those who want to skip right to the advanced course in gonzo technology management, skipping the pleasantries of undergraduate interning at your average consulting company 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 organic landmines everywhere. Many of the explosions that result are self-inflicted, almost deliberate, since we seem almost incapable of fixing the same old problems with people, processes, organizations and corporate cultures – not technology – which by and large works well.

Technology management is challenging. IT is a moving target – at best. The technologies themselves keep changing and the role we expect them to play keeps evolving. The nuances of managing in such a fluid environment are multi-dimensional: it’s about the biases of management, vendor manipulation and ambiguous project requirements – and lots more insidious, nefarious realities.

We seem to take two steps forward and one backward year after year, project after project, and now there’s unprecedented budget pressure to reduce costs, reduce costs and, in addition, reduce costs. I’m personally frustrated by our inability to routinely integrate acquisition, deployment and support best practices into our technology management routines.

How many toes must one shoot off before it’s impossible to walk?

But I also realize – after decades in this business – that, by and large, cost-effective technology management is much more about people, personal relationships, organizational processes and structures, and corporate culture than it is about “technology” or management “best practices.”

In fact, I would argue that technology and the processes we use to optimize IT are really pretty 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, BI, CRM, ERP and anything else that distracts us from what really moves technology management: the human factor.

The digital stuff is easy; the organic stuff is hard.

We must acknowledge the huge impact that corporate cultures and the knowledge, skills, personalities and experience of the senior management team (SMT) have on how well or badly we do IT.

We all know that the talent, ethics and motivation of SMTs varies widely from company to company: we hate telling undergraduates that many CEOs are idiots and that they got their positions not because of their performance but because of their personal relationships, because of who they knew, not what they know or did. But you already knew this.

Our success is tied to the quality and integrity of our people, their personalities and organizational politics, among other reporting, governance and power realities. The 21st century is sending clear messages about how to acquire, deploy and support technology through new organizational structures and processes.

Total control will yield to shared control. Standardization will be situational. Operational technology will divorce from strategic technology. You need to prepare for these changes and, if your leadership and culture permit (or is manipulatable), lead your companies’ organizational change initiatives.

It’s really simple: change or fail. But “changing” or “failing” is clearly determined by how bad your people are, how stupid your organizational processes are, and how deranged your corporate culture really is. Time for a reality check.

All of this is about transformation and success. Our most successful clients 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 overall 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, processes, organizations and culture play in the process. We have seen tremendous success with companies that focus more on these variables than on technology itself.

You should already be angry enough and more than ready for some change. But that depends on you. If the U.S. federal government’s TARP program, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the health care debacle and the cozy financial relationship between business, lobbyists and your elected officials don’t get you angry, then nothing is likely to move you.

But if you’ve had enough, then maybe you’re ready to join the ranks that have optimized their investments in business technology by focusing on organic – not digital – opportunities.

A final word. Dealing with people, processes, organizations and corporate cultures is far more difficult than configuring servers, updating desktops or tracking service level agreements. People, processes, organizations and cultures are the elephants in the room. If you focus more on them rather than on the technology itself, you can dramatically improve service and agility.

If you fail to go organic you will fight one war after another and never have a calm day at the office. Sophisticated executives and managers know this. The determined ones get IT done – regardless of how many good ‘ol boys (and gals) they offend.

Tags: management, IT management, CRM, acquisition, desktops

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