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Why "Running IT As a Business" Is a Bad Idea

kdawson posted more than 4 years ago | from the guerilla-movement dept.

Businesses 364

snydeq sends along a provocative piece from Infoworld, arguing that the conventional wisdom on how IT should be run is all wrong. "Bob Lewis dispels the familiar litany that 'IT should be run as a business,' instead offering insights into what he is calling a 'guerilla movement' to reject conventional 'IT wisdom' and industry punditry in favor of what experience tells you will work in real organizations. 'When IT is a business, selling to its "internal customers," its principal product is software that "meets requirements." This all but ensures a less-than-optimal solution, lack of business ownership, and poor acceptance of the results,' Lewis writes. 'The alternatives begin with a radically different model of the relationship between IT and the rest of the business — that IT must be integrated into the heart of the enterprise, and everyone in IT must collaborate as a peer with those in the business who need what they do.' To do otherwise is a sure sign of numbered days for IT, according to Lewis. After all, the standard 'run IT as a business' model had its origins in the IT outsourcing industry, 'which has a vested interest in encouraging internal IT to eliminate everything that makes it more attractive than outside service providers.'"

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He is correct (2, Insightful)

sopssa (1498795) | more than 4 years ago | (#30824568)

He actually hit the nail to head with this. This is the thing most people working with IT or geeky professions miss, and why they think everything free and such is so great movement. Business DOES NOT work on mere technical things. Nothing in the world does.

This all can be really put into one line: People don't care what you do. People care about results of what you can enable them to do. If you provide that, great! If you dont and jab about "better ways" to do things while costing time and money, then.. sorry, but bye bye.

As a more slashdot friendlier terms, do you really care how a pizza place makes your pizza? No. You only care about how good it tastes when you eat it.

Re:He is correct (-1, Offtopic)

jhoegl (638955) | more than 4 years ago | (#30824584)

do you really care how a pizza place makes your pizza? No. You only care about how good it tastes when you eat it.

Uh, yes... yes i do
employee bath [youtube.com]

Re:He is correct (5, Insightful)

Knara (9377) | more than 4 years ago | (#30824632)

You've got part of the idea. The main problem in IT is that since we don't actually make a profit off anything directly (unlike the pizza analogy), what accounting/management sees is a department that's better at making pizzas for less than last year. As such, they figure that it would be *even better* if you could, perhaps, make a substantially similar pizza with less people and less money.

Keep that going for a few years, and you end up with people wondering why it takes so long for their pizza to arrive, and why, when it does, that its missing some of the requested toppings and the cheese is partially dehydrated Velveeta.

The perennial problem of IT: It's benefits are several degrees removed from its efforts, from the POV of an accountant. No direct revenue generation means "less spent is better", with no solid way to quantify the benefits of having a well funded, well populated IT group (as opposed to not having one or both).

Re:He is correct (0, Offtopic)

yuhong (1378501) | more than 4 years ago | (#30824796)

Yea, it is likely hitting the problems of shareholder value and agency theory yet again, to the point I am seriously thinking of resubmitting my Slashdot submission on this again.

Re:He is correct (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30825112)

The perennial problem of IT: It's benefits are several degrees removed from its efforts, from the POV of an accountant. No direct revenue generation means "less spent is better", with no solid way to quantify the benefits of having a well funded, well populated IT group (as opposed to not having one or both).

And yet, the accountants are so short-sighted they can't see that, absent IT, they'd be twiddling their puds doing bookkeeping for the local hardware store.

It's like being raised and supported by your folks, then telling them they have to carry their own weight by paying rent for living n your house.

They're nothing but a bunch of self-absorbed, ungrateful bastards.

Hah! -- captcha = scorns

Re:He is correct (1)

omfglearntoplay (1163771) | more than 4 years ago | (#30825428)

Simple solution, I find. Make sure you have a few projects that directly affects the head of accounting. They quickly realize just how great IT is, because it should always allow them to operate their department with less people. The only problem may be when IT works under accounting, but if that's the case, you better either be buddies with the head of accounting or move on to a better developed internal structure. I'm not saying you can't work for a small business, I'm just saying being a sub-dept to accounting is asking for trouble. But being somebody else's "burden" and making yourself invaluable to accounting somehow works. At least that's what I've seen.

Re:He is correct (1)

poetmatt (793785) | more than 4 years ago | (#30824664)

trying to expect people to understand IT (when they're not) is like trying to get a traditional business to understand customer service.

Both get shafted on being given the funds understanding they need, and welp. wouldn't you know everyone's pissed.

The answer is: do a shitty job in IT and/or customer service, and your company's going to have a tough time.

Re:He is correct (1)

Em Emalb (452530) | more than 4 years ago | (#30824678)

No he's wrong, if he considers "IT" to be software development. It's not.

It's software development.

Re:He is correct (1)

maxume (22995) | more than 4 years ago | (#30824870)

Is your meaning lost if your first paragraph is rewritten as "No he's wrong, if he considers software development to be "IT". It's not."?

Re:He is correct (1)

Em Emalb (452530) | more than 4 years ago | (#30825082)

Software development is a part of IT. It's not "IT".

It's just being more specific.

Kinda like pointing at a Subaru WRX and saying "that's an automobile". While technically correct, it's not descriptive.

(Pet Peeve of mine, sorry)

Re:He is correct (1)

maxume (22995) | more than 4 years ago | (#30825210)

So, if I understand you correctly, it would have been much clearer (to me) had you said "No he's wrong, if he considers software development to be all of "IT". It's not.".

Or something. It was obvious that you were talking about the relationship between the two, but it wasn't clear what you were saying the relationship was.

Re:He is correct (1)

Em Emalb (452530) | more than 4 years ago | (#30825370)

You're correct.

Re:He is correct (2, Interesting)

Jazz-Masta (240659) | more than 4 years ago | (#30824680)

I agree. IT people should be more in tune with how the business works as well. This is where industry software and hardware often fall apart.

They have one of two things:

1. IT person creating business applications and hardware. They are technically superior, but miss the goals of the business partially, or entirely. Because of this, the business cannot run optimally.

2. A Business person creating business applications and hardware. They are technically inferior...sometimes so much to the point of not working half the time, but the ideas, and the process fit the business model.

Having IT people within the business that can identify what the user is trying to do, and how to do it, can help the IT person come up with better ideas of how to do it. When a user asks to fix a problem, don't just fix it, perhaps there is a better way of doing what they want.

Reminds me of a time when I was called in to fix some scanners and printers. After fixing them, they proceded to print a document, then scan it in, just to email it to a vendor. I politely showed them that CutePDF prints PDFs like a printer, and they can email it, saving a few steps and a lot of time. Now I try to engage the users in asking them what they want to accomplish.

Re:He is correct (4, Informative)

Xiaran (836924) | more than 4 years ago | (#30824904)

And in some places I have worked you would now get the following...

Were you authorised to show these people CutePDF? Who gave you permission to to install CutePDF on their machines? Did you fully evaluate CutePDF to certify that it is the Best of Breed? Are their security implications to using CutePDF? Who is now responible for maintaining CutePDF? Who is going to train users on its use? Has it been fully documented? Are change control and the standard image build team aware of this?

In such environments it is much easier and healthier to just not care any more.... the above situation is not uncommon.

Re:He is correct (4, Informative)

Pojut (1027544) | more than 4 years ago | (#30825040)

This occurred in the call center where a friend of mine works. Their clients only required a handful of calls to be recorded each month, so rather than invest in an expensive system to record everything, they do it by hand (they use Cisco Softphone, so it isn't as difficult as it sounds). They were going to purchase him a Creative sound card along with some crap Creative recording software. He asked if he could just use Audacity instead, since it is rock solid, he knows how to use it, and since it is under the GNU there aren't any legal issues. Their answer? Nope. Because it is open source, their IT department "determined" its use could lead to a security risk.

Sometimes, the asshole is puckered way too tight.

Re:He is correct (3, Interesting)

Moryath (553296) | more than 4 years ago | (#30825400)

On the other hand, how many users have I had where I go to their machine and they say they are having a "problem" connecting to the web, and they open up an IE window with 5 or more toolbars popping up?

How many users have I had that installed Weatherbug, or some other little widget, and then complained a couple weeks later when their machine was overrun by various spyware/scareware apps?

CutePDF, for instance, comes bundled with ASS ("Ask") TOOLBAR. Pain in the ass to remove. Nuisance in terms of security. If you don't know what you're doing when you install it, that crap gets dumped in along with it, then starts opening you up and phoning home as well.

"If it sounds too good to be true..."

Yeah. It's like that. Get yourself into a large enterprise and there are reasons to be cautious. Hell, there are reasons to be cautious at home on a 1-machine network.

Re:He is correct (1)

Jazz-Masta (240659) | more than 4 years ago | (#30825200)

And in some places I have worked you would now get the following...
Were you authorised to show these people CutePDF? Who gave you permission to to install CutePDF on their machines? Did you fully evaluate CutePDF to certify that it is the Best of Breed? Are their security implications to using CutePDF? Who is now responible for maintaining CutePDF? Who is going to train users on its use? Has it been fully documented? Are change control and the standard image build team aware of this?

You're right...I was referring to more small to medium sized businesses that have a smaller, more workable type of bureaucracy...you usually find the above BS in larger corporations or universities, especially.

Re:He is correct (4, Insightful)

Xiaran (836924) | more than 4 years ago | (#30825458)

Oh I agree with you. This is why I now avoid working in large enterprises. The work is generally more satisfying in a small/medium size business. Far less tedious, time wasting meetings about nothing. And nothing beats actually helping people get there stuff done better because of you.

Re:He is correct (1)

lymond01 (314120) | more than 4 years ago | (#30825124)

This is critical to a really great business. If your business's IT group is developing applications to enhance productivity or to implement new paths for doing business, they really need to know how you're working. Boilerplate applications may not be customized enough to truly enhance things. It might work, but it might not work well enough to make things more efficient, draw in new business, etc. Having your IT staff sit down with employees and learn what they do makes a huge difference in the usefulness of the application.

Re:He is correct (1)

zlogic (892404) | more than 4 years ago | (#30825324)

When a user asks to fix a problem, don't just fix it, perhaps there is a better way of doing what they want.

Unfortunately some users are afraid of changes, and see the IT department as a threat - constantly messing with the process that works just fine. If you install cutePDF and it doesn't work, the IT department will get blame for wasting other people's time.

Re:He is correct (1)

King_TJ (85913) | more than 4 years ago | (#30824724)

Sure, but IMHO, he's just stating the obvious. (Maybe that's needed though. Sometimes people just like to see things in writing that they've informally believed in and followed anyway.) It just seems to me that in every I.T. job I've ever had, the idea was put out there that our job was to come up with solutions that improved efficiency and productivity. Sure, management might dictate that certain problems be solved a specific way, and certain requirements needed to be met. But any decent I.T. person would take all of that as a set of "necessary parameters" while trying to come up with the best possible solution. More often than not, as you start evaluating products, you discover solutions to problems nobody even considered when initially starting the project. Those tend to become automatic "bonuses" you can present to management when you roll a solution out, because NOW you know about them and can be a step ahead of the game.

And frankly, I don't understand the point you're trying to make about people thinking "everything free and such is so great", as a consequence of missing the original point of this article? I know *I* think free solutions are great, mainly because if they actually work to solve a problem for me, I get to go ahead and play around with them and actually put them in place without all the "red tape" of getting purchase orders approved first. Quality free software allows I.T. to be more proactive than they could otherwise be. (EG. We have issues right now with an older Sonicwall firewall and people trying to come in remotely via VPN. Depending on the ISP, it seems some people are experiencing random disconnects, and the only real "lead" I found so far is to change the MTU size (from 1500 to a smaller value). But doing so just seems to shift the problem around. One user says their issue is improved, while a new person reports problems when they never had them before. Rather than spending big $'s on a newer, updated VPN firewall product with support agreement, I can implement a free, Linux-based OpenVPN solution as an alternative. Given our current financial situation, the new commercial VPN firewall is simply not happening.)

Oh shut up (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30824734)

Lots of IT people are Christian. That alone says that rational results are beyond the point. Stupidity and randomness can reign.

Re:He is correct (1)

Havokmon (89874) | more than 4 years ago | (#30824778)

Exactly. IT is Customer Service. IT's job is to provide the company with the tools they need to get their jobs done when they need to do their jobs. The trick is actually providing the best tools to the users. Say, an air nail gun for a roofer when the roofer insists on using his favorite hammer. That may be a great solution when you're building your dog house, but it's not a long-term productive tool.

Re:He is correct (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30824808)

He actually hit the nail to head with this. This is the thing most people working with IT or geeky professions miss, and why they think everything free and such is so great movement. Business DOES NOT work on mere technical things. Nothing in the world does.

This all can be really put into one line: People don't care what you do. People care about results of what you can enable them to do. If you provide that, great! If you dont and jab about "better ways" to do things while costing time and money, then.. sorry, but bye bye.

As a more slashdot friendlier terms, do you really care how a pizza place makes your pizza? No. You only care about how good it tastes when you eat it.

I like what you're saying, but the analogy is terrible. Yes I do care how my pizza is made, I no longer order from a certain place because they failed health inspections twice in a row, the second time with even MORE problems than the first. However their cheesestix are mighty tasty but I can't really bring myself to eat those anymore either.

Re:He is correct (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30824962)

Pizza taste is very subjective, how do you know if they use bleach, overdue cheese and generaly if they keep the place clean?
Taste is not a guaarantee for good pizza (or good IT service) .

Enabling customer to do stuff,yes that's value, google does it very well as an example

Re:He is correct (1)

blahplusplus (757119) | more than 4 years ago | (#30824980)

" do you really care how a pizza place makes your pizza?"

Well considering many pizza places you can see how they make there pizza this comment makes little sense, you for sure care about how food is treated and cooked when it is served in a restaurant, many pizza place's are very transparent. Not so with many restaurants.

Re:He is correct (4, Informative)

thetoadwarrior (1268702) | more than 4 years ago | (#30825036)

I don't care how good the pizza tastes if it's made with pig anus and old fore skin. So how something is made does matter under certain circumstances.

Re:He is correct (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30825184)

More to the point, it's about the data not the presentation.

IT as a business isn't all wrong. The touchy-feely, consensus builders dig their own graves in organizations where most staffers aren't really in the loop or are have too much time for office politics. Sooner or later, you have to show results.

Re:He is correct (1)

h4rr4r (612664) | more than 4 years ago | (#30825250)

Yes I do, I have zero interest in eating pizza with too thick a crust or not cooked in a very hot oven. I also want to only eat pizza made with real cheese and real tomato sauce. No processed crap for me thanks.

Re:He is correct (1)

kenj0418 (230916) | more than 4 years ago | (#30825274)

As a more slashdot friendlier terms, do you really care how a pizza place makes your pizza? No. You only care about how good it tastes when you eat it.

Ideally your IT people should also be able to say "I see you eat your pizza with one hand frequently, and often end up with sauce all over yourself. Maybe you'd like us to start making calzones for you instead." Move beyond simple order-taking and understand the business you are supporting if you want provide real value.

Re:He is correct (2, Insightful)

Kjella (173770) | more than 4 years ago | (#30825276)

As a more slashdot friendlier terms, do you really care how a pizza place makes your pizza? No. You only care about how good it tastes when you eat it.

But you seem to have missed the biggest reason why you try to run IT as a business in the first place, and that's to make the business side come up with something resembling specifications or business needs or some sort of picture on where they'll be going with this. I've been working for some time now with a public service who has split off their IT services and trying to professionalize their relationship, but I see plenty signs of how it has been.

To use a baker's analogy, the service side (equivalent of a business side) would start projects that weren't really evaluated or even estimated and planned, they were just started and ran because they were needed to deliver some service. And it was a bit like starting a baker off on making dough, but they haven't decided yet if they want a pizza, a bread or a pastry, or for how many exactly. But they're pretty sure it'll need dough. And ultimately it turns out half of it was just to throw out and will never be used for anything useful.

Don't get me wrong, if IT manages to be involved in the business as a strategic partner and not just service delivery that's great. But my impressions, and I have worked at quite a few allegedly competent private companies too, that it's difficult enough to make the business side agree on what they want internally. And that's also one of the big points about making it a customer/vendor-relationship, you can't have 50 ways of going to the IT department for something. There has to be a process, a pipeline where they as a customer agree with themselves before ordering with IT.

I won't name names, but I've met big companies where it turns out different departments were trying to do the same thing using different software for no other reason than that they didn't know about each other's projects. That ordering process is also a point of visibility, what are we really doing and does this really make sense to do this combination of things? Particularly if you're trying to set some enterprise-wide standards, you're bound to crash with some other project that might be smart in itself, but would make you dependent on something you're replacing.

Sure, you can do all this without that strict division, there's nothing that explicitly requires it. But those that try, struggle....

Business School Ideology (5, Insightful)

catchblue22 (1004569) | more than 4 years ago | (#30825390)

Interesting article. From what I have observed over the past few decades, there has been a steady growth in ideology in business schools and economics departments. These ideologies are usually simplistic models or sets of ideas that are supposed to be broadly applicable. Many of these ideologies have come and gone like fads. Many of them, while useful, are not axiomatic. Business school graduates often treat the "management" skill-set that they learn in school as broadly applicable to any field. Thus, MBA graduates may move between extremely diverse positions. I know of one that went from managing a train manufacturing plant to managing a food manufacturing facility. Because he had no previous experience with working with food, he faced significant difficulties both in making the food plant operate smoothly, and in making a profit. He didn't have a clear idea of where he could cut within the operation without endangering food safety. He lacked both detailed knowledge of production methods, and had a poor understanding of scientific principles. Under the ideology of business school, this person's management skills should have been directly transferrable between many different fields. The reality on the ground was quite different

In the case of the topic at hand, it seems to me that one particular model, consisting of customers and service providers with all such relationships entail, is not optimally applicable to a specific situation (IT). The economy, and the world, is far more complicated and subtle than simplistic and faddish business school ideologies.

Re:He is correct (1)

bergie17 (1602029) | more than 4 years ago | (#30825462)

"As a more slashdot friendlier terms, do you really care how a pizza place makes your pizza? No. You only care about how good it tastes when you eat it." See its that kind of SHORT TERM thinking that makes all of our jobs nearly impossible. This whole concept of "Now" is short sighted (quarterly earnings that don't allow companies to invest over the long term, etc.) So my director asks me to deliver him a tasty pizza. I have the ingredients for the pizza, but no pizza oven. But he doesn't care how I do it, he jsut wants his pizza. So I go and borrow the pizza oven from Finance to get it done. Finance has a nice pizza oven and the pizza comes out fantastic. I deliver the pizza and the Director is satisfied. Now he wants me to make pizza's for the whole management team. I really only had enough ingredients for one pizza, and I still don't have a pizza oven. I have to water down the tomato sauce and get cheaper cheese, I also have to get the dough in bulk and nearly expired. Then I go to finance to use their pizza oven again and they say I can't, cause its end of the month and they need it. So I then have to build a pizza oven out of tinfoil, toothpicks, an office fan, three empty diet dew bottles and 14.4 Modem. The pizza takes a week to cook and tastes like cardboard. But I delivered it. Also, I do kind of care how my pizza was made. If someone made it with a tasteless odorless rat poison. Sure I might enjoy eating it, but when I'm getting my stomach pumped 2 hours later I mgiht have second thoughts. YES, i do care.

Nicely put (5, Insightful)

ilovegeorgebush (923173) | more than 4 years ago | (#30824576)

Spot on.

I work for a large insurance company in the UK. I'm a 'senior developer' if you like. One of my biggest gripes? The notion that work on the website - for a purist such as myself (and web designers and editors that also work on the site) - is subject to zero requirements, the 'customers' want everything for nothing, time-based 'estimates' that are taken as the law of the land. Every approach the customer wants you to implement is never in the right frame of mind for how the web works (noone understands the medium in which they're presenting to the customer outside). Your work is governed, oriented and OK'd by people who have no interest in how to do things properly. Fat-cat bosses who think their 10 years experience in Fortran 30 years ago makes for true understanding of how a website should work. Their way, no matter how stupid it seems to you the unenlightened one, is the right way. Trust me, I'm a fat-cat!

What ends up giving way? Quality. And it pisses me off. I can't do my job properly. Code reviews, unit/mock/functional testing, analysis, UML *all* have to give way because of all the above and just to get it out on time. Maintenance costs increase, but as long as it's out of the door it's OK. Would you build a house without blueprints? Would you remove an accountant's calculator from their desk because *you* don't work that way? Nope. [Excuse the crude analogies, they still get the point across]

The following sums it up well:

Your ticket to the promised land begins with this: No one inside your company is your customer.[snip]

When IT is a business, selling to its internal customers, its principal product is software that "meets requirements." This all but ensures a less-than-optimal solution, lack of business ownership, and poor acceptance of the results.

I've always hated this is approach to web development and steering change on websites. It's backwards. Archaic. Frustrating.

Re:Nicely put (1)

Lonewolf666 (259450) | more than 4 years ago | (#30825006)

Personally, I can relate to this:

Architecture -- another victim of having internal customers
One of my former clients -- a large financial services firm -- had embraced the IT-as-a-business concept. When my firm arrived on the scene, the client's information architecture was in shambles because IT's internal customers weren't willing to invest in sustainable engineering. Why would they? To achieve a quality architecture, the internal customer of one project pays more so that a different internal customer, some time in the future, receives the benefit.

The client's IT staff described the resulting mess as going far beyond the usual spaghetti or spider web. They called it "The Hairball." In an average development project, much more than half the total effort was devoted to coping with The Hairball, leaving relatively few resources to devote to new features and functionality.

So true, but Bob Lewis' approach of asserting a more active role in shaping IT is not doable for everyone. Because you need some clout in the company or you will be flattened in office politics when you resist the day-to-day whims of the users. It seems Bob Lewis addresses his article to CIOs, which is the proper management level to start such an initiative. Lower managers or even individual programmers are more likely to get fired than to achieve something.

Re:Nicely put (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30825066)

Fat-cat bosses who think their 10 years experience in Fortran 30 years ago makes for true understanding of how a website should work.

Yes, actually. More so than you are your "PHP"...

Re:Nicely put (2)

ilovegeorgebush (923173) | more than 4 years ago | (#30825468)

I write in Java, Python, Perl, SQL, Unix Bash, Javascript, (then the usual markup languages). Nowhere do I mention any languages nor the dreaded PHP.

10 years in Fortran programming 30 years ago doesn't amount to anything when the platform and its consumers are so different. Concepts may transcend the barrier, as may approaches to the actual programming, but the rest does not translate or relate.

Re:Nicely put (1)

qoncept (599709) | more than 4 years ago | (#30825134)

Am I crazy or did you just say the article was accurate and then disagree with everything it said?

Anyway, what you just described works completely independently of how an organization handles requirements. I've worked in places where requirements were all that mattered, to hell with intentions, better ideas and all other common sense. I've worked in places where the customer has only a vague idea of what they're looking for and expects me to make it up as I go along. In either case, any date you happen to utter for any reason in a discussion with the customer is the date they expect to be using it. Anything they wanted it to do that it doesn't is your fault. Management knows better than you, regardless of what you're talking about.

These things aren't a function of process or opinions. They are the personality of an organization. At my current job, managers manage while other people do their jobs. Opinions are heard, etc. Surprise surprise, it's a successful company. It's a way of thinking, and in a business it happens from the top down. There are a few buttheads around here that aren't wired the same way, but they don't change the overall complexion of a company.

Requirements (2)

pittance (78536) | more than 4 years ago | (#30825326)

The issue of requirements is one that I've always found interesting.

There always seems to be an assumption that customers know how to write requirements. Personally (from the position of a hobby coder who needs to use the services of professionals to get real applications written) I've always found it difficult to write intelligent requirements.

Don't get me wrong, I know that this is my fault, but I find that I need assistance from people who actually understand the ways that things _could_ be done and know the implications of the things that may be asked for. I always prefer to plan for a significant activity just to find out what I should be asking for. Motivation of the people who I ask for advice is important. If I (or the company I work for) pays the developer I know I can expect that they want to get the best results for the company as a whole.

I work in the aircraft industry and I've seen enough poorly chosen requirements for aircraft to know that this isn't a solely IT issue...

Re:Requirements (1)

ilovegeorgebush (923173) | more than 4 years ago | (#30825396)

By requirements I'm referring to the standard "requirements building phase" of the standard development lifecycle.

It rarely happens.

Re:Nicely put (1)

thetoadwarrior (1268702) | more than 4 years ago | (#30825164)

I totally agree with this. I've been working on something that's taken easily twice as long as it should. Given the time we've taken, if we were were allowed to do things our way it would have been flawless and work exactly with our needs.

Instead we've been forced to work with a bit of software that wasn't much better than beta software and putting more effort into making it work around business requirements than we would have working from scratch. Combining this with clueless people demanding silly things and it's a wonder we got as far as we have. Luckily we have had some decent people with a high tolerance for shit.

Re:Nicely put (1)

gbjbaanb (229885) | more than 4 years ago | (#30825196)

Code reviews, unit/mock/functional testing, analysis, UML *all* have to give way because of all the above and just to get it out on time

Man, you're so lucky. We have to actually *do* all that shit. Its hell.

Sounds like a cop-out for bad customer service (2, Insightful)

elrous0 (869638) | more than 4 years ago | (#30824668)

I actually went and read the article (I know as a /.er, I'm not supposed to, and I apologize). The whole thing sounds like a cheap excuse for providing even LESS customer service than IT departments deliver already (and most IT depts I've worked with have already been FAR from customer-friendly). When I'm working on an important project, and need a critical piece of software or hardware upgrade, I certainly don't expect IT to drop everything and come running immediately. But I damn sure don't expect them to tell me "Sorry, but we don't answer to you as an individual anymore--we have our own grand plan now and, if you want an upgrade, you'll have to present the big picture at next year's board meeting. We don't install specifics."

Re:Sounds like a cop-out for bad customer service (4, Insightful)

Xzzy (111297) | more than 4 years ago | (#30824830)

Really? Where I'm at, as IT gets progressively more like the exact thing TFA advises against, I think "customer service" is actually getting poorer.

Back in the day, users would send an email to IT to get stuff fixed. If the problem warranted, a discussion would develop, an agreement would be made, and work would be done.

Today, we have a faceless ticketing system where users are forced to fill in drop downs that categorize their problem, to make sure reporting is nice and easy for the management. If IT has to query the user, they're supposed to put this query through the ticketing system. Direct communication is becoming less and less desirable, as is customization. If a user asks for something special or unique, the response is almost always "we don't support that".

Re:Sounds like a cop-out for bad customer service (3, Insightful)

rtfa-troll (1340807) | more than 4 years ago | (#30825024)

I think you really hit a nail on the head here. The trick is that "a business" has one product. If you go to ford you expect to get a car. They are "customer oriented" I'm sure, but if you ask for a pizza, you won't get it; or, if you do, they'll charge two thousand bucks and get a car designer to deliver it to you.

IT can't work like that. We also went to the "faceless ticketing system" and now our IT managers run around worrying about "submerged IT"; or basically business people doing it themselves. That's obviously going to happen if the IT people aren't involved in doing what is actually needed for the business.

NO (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30824854)

Posting anonymously for my protection. As a long time sysadmin and somone who provided phone based tech support for a couple years as well, I hate the whole IT a business thing. Whenever I hear a manager say something like "we're here to serve the customer" and they mean other employees, it tells me that the manager fundamentally doesn't understand how good IT practices work. As a sysadmin, I'm supposed to have the power to tell a co-worker that the password they are using is too weak or that they need to use this program instead of that. Or that we can't do what you want on the server or network because its too insecure. They shouldn't have the right to override the technical decisions of people with more experience with them. Especially when it comes to security.

Employees are not customers, they are employees. They are paid to do their job and follow the rules. If they can't, they should be let go.

Re:NO (3, Insightful)

Samalie (1016193) | more than 4 years ago | (#30825304)

Not posting anonymously...

And not trying to start a war, but that attitude is exactly what is wrong with IT today.

Yes, we have to make sure everything is secure, obviously. But what you describe, the "Follow IT's rules or go find another job" is fucking stupid, and only encourages the Shadow IT in an organization who, without training or knowledge that we have, are liable to open up security issues that we don't even know about now, because they're hiding it all from us.

In my opinion, I agree with TFA completely, in that IT is no longer the Preventer of Information Services and slave to the end user...BUT...it is our duty to provide the business with the tools and education they need to efficiently perform their job role.

In other words...we're the fuckers driving the business, but we serve the business, not the user. By serving the business, our users are no longer our customers, they're our peers, helping us drive their efficiency and ultimately driving the business.

I dont "sell" my programming/etc to the users here. I write code which enables the business to be more efficient, and have better tools available to the end user than what they had before. Anybody that doesn't get that in IT is on a path to future failure.

Allow me to allay your fears (1)

PeanutButterBreath (1224570) | more than 4 years ago | (#30824900)

I The whole thing sounds like a cheap excuse for providing even LESS customer service than IT departments deliver already (and most IT depts I've worked with have already been FAR from customer-friendly).

What it actually sounds like is providing more responsive "service" that amounts to commiserating over your unfulfilled IT related goals. Your project is important. IT wants to walk a mile in your shoes and really feel the pain of watching it flounder.

This way, failure is shared and everyone understands.

Re:Sounds like a cop-out for bad customer service (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30824932)

YOU are spot on, my friend-- this article is clearly written by the same curmudgeonly stereotype of an IT manager that we have all experienced at some point in our professional lives.

Coming from someone that works on the sales side, IT customer service has only gotten progressively worse. IT managers are aware of the power they wield and they clutch to it like a 2 year old clutches the last shovel in the sandbox.

What I would like is a revolution in IT, whereas the needs of the end users are kept front of mind as well as security and efficiency concerns. If someone asks me to look up something for them, or do a quick project that takes less than ten minutes, I will usually stop what I'm doing or get it done relatively quickly for them if it will help them to finish something they need in a snap. Dealing with IT departments, it's ticketing systems and red tape just to get someone on the other end.

Re:Sounds like a cop-out for bad customer service (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30824992)

I think the point is to provide more customer service, not less, because you're playing on the "same team."

Re:Sounds like a cop-out for bad customer service (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30825026)

I think what's meant is something like this: when a user outlines a requirement that IT should deliver, they won't be happy because their requirement is going to be ill-concieved or defined; OTOH, if IT offers a solution without busisness input, it's an orphan nobody will use.

Instead, work collaboratively, with the users, to determine what will work for them, and deliver that. Become part of the team, not a simple outside source or 'service' deliverer. Understand the goals and let the users and IT together define the solution.

Heck, I've always worked that way.

You don't understand the article. (3, Insightful)

schon (31600) | more than 4 years ago | (#30825316)

The whole thing sounds like a cheap excuse for providing even LESS customer service than IT departments deliver already (and most IT depts I've worked with have already been FAR from customer-friendly/b>).

The whole point is that you're thinking about it the wrong way. There should be *NO* "customer" anything.

When I'm working on an important project, and need a critical piece of software or hardware upgrade, I certainly don't expect IT to drop everything and come running immediately.

What you *should* expect is for IT to be a part of the project from the beginning, rather than just being asked to provide something after the fact. They don't need to "come running" because they're already there.

Re:Sounds like a cop-out for bad customer service (4, Informative)

natehoy (1608657) | more than 4 years ago | (#30825470)

In olden days when I was a young IT pup, IT was generally considered to be a subsidiary of Finance, which made sense at the time since most computing was done to crunch numbers, so we worked for the number crunchers. Later, as IT evolved, it tended to stay under Finance because people who do inscrutable things are just seen as similar in the eyes of management. This led to serious conflicts as, say, order entry or inventory management wanted changes but all fell subservient to IT's overlords in Finance. Finance, understandably, didn't want to spend their budget supporting other department's goals.

Eventually, IT started either being broken out into subgroups and living with their business areas as scattered fiefdoms, or centralized and moved up the management chain so the CFO and CIO were on the same level. As this happens, managing the IT teams becomes a unique challenge, because IT is in so many ways integrated into all aspects of a company in ways that other organizations simply aren't. So you either have (potentially well-managed and aligned) fiefdoms that use different platforms that can't talk to each other, or you have a group that tries to meet everyone's needs with as few discrete solutions as possible and, at best, succeed partly at satisfying everyone.

Money spent on IT is almost always considered "lost revenue", and a holdback from the old Finance days of IT is that every department needs to justify its existence. Thus the chargeback model was born. So concepts like charging rent for floor space (forcing managers to vacate space that will never be occupied to save their "rent" costs, and cramming their people into spaces too small for them to work effectively) or finding a profit model for IT (forcing managers to forgo any systems changes that didn't actually save measurable amounts of money, even if the ideas really would help in the longer term) were born to try and force the idea of efficiency into each department.

Once you do that, you will always find that you can get a specific task done in the short term by hiring someone who can just solve the problem at hand without being bothered by all the consequences like incompatibility with existing processes and systems, long-term support costs, etc.

You'll also almost always find it's cheaper to do a crappy job on your project now while your expense code is on the line, and leave the cleanup to future projects who have to deal with it and spend more money to use what you've built (but it's on THEIR expense code).

Plus, of course, IT itself is given very finite resources at most companies (which is appropriate) and has to fulfill specific goals of the company to "earn" those resources (which is also appropriate).

But there's generally a lack of appreciation for the benefits that creative IT can bring to a company, so few companies give their IT staff much in the way of leeway to explore new technologies (outside those mentioned in CIO magazine and implemented "right away" with little input as to whether it's the right solution for any actual problem the company is facing, or even what the solution is meant to do, and most of those are explored by a consultant anyway).

Re:Sounds like a cop-out for bad customer service (1)

pileated (53605) | more than 4 years ago | (#30825472)

I guess you missed this part in your reading:

Nobody in IT should ever say, "You're my customer and my job is to make sure you're satisfied," or ask, "What do you want me to do?"

Instead, they should say, "My job is to help you and the company succeed," followed by "Show me how you do things now," and "Let's figure out a better way of getting this done."

The article is to have IT treated as a peer not as an order-taker. Anything other than that is a waste of the talents of IT. This doesn't have anything to do with egos. It's just common sense. Do you hire a doctor to mow your lawn? No you hire him and respect his expertise as a doctor. The point of the article is that by viewing IT as a peer IT can become involved where it's most valuable, at the very beginning of any projects. I surely have seen how poorly the other method works: we do whatever the customer wants to matter how stupid, how inefficient and how harmful to the company in the long run.

IT Are Like Janitors (-1, Flamebait)

aquatone282 (905179) | more than 4 years ago | (#30824710)

Janitors don't produce any revenue for a company, but they are necessary for the people who do.

The same goes for IT staff. Unless your company is selling IT services, they don't produce any revenue for the company but are necessary for the people who do.

IT people understand a developer's job about as much as a janitor does.

Seriously - get overselves and STOP finding ways to make my job more difficult. MY job produces the revenue that pays YOUR salary.

Re:IT Are Like Janitors (4, Insightful)

Tom (822) | more than 4 years ago | (#30824816)

If you run a factory, that's true. In almost every other business, it's not.

IT makes 90% of what goes on in a modern company possible at all. ERP, CRM, CMS and about three dozen other "tools" are as vital to a company today as hammers and workbenches were to a craftsman hundreds of years ago. Janitors aren't. They clean up and we don't want to miss them, but they don't run the company.

IT isn't the brain of most non-tech companies, but it certainly is the heart - it keeps the blood/information flowing through the veins/channels. Going even a few hours without it is noticeable in most companies, IT going down for a day is the corporate equivalent of a heart attack.

Re:IT Are Like Janitors (1)

Nadaka (224565) | more than 4 years ago | (#30825030)

Janitors don't just mop the floors and clean the toilets. Janitors also serve as maintenance staff at most companies of reasonable size. Good luck being productive at work when there isn't a toilet in the building that flushes, half the doors are stuck and the "air conditioning" blows 102 degree air all summer long.

Re:IT Are Like Janitors (1)

mikael_j (106439) | more than 4 years ago | (#30825310)

Ah, but the janitor(s) going on strike will not result in the CxOs being unable to go to the bathroom the very same day, a week later there might be a problem but they are not required to be available 24/7. If the lights in the upper floor hallway in building 5E start flickering your entire business won't grind to a halt, but if the the CFO is unable to logon because he managed to screw up his profile for the sixth time this month due to porn surfing there will be a problem. Not to mention what happens when shoddy ten year-old servers that IT has requested a replacement budget for since 2004 start going down...

/Mikael

Re:IT Are Like Janitors (1)

Reason58 (775044) | more than 4 years ago | (#30824892)

Seriously - get overselves and STOP finding ways to make my job more difficult. MY job produces the revenue that pays YOUR salary.

To put it in a car analogy, it is like rolling through stop signs. It saves you one or two seconds each time you do it, but when you get caught you end up losing all the time you saved twenty-fold.

The "hoops" are in place for a reason. You may not get immediate gratification, but overall your job happens more efficiently.

Re:IT Are Like Janitors (1)

FlyingBishop (1293238) | more than 4 years ago | (#30825260)

Not to mention the whole chance of crashing, if I follow your analogy correctly.

Re:IT Are Like Janitors (1)

suso (153703) | more than 4 years ago | (#30824938)

Last time I checked, programmers are in IT. At least where I work. Don't even get me started on developers (and I was one professionally for a year). Most of them couldn't tie their own shoes without forgetting to let go after they are done.

Re:IT Are Like Janitors (5, Insightful)

paeanblack (191171) | more than 4 years ago | (#30825012)

Do you drop your trash on the ground wherever you please? Why not? You are far more important than the janitors, both by title and salary.

Why not let the janitors follow you around and clean up after you as you constantly change their job requirements? YOUR job produces the revenue for THEIR salary, right? They should accommodate your wishes at all times.

Oh, wait, if you did that, you'd just be an asshole. The amount of extra babysitting you'd require from the cleaning staff means other coworkers aren't getting the support they need.

Your petty "IT are just janitor schmucks" attitude is self-centered, narrow-minded, and utterly detrimental to the company as a whole. All you amount to is being the jackass that never flushes toilet 'cause he's too important.

Re:IT Are Like Janitors (1)

starbugs (1670420) | more than 4 years ago | (#30825052)

A janitor cleans things up - and is not a carpenter.
A carpenter builds new things - and is not a janitor.

IT has to do both.

If either gets neglected, the company suffers.

Re:IT Are Like Janitors (1)

foldingstock (945985) | more than 4 years ago | (#30825126)

The problem with your comparison of Janitors and IT works is visual. If the Janitors are all laid off, it is noticeable (trash cans overflow, dust begins to settle, glass becomes smudgy, etc), whereas if the IT department is laid off, much of their work may go unnoticed immediately. People tend to ignore IT until something breaks.

Re:IT Are Like Janitors (1)

gbjbaanb (229885) | more than 4 years ago | (#30825280)

I'd liken it more to another professional area of the company. Take HR or Accounts for example, neither of those is an 'internal business unit' as they cannot be outsourced so readily - ok, you can outsource your accounts, but it'll just cost you more, and you still end up retaining your account managers and payments clerks. HR, no-one thinks twice about them being a business service that's integral to the business rather than stuff you can buy from the lowest bidder. Like the toilet paper vendor.

Same old shit (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30824714)

They said the same shit ten years ago. When they did, buncha geezers yelled that they told them way before that. And then...

That's just it. Stay right there. I'm just gonna blow up my lawn.

Right idea, weird reasoning (5, Insightful)

Luthair (847766) | more than 4 years ago | (#30824740)

While I do agree that running IT like a business is often not the best way to go about it, some of the things said in the article are simply bizarre. For example, what does this even [b]mean[/b]:

Instead of reacting to users, he should be their peer. Primarily, I asked him why he didn't transition from building Web apps to instead creating a solution using cloud technology and true mobile devices like BlackBerrys, iPods, and emerging tablets. He could offer a better solution, at about a quarter of the cost.

While buzzword compliant it doesn't really mean anything.

Re:Right idea, weird reasoning (1)

DragonWriter (970822) | more than 4 years ago | (#30825178)

While buzzword compliant it doesn't really mean anything.

I think what it is trying to get at is that the IT shop should have expertise in IT in the same way that the business shop has expertise in the business, and that the IT shop should be proactive in offering alternatives that are more efficient and useful as to the how of getting things done.

I think its stated poorly -- not merely because it is vague and awkwardly worded, but also in the sense that this is still "reacting to users" and "building software to meet requirements". The difference is, really, that the business analysis is done correctly so that the business requirements are properly elicited from the business shop without improperly inserting implementation parameters that are not real requirements but which instead represent the businesses perception of the best implementation method.

But what is stated well is that this is can be different from running IT as a business -- it is not an arms-length affair where the IT has no investment in the success of the project beyond meeting contractual requirements, it is one where IT has a responsibility for acheiving excellence in the implementation within the requirements, and particularly for questioning requirements that appear not to be business requirements but instead to reflect be the business side's assumptions about technical matters (this is especially the case when, as is sometimes the case, project management and business analysis -- at least for projects with a major IT component -- are functions located within the IT shop [while an IT shop should have resources for these roles, they are really cross-cutting functions that are just as necessary for business process reengineering projects with no or incidental IT impact, but lots of organizations, if they have dedicated resources at all for these functions, have them within their IT shops.])

He is dead wrong (1)

BigSlowTarget (325940) | more than 4 years ago | (#30824776)

Why is he dead wrong? Because his definition of a business is a 'arms length relationship' between customer and provider. His IT 'business' targets delivering the lowest possible acceptable product and uses monopoly power to set the price. While there are definitely IT shops run like this it is a terrible model for an actual business. You will never hear a successful non-monopoly business pushing a strategy of separation from the customer and merely adequate service.

This might be a guerrilla movement to change things and certainly IT shops run as he describes should be change, but that change should be reorientation of IT toward supporting business operations and integration of custom IT skills into business projects. It should include education within business units about the capabilities (and costs!) of a professional IT department. Abandoning the concept of IT being a business relegates it to what... a hobby? In any case it's the first thing on the chopping block when the budget cuts come down.

Re:He is dead wrong (3, Funny)

H0p313ss (811249) | more than 4 years ago | (#30824928)

His IT 'business' targets delivering the lowest possible acceptable product and uses monopoly power to set the price.

You have an IT department that does not do this? Are you hiring?

Selling to customers (2, Interesting)

Enderandrew (866215) | more than 4 years ago | (#30824824)

Here is the problem with most businesses, is that often the lowest paid employees handle customer service. Should IT departments focus more on good customer service, even if their "customers" are fellow employees in the company? Certainly. But this is a failing of all businesses.

Focusing on customer service may in fact entail paying more to hire better employees, and spending cash on training. How many businesses are doing this?

Feedback Loops..... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30824826)

So essentially, implemented behavior by an entity, would end up benefiting the source who suggested it, which wasn't part of the entity to begin with. This, it turns out, is a bad idea.

I get the feeling that the business industry across the board has been inundated with bobble heads, yes men, and PHB's. After inspecting the market over the last several years, I'd have to say that this is confirmed.

Poor communication skills (3, Insightful)

grasshoppa (657393) | more than 4 years ago | (#30824868)

The article highlights the flaws of poor communication skills, attributes these flaws to "IT as a business", and then suggests a new method...which is just as susceptible to communication flaws.

I dig what they are trying to say, I really do. But it's nothing new, and certainly nothing beyond what we already have.

Re:Poor communication skills (1)

FlyingBishop (1293238) | more than 4 years ago | (#30825346)

Well, he's ostensibly talking about "IT as a business," but really what he's saying is that you need sustainable IT infrastructure, and you can't let departments dictate day-to-day operations. Common sense, but I think there are some higher ups I work for who need to read this article. And we too ditched IT as a business (before my time, in fact.) Still relevant regardless.

My perspective after 20 years (5, Insightful)

HangingChad (677530) | more than 4 years ago | (#30824878)

Bob Lewis dispels the familiar litany that 'IT should be run as a business

IT is a service, a service that makes your business run better. And the better that service is shaped to your business, the more adapted to how you work, the more efficiently your business operates. The biggest payback from IT is saving money. A dollar saved is better than a dollar earned. A dollar saved is pure profit. A dollar earned you have to subtract the cost of overhead and doing business.

Too many times IT people operate from a perspective that's more religion than service. The time to upgrade to Windows 7 is not when SP 1 comes out, it's when upgrading saves the company money. A service mentality does not try to force-fit technology where it doesn't belong. Maybe not everyone in the company needs Windows 7. Maybe the call center can use Ubuntu workstations, maybe the graphics departments work more efficiently with Macs. A service mentality focuses on what works best for the company and saves money, not what your technical people know and where they've invested their training. Yet I see that a lot. Not what works best, but what the techs know. Their expertise limits their technology choices instead of expanding them.

Sorry, this will never work.... (3, Interesting)

digitalamish (449285) | more than 4 years ago | (#30824890)

This concept will only work in an 'enlightened' company, ie one that IS IT. In a company that sells things or services, it's all based on how many beans you can count. If you have this completely integrated IT organization, how does the company keep the IT budget under control? Unless you segregate the work into it's own silo, and then yell it like those Burger King "Angry Whopper Onions", how will costs go down.

No one sees IT as a partner. We're not even a business unit in a company. We're a collection of desklamps and staplers. I've seen management boggled by the fact that a Windows SA doesn't know anything about tuning an Oracle database. "But you're IT!" I've seen very skilled people moved over into jobs they are not trained or qualified for, and then eventually let go because they didn't have the skills for the job.

I haven't seen many companies that don't down right object to the fact they have to pay for IT. They don't blink at ordering 1000 new business cards for all the sales people, but ask for a $50 piece of software and you might as well be Oliver asking for more pourage.

Outsourcing has just made it easier for them to do this. How are you going to have a strategic partner doing IT, when the IT person you are dealing with is loyal only to the contract you've signed with them and really could care less if the company is growing or not, as long as they get paid.

Yes, I'm bitter. I'd love to see the fantasy land where IT is cherished. Especially outside of an IT company. I haven't seen it.

It's one way stop unnecessary requests (1)

anti-NAT (709310) | more than 4 years ago | (#30824896)

As other people have said, IT is a support function for most businesses. In some cases, this can create an authority problem - the IT section is expected to do what ever the rest of the organisation requests, and also to then wear that cost. It also can mean that as the rest of organisation aren't in the "IT business" they don't know or don't allow for internal and ongoing IT originated work to be performed.

Because businesses are in th business of making money, there should always be a business case for what ever the organisation does, including the work that the IT section performs. The business case should identify how what is being requested either makes money or saves money.

The charge back model not only enforces requiring business cases, but also attributes the costs of the work back to where it both originates and where it should be providing a benefit.

The main drawback is that it can create a monopoly provider issue - if the senior management dictate that all IT work must be done by the IT section, then IT sections can be tempted to become profit centres, and therefore not be competitive. One way to handle that situation is to set corporate standards and requirements for IT itegration, and then allow sections outside IT to compete for the work.

It isn't a perfect solution, however I think one if it's fundmental benefits is enforcing the business case requirement - and having had to work on projects which don't necessarily provide the return to the organisation that they should, mainly because a business case wasn't done before the work commenced, I see real value in that.

What a Crock (1)

awol (98751) | more than 4 years ago | (#30824908)

The fundamental problem with many internal IT departments and particularly with regard to the development of software is the lack of discipline that the customers have because of the absence of price as a constraining behaviour.

When you are a good external provider of bespoke software you end up being able to use the price of your overall service and in particular, intra project "changes" in order to make sure that the customer is disciplined about defining and holding to a realistic set of requirements. It is difficult to understate how critical this is to success. In most of the crappy internal IT departments that I have dealt with the only constraint that the customer has is time and as such everything "can be done" because they just change their requirments with no impact on their budget and so the project delays and slides inexorably towards failure.

This is without even looking at the issue of competing internal requests for limited IT resource where, assuming that the resource is limited, the best solution for the company as a whole is to provide the limited resource to the profit centre that can most afford to pay them, thus allocating the resource to the mest problems within the business. This particular point is a bit of an over generalisation but I feel that _more_ rather than _less_ business focus from the IT folk is the way to ensure less projects fail.

TFA, reasons that the IT department should go back to the business with "with a set of recommendations for how he thought he could deliver a superior set of solutions that would meet their needs in 2012". In other words act like a domain expert business whose services the customer would be willing to purchase and to whose advice the customer would be willing to listen to illuminate, improve or limit their requirments.

Why doesn't this happen? Because the vast majority of IT departments are not run like business and they have not demonstrated the expertise (through repeated success) to allow the actual profit centres of the company to be willing to listen to them.

Indeed rather than behaving less like a business IT should behave more like a business, or perhaps more acurately more like an entrepeneur with a goal of maximising profit and then

Re:What a Crock (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30825322)

Simply using price as constraining behavior results in half-baked results. To the author's point, intelligent *Governance* should drive decisions and action, not the arbitrary amount any particular department has on hand to fund an internal improvement.

IT-as-a-business also positions it as antagonism (5, Insightful)

Trepidity (597) | more than 4 years ago | (#30824916)

Ideally, as someone who isn't in IT but uses technology, I like to think the IT guys are on my side. If something is broken, and I can't fix it myself, or something could be better and I can't improve it (due to lack of knowledge or resources or access), they're there to help me out. Setting up IT "as a business" fundamentally changes this way of thinking about things, though. My group then sees IT as a cost center: we want to use as little of their stuff as possible, or we might get billed for them doing stuff for us. IT sees us as customers to whom a bunch of crap can potentially be sold, generating revenue for their IT business.

Outsourcing in general sucks (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30824936)

I'd say in general that outsourcing anything sucks. I suspect the only exception is if the business is very small - too small to occupy at least one full time person. After that, you're better off bringing it inside, whatever the role.

TFA beat us to it! (2, Funny)

Target Practice (79470) | more than 4 years ago | (#30824950)

"[Fawaz] likens IT's proper role to that of an engineer designing a car."

Dammit!

Otherwise known as the... (1)

syntaxeater (1070272) | more than 4 years ago | (#30824958)

"You'll get it when you get it" model.

IT is not a business, (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30824976)

it is actually an interpretive dance.

Good point (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30824996)

He actually hit the nail to head with this. This is the thing most people working with IT or geeky professions miss, and why they think everything free and such is so great movement. Business DOES NOT work on mere technical things. Nothing in the world does.

This all can be really put into one line: People don't care what you do. People care about results of what you can enable them to do. If you provide that, great! If you dont and jab about "better ways" to do things while costing time and money, then.. sorry, but bye bye.

depends on what IT does in the company (1)

jollyreaper (513215) | more than 4 years ago | (#30825000)

Building Services keeps the lights on, AC running, water in the pipes and toilets unstopped but they don't really know all that much about the business process and don't need to. Depending on the structure of the company, IT may operate at that level and super-users in different departments handle the business side of the IT.

For example, IT maintains the servers for file stores, database, etc. The SQL administrator is in IT. There are two big products that run on the SQL server, one for accounting and the other for sales. The accounting product admin is in accounting. I'm the admin for the sales side and straddle IT and sales. I'm not really assigned to either department.

The problem here is sort of similar to what you hear about outsourcing. "Is it a good outsourcing company? Is it a bad one? Is it moral to send the work overseas? Will your outsourcing effort fail?" And the primary question really isn't about outsourcing at all or even IT but is a question of whether the company has its shit together. Do people really understand how they do business? Do they know how, when, why for the important stuff? Do they have business processes documented? Are they capable of putting all that stuff down on paper and not having it change two months later on a whim?

An architect can design a building for a company but if the company isn't sure what it wants or even what sort of business it's in, the architect cannot do anything but fail.

In dysfunctional organizations, a greater premium is placed on ass-covering than problem-solving. Nobody wants to accept responsibility and sticking your neck out is just asking it to get chopped. In this kind of environment, IT will be defensive, not wanting to take on more responsibilities or promise a higher level of service because that just invites more things to go wrong. And this balkanization of the corporate departments prevents the sort of cooperation and cross-training necessary for getting things done successfully. In a healthy company, the operations side knows what the hell it's doing and IT can learn how the business operates and suggest solutions that the operations side might not even know they should ask for. And likewise, operations people will learn more about how their systems operate and the full extend of the features they're not utilizing.

Depends on how you run your business... (2, Insightful)

fljmayer (985663) | more than 4 years ago | (#30825004)

Most of the things he complains about would be bad practices for any business. How can a business keep customers at arm's length and expect to have a good relationship with them? How can a business let its customers completely dictate how they do their work? If you run a business, you are responsible for keeping it sustainable, and sometimes that means you have to say no to your customers.

"Necessary Evil" (1)

U8MyData (1281010) | more than 4 years ago | (#30825018)

I've been the wearer of many hats in both public and private IT organizations. I have been known to term IT efforts to IT managers (who are often there as non-technical sorts) that the effort is seen as a "Necessary Evil" IT costs money; equipment, software, employees, benefits, etc. The real benefits of the effort are often taken for granted and not seen (that is if you are doing it right). The fact is that business cannot survive or compete without some type of reliance on IT in its many forms. For management to continue to deny that IT exists and requires resources is irresponsible. IT is as essential as paying the bills, marketing, and sales; maybe more so. Pull the plug on the data center and see what happens. (Been there done that, by accident of course...)

"Customer" dominates - bad. IT dominates - bad (1)

magbottle (929624) | more than 4 years ago | (#30825020)

IT departments and their "customers" are partners in accomplishing the tasks the company must perform to be successful (or simply stay in business).

When the "customer" is able to contort IT to their wishes to make their job easier, or when IT is able to contort their customers to their wishes to make _their_ jobs easier, the more the corporate mechanism falls apart.

Economics versus Job Satisfaction (2, Insightful)

Mr_Tulip (639140) | more than 4 years ago | (#30825064)

The sentiment portrayed by the author of that article is a very common one among IT workers. That somehow, our best efforts are undermined by the need for our work to be costed, audited and planned by external (to us) business interests.
I personally try and produce code that meets and exceeds the business requirement, and does so within the time-frame set by the business. The problem, I think is that software engineers, in general, are a bunch of perfectionists, and we like to hold off announcing a 'final version' until the last possible moment. (Google Mail was in beta for how long?)

What I have come to realize, though, is that it is not just the IT departments that feel this way. In general, there are some people in every department, of every company that belive that their performance would improve if only they had a greater measure of self-determination. Perhaps the number of people who feel this way is highest in IT, but it is certainly not exclusive to IT.
So what it comes down to, I feel, is that we are slowly drifting towards a business culture where the individual has more control over their job, and where sucess is measured by job satisfaction instead of economics.

At least, that's the direction I hope we are heading in.

Re:Economics versus Job Satisfaction (1)

david_thornley (598059) | more than 4 years ago | (#30825416)

The sentiment portrayed by the author of that article is a very common one among IT workers. That somehow, our best efforts are undermined by the need for our work to be costed, audited and planned by external (to us) business interests.

That's not how I read it. IT is going to be subject to business requirements and budgeted and audited no matter what. The relevant question is how to do this. The choices mentioned in the article are "IT as a business" and "IT as part of the business". In one, IT is responsive to uncoordinated requests, and in the other IT is responsive to business needs.

I don't see how this is different from any other business unit, except that most companies already bring people from most of their other units into planning, as long as those units don't operate to strict rules. The article suggests that IT will work better in, say, the Finance Dept. model than the HR Dept. model, which seems reasonable to me.

Common Sense Still exists? (1)

coreolyn (65876) | more than 4 years ago | (#30825070)

It's been many years since I heard some common sense on this subject.

TFA is Confused (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30825092)

"IT must be integrated into the heart of the enterprise, and everyone in IT must collaborate as a peer with those in the business who need what they do"

Uhhh...you mean like a BUSINESS PROCESS inside any business? Yes. Then IT should be treated as a business process.

Running a X as a business (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30825136)

pretty much means report a bunch of lies to accounting so they can produce reports that fester on managements desk.

The blind spots. (2, Interesting)

v(*_*)vvvv (233078) | more than 4 years ago | (#30825148)

IT is still young. And we have an extremely muddled labor pool that is mixed with young geniuses and out-of-date veterans, as well as idiot young guns and some older people who *really* know what they are doing.

The problem with this situation is that from everyone's own perspective, it becomes extremely difficult for everyone else to make the right decision.

A novice non-IT business is the perfect target for a one-stop shop type of IT outsourcing company. They will never truly understand what you need, teach you anything, or explain exactly what you are paying for. You will get propriety solutions and pay a heavy margin for maintenance. Yes, they will meet requirements, but this is far from ideal.

Another pitfall is hiring the true techie to *manage* an IT department or an IT solution. There is a HUUUGE difference between someone who excels at technical knowhow and accuracy, and someone who sees the whole picture, can work with people, and can make compromises when weighing non-technical priorities.

The best scenario for any company is to find a savvy insider early and hire them. This person might not be able to do everything themselves, but they will know good from bad. They will also be close to management and will be pragmatic about implementing the needs of the company. Give this person sufficient resources, and you are good to go. Of course, whether or not you hired such a person, you may never know. If you actually have such a person *in* management, then you are ahead of the curve.

One thing is for certain though. New businesses that embrace IT will have a distinct edge. If you work at a fairly young company that doesn't care about their web page, or is losing business to competitors that do, I would get ready to jump ship. Seriously, IT can make or break even a restaurant (eg. SEO and yelp management).

Some possible good in chargebacks (0, Offtopic)

jpmacl (1402361) | more than 4 years ago | (#30825150)

I love discussions like this - it amazes me how corporate IT can think of themselves like vendors, when they typically have minimal skills in that regard. I wrote about chargebacks a few years ago - the good and the bad ... http://bit.ly/6YeInd [bit.ly] See also ... http://bit.ly/EwsC [bit.ly] ... lots of different ways to think about the business / IT relationship

"Ruining IT As a Business" Is a Bad Idea (1)

DrJimbo (594231) | more than 4 years ago | (#30825340)

Tell that to SCO. For the past six years their business has been based on ruining IT for the rest of us. For a second opinion ask a patent troll. Even though it might be a bad idea it is certainly a good business for some of them.

Better IT be treated like business... (1)

pyrr (1170465) | more than 4 years ago | (#30825366)

...than behave as if it's a self-licking ice cream cone. IT exists for the productivity of the other employees. All too often, IT folks lose sight of that and start feeling that they can call the shots and that the end users' needs aren't as important as IT objectives and IT vision.

IT (1)

Thaelon (250687) | more than 4 years ago | (#30825388)

IT's job is to facilitate the rest of the company with regard to technology. Period.

It's their job to make IT stuff work, make it work faster, make it more reliable, and easier to use.

Running it as a separate entity, or one in which the IT staff don't have to have a clue about the domain the company works in is foolish.

IT business (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30825466)

I work for a company that runs IT like a business. All of the management is fully engaged in financial matters leaving all of the actual oversight and management to the project and team leads who are already burnt out due to lack of numerous things including lack of staffing, lack of talent, lack of respect and increasing politics especially after recent round of layoffs. This business model works so great for us, I can't wait for our next group hug...

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