back to article The trouble with business executives…

When IT teams and their colleagues within the business get along, life is good for everyone. When things work well, a virtuous circle is created in which managers and executives recognise and appreciate the good service they receive, so are happy to fund further investments to allow IT to deliver even better, which in turn …

  1. Oh Homer
    Alien

    We come in pieces

    No surprises here, business bods know nothing about tech., and tech. monkeys know nothing about business.

    I suppose the ideal solution then is some kind of go-between, who speaks both languages fluently and can mediate between these two alien species.

    Unfortunately we already have those. They're called Pointy Hairs and in reality the only language they speak is Gibberish. So really what we need is a better class of Pointy Hairs, the 2.0 model. Or bigger budgets.

  2. Commswonk Silver badge

    Once Upon a Time...

    ...there was no IT and businesses operated by having people doing things with pen and paper, or manually operated machine tools or whatever. People are, of course, a revenue cost. Then IT came along and a lot of people were replaced by hardware of one sort or another, and revenue costs probably fell but to achieve that a capital cost had to be incurred. That might not have been too painful, because it could be seen in advance that the capital expenditure would be offset over time by revenue savings.

    I suspect that much modern IT expenditure does not necessarily bring with it revenue savings going forward*. As a result it's all capital expenditure with operating costs remaining just as they are.

    So at MBA level it's a question of "You want to spend how much?" on an IT upgrade / modernisation / expansion, followed by postponing the decision until the next next meeting, at which the decision is postponed until the next meeting, and so on. Sometimes a lot of time will be saved by postponing the decision until the next financial year.

    Similar logic applies to decisions to out - source; the capital expenditure falls elsewhere even if the revenue expenditure rises to meet the out - sourcing company's monthly bills. They, of course, have to cheese - pare as well - not a happy scenario for the "principal", even if it is concealed from its direct gaze; all sorts of promises will be given about service levels and so on but all that happens is that the capital versus revenue argument is moved elsewhere, i.e. the out - sourcing company.

    * Sorry about that; I should have resisted the temptation.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    As a simple example, there are all sorts of open source tools available

    We have an open source prof of concept shared calendar, document and address book system in IT. It works fine. So for the roll out of shared calendaring, address book and documents company wide we are going with a Management proposed Microsoft solution.

  4. Boris the Cockroach Silver badge
    Unhappy

    change

    the word IT into nearly every other kind of service (my world: widget bashing) , healthcare, plumbing, electrical, and you'll get exactly the same answers from the skilled guys who do the front line stuff.

    There is a serious disconnect between senior and board level management and the lower tier skilled staff, and there can be only one reason for this.

    A lot of the time in the past , you recruited a few of the senior managers FROM your front line staff to ensure that the board and upper management had an idea of what was involved in whatever crazy plan the 'business gurus'* were promoting this month.

    "Lets jump to the cloud and save money on IT hardware" comes the decision without knowing that your 5 nines vital service is at the mercy of a dodgy bit of BT fibre optic cable.

    Until that is cured , then we'll carry on fumbling away and getting stressed out over illogical and frankly stupid decisions....

    *if business gurus are so smart.. why are'nt they running their own successful company ?

  5. Nolveys Silver badge
    Meh

    Same Old, Same Old

    I've got a client who intentionally keeps the internal hierarchy vague. Whenever they want a project done they generally have two or three people working on it with no one specific in charge, no one seems to talk to anyone else, no one asks questions and most are making decisions that make no sense at all.

    The only person who kind of knows what's going on is the Big Boss, but he delegates as much as possible. Sending an email to the Big Boss always results in "don't talk to me about this".

    They asked me to setup a B2B online store that integrated with Quickbooks for them to replace their current system, sending out excel files and then manually entering the results. I was told to work with three different people, with no one in particular in charge. Every time I met with them they'd have a new list of features that they hadn't talked with each other about. My concerns were completely irrelevant. I would say things like "This is a bad idea, it will be very hard to do, will take a long time and the end result will be pointless.", to which I would be told "do it anyway."

    Finally we were ready to go live. The Big Boss came over to check the thing over. Immediately he said "the accounting integration is completely wrong. We need this and this and this and this and this and this and this and this and this and this and this changed."

    More time passed, last weeks crazy features removed to make room for more crazy features. We were finally ready to go live for the second time, but we didn't because there were new crazy features to add.

    Initially I was trying to keep the code clean and maintainable. Eventually the new features I added resembled bowl movements. Doing things properly seemed pointless as everything was just going in the garbage anyway. At one point I went to implement one of the new features of the week, went to the position in the code where I figured the feature should go and found the feature already implemented, by me, 7 weeks earlier and commented out, by me, 6 weeks earlier.

    5 attempts to go live and 3 complete changes in the people I reported to later the company hired a "shopping cart expert" who immediately had me cancel the project and then implement a B2C site. I pooped out a B2C site in three weeks, the "shopping cart expert" took credit for it and she went off to make the B2B site on her own. This was about three years ago now, to this day there is still no B2B site and several attempts to replace the B2C site have failed. I know this because every once in a while I find some new Quickbooks connector connecting to some automated "shit a shop" site on the internet pops up. Currently there are five connectors running on the server (which is a terminal server), two of them have an instance for every single user who's connected to the server. The only one that actually does anything is the one I installed for the B2C site.

    After B2B was canceled they needed something to fill the gap, so they had me write a program to import the excel their clients had filled out into Quickbooks. Since it was just a "stop gap" that would only be in use for "a month or so" I have to admit that I didn't do a very good job. Years and thousands of dollars later the turd has been polished to the point where it's almost kind of okayish not really. There is still no B2B site and the B2C site is still the festering turd that I threw together in three weeks.

    The terminal server has needed to be replaced for a looooong time now. When I told them this I was basically told "make up a proposal so that we can reject it". It's really easy to procrastinate on because I always have other work to do and working with those people is hell.

    A few months ago I was told that the company went through a hostile takeover by its very vertically integrated supplier. They are taking possession this month. I'm expect that they will throw *all* the IT stuff in the trash, install their own stuff and fire me. At least, I hope that's what's going to happen.

    1. ecofeco Silver badge

      Re: Same Old, Same Old

      I know the type well. I hope you are no longer there and are actively looking for a new job somewhere else. You can NEVER do anything right for these types and they will screw you in a heartbeat.

      1. Nolveys Silver badge

        Re: Same Old, Same Old

        I still do jobs for them. The excel -> QB thing has been pretty lucrative. It's stupid and shouldn't exist, but it does make me money. Things have worked out pretty well since I stopped caring completely.

        I don't think they'd ever screw me, they are actually pretty nice people. It's just that the way they run the company is bat shit insane.

  6. DubyaG

    Hollywood

    “The 'Hollywood' portrayal of IT is that a few keystrokes can solve anything. This has led to an unrealistic expectation on technology and timescales.”

    Yeah, they watch Scorpion and see the hacker type furiously on the keyboard in front of a screen displaying something like the Matrix screensaver. The hacker gets in 30 seconds and saves the world.

    Not the only abuse of science in that show, but it always makes me cringe. Walter O'Reilly sold himself out for that show.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Happy

    Wow! So much rant! Much fail!

    That was an earful. Thanks all for sharing. :)

    1. Dale Vile, Freeform Dynamics

      Re: Wow! So much rant! Much fail!

      A lot of positive stuff came out of the research too - previously reported here: www.freeformdynamics.com/fullarticle.asp?aid=1923

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    “Shadow IT procurements are nothing to do with IT at all, until they fall over!”

    That happened to us many years ago. Every department was made into its own Profit & Loss unit. So they started buying networking kit from anywhere - even the apocryphal market stall.

    Wasn't long before the whole company network was hit by traffic overloads that were tracked down to someone putting their own private bridge into the system and creating a loop.

  9. watt

    Enterprise Architecture

    I'm surprised to see that many are still having this problem; we are taking on a new approach that mixes the ideas presented by Chris Potts, Gerald Grant, and Robert Collins. Along with a few bits from agile product management. The enterprise architecture team I am on work with both the business and IT to solve various problems. Our current flow doesn't just provide business alignment, but provides direct direction and budgeting by the business units that need to make new and continue IT investments. The whole stress between IT and the business have mostly gone away, and IT has truly become part of the business; IT people are just another skill set, like engineers, that the business has access to use.

    From the EA side, we provide the bridge between the various people. As we were developing the new demand process with IT (they were the hardest ones to convince), we were asked to look at much larger processes within two of the largest business units. Basically once we got IT management to give up their control of their silos to let the business in and see everything, change happened very quickly. It's not perfect, but much better than the old MBA, accountant-centric approach to IT.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    It is good to read 1 positive story. In mosst cases management still tries to take decisions without an integrated vision, nor with an open enough mind to allow others to define an integrated vision.

  11. a_yank_lurker Silver badge

    Leaders vs Managers

    The problems highlighted are differences between a true leader and a manager. Leaders know they need get the unfiltered information from the front lines. Also, they realize the information may contradict their assumptions so they go with the information. Manager do the opposite, they tell the front line troops what they should do based on faulty assumptions.

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The trouble with management...

    Is that we're not allowed to hunt them down, BOFH their sorry arses, & dispose of the corpse in creative ways?

    *Sigh*

    We don't call them "Manglement" for nothing.

  13. mickaroo

    Tribal Knowledge

    >> “Business management pours close to 100% of our IT budget into consultants and third-party off-the-shelf solutions and services, so we have nearly no 'tribal knowledge.'” <<

    I was a high level consultant at a company helping them organize their operation and put some documented procedures in place. Four of the team were staff and the remainder were contactors of varying ability. A couple of the contractors were 'long term', some only stayed for a few months.

    If I once pointed out to company management that I was training their contractors, I must have pointed the fact out a dozen times. The contractors regularly quit; all trained up for a better job elsewhere. And with them went the Tribal Knowledge.

  14. Archtech Silver badge

    Problem exists in management - only

    Managers are hired to run a company or other organization. Classically, management is defined as getting results through other people.

    If something goes wrong, top management is ALWAYS to blame. Either they did something wrong, or they neglected to do something necessary, or someone subordinate made those mistakes. In the latter case, responsibility lies with the manager who hired that person and/or told them what to do.

    It's absurd and irresponsible to make changes, buy equipment, and hire people - then complain that things have not gone the way you expected. There is a strong similarity to the way things goes wrong when software is being specified. Mistakes are made, but the main source of problems is incompleteness. Often, most of the necessary requirements are never identified by the sponsor, because they have never thought the system through in sufficient detail.

    That's why, when an experienced systems analyst finds the specification lacking or inconsistent, she often talks to the secretaries and other vital but under-valued and ignored staff. It turns out they take care of about half of the work when they meet at the water-cooler, or whatever; hence managers are blissfully unaware of those tasks.

  15. NBNnigel

    I realise this won't be popular...

    ... but in some cases, IT are partially to blame. I work in the 'business' side of the organisation (in a government department), but I also understand IT more than your average civilian (particularly on the security side of things). In my experience, sometimes the reason business units do IT procurement "behind IT's back" or run off to cloud-based services is because IT are an unreasonable and inexplicable impediment. This might be unique to government, but I've come across a few IT areas now that manage risk by simply saying 'no' to every request. Unless, of course, it comes from someone in senior management. Then they seem to jump right to it, regardless of how insane it is.

    Also, some functions that really should be managed by competent IT folks are instead managed by (as far as I can tell) non-IT folks. Usually 'content management' teams that, for whatever reason, are situated in the IT organisational group. Consequently, regular civilians end up assuming that when IT says 'no' they're just being unreasonable (even in cases when there's a good reason) or that IT simply doesn't know what the f*** it's doing (thanks to previous experiences with 'IT, but not really' content management teams). Examples:

    1. I was working on a small project (1 man army) where I needed to write some stuff in python (mostly web scraping and writing custom parsers for weirdly structured HTML). It took me a month to convince IT to install a python interpreter on my machine. Tried to install a library: nope, read-only access to the directory. Over the next couple of weeks tried to convince IT that it was kinda pointless to have a python interpreter installed without being able to install libraries, but they wouldn't have a bar of it. Yes, technically I could have used urllib and regexps. That is, if I wanted the project to take 10 times as long to do. Eventually I had to give up and work from home (partially in my own time).

    2. I use a *gasp* cloud-based service for making flow charts (lucidchart). Or I used to. When I tried to access the site from my current workplace I was confronted by the all-too-familiar 'blocked page', courtesy of our wonderful content blocking system (which seems to run on a whitelist basis, and MITMs using a custom CA cert that's that's dangerously insecure thanks to its outdated fingerprint hashing algo, but that's another story). I put in a request for it to be unblocked: nope, cloud-based services are not allowed here. When I ask why, am told it's an information security risk which, in fairness, is a legit issue in government. Everyone who works in my department has a security clearance, and has gone through countless security training courses, why can't they be trusted to not upload sensitive data to some random server? What was the point of the training in the first place? Hasn't that horse already bolted, given we can send emails to external addresses? Actually, isn't that a risk we've always taken given we allow people to walk out of the building without having to endure a bag check and body cavity search? And weirdly, why are Azure and AWS unblocked if this is such an issue? Yes, technically I can use your crappy flow charting software on the "officially approved software" list. But I'd rather use something that doesn't massively hinder my productivity. More working from home for me...

    3. My department 'uses' Sharepoint. Yes it's awful, but I have no control over that. And because IT's access control policies don't allow 'business users' to be given any site-level admin permissions, we have to go begging to one of the 'content management teams' if we want to create a new document library. Or a new calendar. Or a new anything... These very simple requests can take 2-3 days to be fulfilled. I'm guessing because the 'sharepoint content managers' don't have a clue what they're doing and go bother 'real IT' whenever one of these requests comes in. Might there be a more sane approach we could take? Apparently not, is the official answer from IT. Now I understand why Sharepoint is only used as a glorified network share drive... Don't even get me started about the time I needed to write some crappy little CLIENT-SIDE Sharepoint app...

    And the list goes on. The only good experiences I've had when dealing with IT were when I've been able to figure out where the knowledgeable folks are hiding (tip: they're usually in the 'IT infrastructure' teams, where you actually need to know what you're doing or the lights go out). Maybe none of this applies to any of you highly skilled IT folks. And I don't doubt that 90 percent of the time the problem is the 'business side' not having a clue. But a little introspection probably wouldn't hurt either.

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