SNw 013 Critical I.T. Issues in 2007 Created by James on 6/13/2013 1:16:50 PM
I recently chaired a conference at which a Professor from a leading University declared that "I.T. is an industry in crisis". How does one interpret such a statement? -- and what are the manifestations that you may be encountering? -- and how do you overcome these issues?
There are many issues facing business with regard to information technology, those which seem to be critical at this time are summarized below together with brief notes on how to respond to these situations and achieve successful outcomes.
This article should be read in the context of my recent newsletter to the effect that "I.T. CAN Add Value" and also the newsletter on "To Succeed Engineer Against Failure" and the newsletter on "What IS Excellence".
Thus the discussion of Critical Issues in this article should be seen as creating a context for minimizing the risks associated with I.T. projects and investments and maximizing positive return on investment.
Not all these factors apply to all organizations but it is probable that at some level one or more of these issues apply in just about all organizations.
I hope that you will find this information useful.
1. Poor communication between the I.T. Department and the rest of the organization
In a significant number of organizations there is ineffective communication between those in the I.T. Department and the rest of the department.
Many times this gap in communication is not specifically recognized other than a widespread level of dissatisfaction amongst business executives and sometimes a corresponding level of frustration on the part of the head of I.T. and their staff.
Business asks for things and get deliverables that in their opinion completely miss the point of what was being requested.
The I.T. department does the best it knows how to deliver on requests from business and does not understand the levels of frustration and sometimes irritation. Frequently the people in I.T. believe that they are giving the business exactly what it has specified and yet they find the business complaining about these self same things.
Vital aspects of responding to this situation involve taking measures to establish true executive custody -- business executives accept that I.T. is simply one more facet of the business and, while they do NOT have to have detailed technical knowledge, they DO need to communicate effectively with the head of I.T. and I.T. staff and accept final accountability for the I.T. function just as they do for every other business function.
On the other hand, the I.T. professionals need to engage with the business in business terms and language and understand requirements in a business context rather than technology. This may require a significant change in thinking.
A significant step in improving such a situation may frequently involve redefining the I.T. function as a "Business Systems" function and appointing a Head of Business Systems who sits on the Executive Committee. Sometimes this may involve an internal promotion and in other cases it may require an appointment from outside the organization.
2. I.T. Projects fail to meet business expectations
Frequently I.T. projects fail to meet business expectations, in some cases failed I.T. projects cause damage to the business and in extreme cases can put a business out of business.
There are a diversity of factors that give rise to this failure which are discussed in my book and on my courses, see the course notice at the end of this email for my upcoming course on "Essential Knowledge for I.T. Effectiveness".
Factors that cause failure include mythology -- the use of language and thinking that imputes human or super-human attributes to the computer technology and expects it to solve business problems, lack of executive custody is another factor that contributes to failure -- executive custody is a personal, custodial level of responsibility on the part of executives for the technology investment.
Lack of strategic alignment -- a clear definition of why the organization exists and how it thrives -- coupled with a clear specification of how the I.T. project will deliver value in line with this definition is another factor which, if not correctly handled, causes failure.
Other factors causing failure include the lack of a thorough, robust and systematic approach with full accountability (an engineering approach) as well as factors associated with the psychological response of people to change.
Preventing failure and achieving success requires all these factors to be recognized and managed effectively.
Doing this does NOT necessarily mean an increase in project costs, it does mean a shift in focus and a change in attitude on the part of both the business and the I.T. staff, consultants and contractors in order to engineer against failure, thereby achieving success.
3. Technology is moving so fast we cannot keep up with it
A widespread belief is that technology is moving so fast that it is not possible to keep up with it.
Associated with this belief comes an expectation that the business may need to change its core business systems (E.R.P.) as frequently as every five years, that business software that is more than ten years old must be scrapped and replaced, that integration of systems requires the replacement of existing systems with integrated suites, etc.
In some respects it is true that there is a continuous stream of new technology, however, in a practical business sense most organizations are NOT using the technology they already have to anything near its full potential.
In many cases staff are numb from the continuous changes and from having to scrap their knowledge and experience on one piece of technology in order to learn some piece of allegedly better technology. It is not infrequent to find that end user efficiency has declined rather than improved.
In order to place technology advance in context, consider that the Boeing 747 aircraft is still economically flying after more than thirty years and that the Concorde, technologically far more advanced than the 747, and which flew 4 years before the 747, never "flew" economically -- the point? -- advanced technology is not necessary to create profitable business solutions.
Accordingly, it is advisable to apply a healthy dose of skepticism to any investment proposition that is directly or indirectly founded on "technology is moving so fast".
Yes, there may be instances where your organization can generate real value out of new technology but this is not guaranteed and more creative and effective use of existing technology may provide the answer you need.
Where "integration" is the driver, keep in mind that the primary factors inhibiting integration are corporate policy, data content and corporate politics. The technology is available to integrate just about any business solution with any other business solution at a pragmatic data level that will get the job done, technology should therefore be considered as only one aspect in any integration recommendation.
Keep in mind that, as set out in the recent newsletter on Excellence, excellence is about people, not technology and, incidentally, successful I.T. is also about people NOT technology.
In considering these points, recognize that much of the I.T. industry is a fashion industry driven by marketing hype. There are solid solutions out there but ultimately much of what is said today is hype, technology mythology and technology infatuation. There is a widespread unstated belief that I.T. is the one area in life where a real "silver bullet" will one day be found.
Countering this trend there is a legal precedent that has not been tested in I.T. but which, in my opinion, would be found to be valid, called "the right to maintain and repair". This right exists in most practical areas of life and we take it for granted with the exception of the way many look at I.T. where it seems acceptable to scrap huge investments in order to follow the latest trends.
In other words, have you ever thought of consulting an an attorney when a vendor tells you that you must replace your software because they are no longer going to support it?
4. Executives Cannot Get The Information They Need
Frequently executives complain that they know that the raw data is being processed and yet they cannot get the information they need.
This is then often seen as the basis on which to justify replacing a current E.R.P. system with a new system.
Some organizations in South Africa are on their third E.R.P. system in fifteen years in search of the holy grail of effective management information.
Yet effective information is a matter of content not technology. "James Robertson" is exactly the same piece of data no matter which homegrown software or big brand E.R.P. your organization is using.
A badly designed chart of accounts will hinder or prevent effective information access for management and strategic reporting and yet, the chart of accounts is frequently carried from one E.R.P. to the next resulting in exactly the same problems manifesting in one system after another.
I offer a full day course on how to unlock corporate data coupled with some of my other courses, see the invitation at the end of this email.
5. Skills / insource / outsource / professional services
An issue that is very tangible for many organizations in South Africa is an apparent reduction in the number of skilled I.T. personnel available and organizations are struggling to find suitable staff, especially staff that comply with BEE requirements.
In terms of the numbers it appears that this is a real problem, at a recent conference a Professor from a leading South African University referred to I.T. as being "in crisis" and stated that registration at his University for I.T. courses was declining. In recent interviews a number of I.T. managers and executives complained that they could not find well qualified personnel.
It seems that there are two phenomena a play here, one is that I.T. is no longer the glamour career that it was seen to be a few years ago, a lot of what I.T. people do is mundane and frustrating, added to which it is coupled with the issues listed above and therefore it can be a thankless task.
The second aspect, as I see it, is that the technology is so bloated with functionallity and features to the point where the mainstream operating system (Windows) becomes increasingly unstable with use and where a whole industry exists trying to solve obscure operating system problems, some of which are irritating but not critical and some of which result in the computer becoming increasingly sluggish.
A recent search on one obscure error message "The memory could not be "written"" turned up close to 40,000 pages on Google and it is not clear from my investigation whether anyone has a robust and reliable solution for this error message, other than that there are a number of writers on these sites who seem to indicate that the error message is not hardware related even though it would seem that it should be.
Resolving such problems can take hours or days and they may recur such that the technician responsible finds their competence being called into question and finds themselves faced with frustrating repeat calls which they do not necessarily always succeed in resolving the problem.
Part of this situation is that the technology has advanced rapidly, part of it is about accountability. There are other operating systems that are far more stable and which are sold with much less hype and yet many business people feel compelled to go with the marketing flow.
As a general observation, human beings desire to obtain satisfaction from their work and if a career does not seem to offer such satisfaction it may well lose its attraction.
A more sober approach to the acquisition of new technology is called for together with the setting of sober standards and the consolidation of technology. As a general principle, in many cases, a strong case can be made for only buying the latest version of any particular software just at the point when the next major release is becoming available.
In terms of future trends, I think that the day will come when large corporations confronted with software under performance or instability will resort to their legal advisors and court action and we will perhaps see a statutory response to this situation in time to come.
In the interim take whatever measures are practically necessary to retain staff and to create an environment where they obtain job satisfaction without constantly chasing new technology.
6. Hardware performance / bandwidth / bloatware
An extension of the above point is the reality that organizations constantly find that their hardware is inadequate to run the latest software and that network bandwidth is constantly a challenge.
Close examination of the problem reveals that at least part of the problem is what is termed "bloatware", the constant addition of functionallity to software, most of which is seldom used by average users.
The containment of this problem is firstly about taking appropriate corporate policy decisions. For example that desktop and notebook computers should have a lifespan of productive use of five to six years and that they should run the same operating system for this entire period. This can be achieved by cascading computers down the organization, bring computers in at the level of power users and progressively pass them on to users with less demanding applications so that at the end of six years a computer has typically had three users.
Another response to this issue is to recognize the problem for what it is and to start applying pressure on manufacturers to contain the problem. In considering how to respond to this phenomenon, consider what you would do if you had to demolish your garage and build a larger garage every time you purchased a new car because the new car would not fit in your garage or even get through your driveway gate. It is likely that your car buying patterns would become a lot more conservative in such a case.
When it comes to bandwidth, a key issue is frequently the size of documents. Making users aware of the problem and educating them as to how to limit themselves to smaller document sizes is an important step. Frequently users add graphics to a document not realizing how much memory, disk space and bandwidth the graphic requires. Often there are things that can be done to limit the size of graphics without impairing the value that the graphic provides.
Are there other issues that you consider critical at this time?
I would welcome your comments.
Conclusion -- Critical I.T. issues in 2007
A number of critical I.T. related issues have been discussed above.
They can all be dealt with by appropriate action to a greater or lesser agree.
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