Back in the fifth grade, I was in a school musical, The GIGO Effect, in which the evil Glitches attempted to corrupt a computer named Mabel with "dirty power." The point of the show was that technology is unable to produce intelligent results without intelligent direction, a truism encapsulated in the formerly popular computer acronym GIGO, "garbage in, garbage out."
I don't think any business leaders are inclined to get their insights on running IT from a bunch of singing fifth-graders, but they could do worse (and generally do, to tell the truth). Intelligent direction is a product of competence. Among IT ranks, competence comprises an advanced knowledge of possibilities, the creativity to derive or invent solutions with that knowledge, and the (un)common sense to assess the implications of such solutions. If you expect to use IT to save money, create capability and reduce work, all at the same time, then you must bring competence to the table, and keep it there.
That's no great leap of logic. Everyone prefers competence. Everyone claims to value competence. And yet your IT still, for lack of a better term, sucks. It's just that simple. What goes unspoken, or at least unheard, is that the way the typical organisation positions and utilises its IT resources sucks.
In fact, it's sucking more as time goes on. Don't take my word for it, ask your own IT pros or someone else's. But why does it suck?
The reality is that, on equal cost, expedience always bests competence. In IT, it is the fallacy that expedience has no cost that fuels its dominance. Read any IT or CIO survey over the past couple of decades and you'll find that the same problems reported this year have been reported every year. Do a little more research and you'll find that with respect to most occupations, IT morale is disturbingly low, stress is ridiculously high and the best people are lost to burnout while the worst are inexplicably rewarded. Project success rates are as comically low as the average term of a CIO is conveniently short. Weakened by inconsistency and misdirection, IT is a perpetual target for interlopers selling snake oil and extremists from the reorganisational churches of IT outsourcing, insourcing or whatever sourcing who promise the converts that their latest buzzword will save them in tidy, graphable, expedient ways.
It's sad, but predictable. Just as the era of quasi- and non-technical IT management hits full swing, the practical applications of computing technology are expanding faster than they can be absorbed, as is the degree to which they impact and integrate with other technical and organisational processes. As the dollar signs increase, decisions that smart money would hedge on more detailed technical and business process scrutiny are shifted up the chain, where sober rationality is represented, but poorly defended from the forces of faith, assumption and truthiness.
Even great IT leaders have been taught to fear the invisibility and guaranteed criticism that come with IT done well far more than the accountability that rarely arises from IT done poorly. Chasing visible contribution at the expense of strategic leadership puts IT under the gun for responsibilities it shouldn't have, while ensuring it will never have the influence necessary to address the responsibilities only IT can.
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