the it as a business trainwreck

Bejtlich recently posted about an article the trainwreck of running IT as a business. I suggest reading it with his emphasized points, and then reading the original article on InfoWorld. I’m tempted to repost the entire article, just because it is that thought-provoking; a bit of a surprise for rags like InfoWorld, which makes me scared that they may find this rogue article and remove it!

Seriously, read the article. Everything below this point is really just rewording the points Bob Lewis makes and Bejtlich emphasizes.

The article is chock full of good points, and I myself am in a company where IT is mostly run as a separate business silo where my ‘customers’ are other internal employees. Of course, this turns us into a utility company who is not necessarily being innovative and ahead of the curve, but rather increasingly pressured to reduce (or chargeback) costs and keep things flawless (classic negative conditioning). This also makes us captive to the culture of “the customer is always right,” or “give them the pickle.” (We’re not children anymore; the customer is not always right, and it’s only ok to give someone a pickle when their pickle request is reasonable.”)

Likewise, we shouldn’t be fighting against the business initiatives, but that is often how it feels. And it feels that way because our internal “customers” make requests/demands of us similar to how customers make often unreasonable demands of their vendors. It’s a disconnect. Not a communication disconnect, but rather a disconnect in the concept of shared ownership that comes from being all part of one business (which is ironic considering we’re employee-owned).* If we weren’t conditioned by the business to be risk-averse, we’d likely be on top of or already doing some of their requests!

Then again, maybe this whole article’s idea about how bad “IT as a business” is, is itself a product of even more pressure on IT budgets and cost. How better to eliminate that as your pressure by putting it on the shoulders of the whole company? Or it may be saying, “Help me, help you.”

I really love this part, and it is something I live through weekly, especially with how closely I work with our internal IT and developer teams:

“Or try to explain your file and print server hosting rates. It doesn’t matter that part of that rate is full backup and off-site storage. Or as part of a clustered environment you have built-in redundancy and that ensuring the server is updated and secured appropriately is part of that cost. Their friend Joe hosts these things on the side, and it is much cheaper.”

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.

Other IT persons (developers, largely) are notorious for this. The classic example is, “Why does storage cost so much? I can go to Best Buy and get a terabyte on an external drive for $100.”

In fact, I would go so far and say that this whole problem of being an internal customer is compounded right now with the consumerization of IT; i.e. the influx of Apple products, mobile devices, cloud-based storage (which is just an “enterprise” way of saying “on the web” for most of these services), and outside hosting/solutions. This is why we’re losing this battle suddenly: the “customers” are making the recommends demands; not IT. IT is trying to avoid more black eyes, delivered as a result of being a “separate business.” (Managerial personalities can make an impact as well, especially those who refuse to ever be wrong, even when their requirements are horrid.)

If I had to nitpick on the original article, it would be the assertion that this whole “IT as a business/chargeback” issue is not that clearly a product of the outsourcing industry. I think business largely doesn’t know how to handle IT as an integral part, so the default behavior ends up fitting the “IT as a business” model where budgets are constrained, IT managers are pressured to justify costs, so they chargeback as a way to illustrate who is costing them what. This is a top-down problem; not a sideline/outsourcing problem.

* What is even more ironic, is the effort to force more innovation into the business over the last year. While I think it is wrong to “force” innovation and make it a requirement, it is even worse to try to do so in an environment where risk-averse actions are rewarded. This is whole topic in itself…