How the seven deadly sins of IT management only breed distrust

Seven reasons senior managers will not trust their own IT departments

Seven reasons senior managers will not trust their own IT departments

When I left my "proper job" as a project manager in the IT industry to become an IT management consultant 18 years ago, I had my first exposure to interviewing senior business managers to ask for their views of their internal IT functions. Almost invariably, their reply could be paraphrased as, "They cost too much, take too long, don't deliver a quality product and don't deliver the benefits they promise."

Despite increased IT literacy among the business community, there is still a deep distrust of the IT department. The causes are varied, some cultural, some individual, some organisational, some procedural. I summarise the causes of this distrust as the "seven deadly sins of IT management".

1. Collusion

The IT department and its users will often tacitly collude (without malice aforethought) to justify commercially ill-considered investments. The business project sponsor wants the system developed, believing it to be important to the success of their business. And the IT function generally wants to develop it since, if nothing else, it keeps them in a job, pays their mortgages and may enhance their CVs. If an external supplier is involved, he obviously wants it developed so he can take his profit and reward his shareholders. So everyone has a common goal to engineer a project justification that will leap whatever hurdles the finance department places in the way.

2. Self-delusion

Those who sin in collusion are almost invariably sinners in self-delusion too. The sin of self- delusion manifests itself in ridiculously optimistic assumptions being made about the costs and benefits of projects and the quiet "brushing under the carpet" of the inconvenient but significant risks of the project. This results in huge sums of money being wasted by companies (and governments) on poorly considered, poorly justified and poorly managed IT projects.

3. Breach of promise

Even supposedly successful IT projects rarely realise all the benefits promised. A successful project (in these terms, one that delivers the core functionality, roughly to budget and schedule) is surely a failure if it does not realise the benefits promised - after all, that was the justification for the project in the first place.

4. Uncommercialism

The typical internal IT function is managed on a very uncommercial basis. Corporate culture often fosters highly uncommercial behaviour in both the IT department and its users. In this bureaucratic, conservative, risk-averse, meetings-mad culture, the way to get ahead is rooted far more in rhetoric than results.

5. Unaccountability

In many IT departments, there is no accountability for how staff time is spent, and little or no understanding of how productive staff are.

6. Value opacity

The business value of a company's internal IT function is typically far from transparent, which is perhaps how some CIOs like it. There is rarely any real understanding by senior management, or by the IT management team themselves, of the value IT functions add to the business. Instead, all parties are expected to "take it on trust". Even where "balanced scorecard" systems are used to measure the success of internal IT functions, they are often far from being credible, and are not usually understood by senior management.

7. Competitiveness opacity

The competitiveness of a company's IT department compared with its peers is typically far from transparent. Benchmarking services provided by companies are often far from being credible. Again, senior managers often find them hard to understand and the services rarely adequately define the value of IT to a business.

Value-Driven IT Management by Iain Aitken is part of the Computer Weekly Professional Series. To order call 01865-888180

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