Sunday, March 20, 2016

The Awful Truth About Your IT Department

The Omnivore asked me to keep you all entertained for a week while he catches up on his drinking. I’m not especially political, but if he does it all the time time, how hard can it be?

I figured I’d just cut/paste from Wikipedia and call it a night, but he said, “it doesn’t have to be politics. Just write what you know.”

Then he left.

Here’s what I know.

The Awful Truth About Your IT Department

I’m going to tell you why your IT department sucks and why there’s nothing you can do about it, and I’ll do it in the form of a story.

Once Upon A Time

Once upon a time there was a small company, and it had a small IT department and everything was swell.

The IT department did what the business people needed and stayed within their cost-constraints, and everyone was happy. The business people were happy because they got good solutions. The IT people were happy because they were doing useful, respected work.

Everybody was happy and productive and they were going to take over the world.

And Then...

The company grew. And grew. And maybe acquired someone or was acquired. Whichever. A few times over.

And then one day the CFO noticed that they were paying a whole lot for IT. More than their competitors were. The CFO asked a 3rd rate consulting company to come in and explain why this was so, and the consulting company quickly identified the source problem because it was obvious, even SlackGemini could see it:

The costs were so high because there was so much duplication. Each business unit had its own dedicated IT staff. This meant a fully redundant set of developers and database administrators and software architects (okay, I don’t want to strain credibility too much. There were no software architects back in the Garden. But if there had been, they’d have had too damn many.)

You-Couldn't-Afford-McKinsey-Karney told the CFO that they could SAVE MONEY if they consolidated all the little IT departments into one bigger but not too-big one. The consulting company pulled a number out of a partner’s ass and promised X% savings where X% was big, but not so big as to be completely unbelievable.

This enterprise IT department would serve multiple business areas with a pool of resources that, while bigger than any single Business Unit’s IT department would be smaller than all of them put together. Thus: savings.

The math worked out, of course but there was one step left to get to planning and execution. One last hurdle. The plan would have to be socialized with the Business Units. They would have to agree. This would require something more than math and more than the promise of savings. It would require lying.

The Big Lie

The Big Lie, of course was that all the Business Units were going to get better service than they’d gotten in the past!

The new IT department would be able to leverage economies of scale. It would be able to pool resources! To bring to bear awesome levels of staffing and expertise. It would codify its offerings with Service Levels Agreements and track its successes with Key Performance Indicators. It would be more professional, more effective, and more efficient than any of the smaller weaker organizations that had come before it.

For the first time in the history of the Universe the law of You Get What You Pay For was going to be violated! Their new IT Department would be like a perpetual motion machine! A magical unicorn that would shit money! Things were okay now -- if somewhat expensive -- but with One Simple Re-Org they would be EVEN BETTER!

The consultant’s desultory and unconvincing presentation promised all kinds of shit, but it was clear that even they didn’t believe it. The Partner who sold the work didn’t even bother to show up.

There was no way that the Business Unit presidents were going to believe -- for a moment -- that having IT service providers who didn’t report to them were going to give them anything like the responsive, highly personalized service they were used to.

They knew that the proposal would create a hidebound bureaucracy that would never deliver anything anyone in their organization would want to use. They recognized that all the KPIs and SLAs and QoS (Quality of Service guarantees) were nothing but empty promises.

So, of course, they’d never sign up for this.

And Then A Miracle Happened

And then a miracle happened. One by one the Business Unit Presidents nodded agreement. “Yes!” they said, “We Believe It! We believe that this ‘corporate IT department’ will provide us service better than we got before at a price point lower than we pay today! Yes! We believe that measuring performance will result in good performance. We buy it! We’re in!”

And the consultants went back to their hotels and got drunk and worked on their LinkedIn profiles and dreamed of getting a better job, and they lived relatively happily ever after.

And The Corporate IT Department...

...Sucked donkey balls, like everyone knew it would. They wouldn’t even pretend to do any work for you unless you gave them a billing code, and then they charged you for Project Management Overhead, but their Project Managers were so awful you had to assign your own, and if you ever asked why they hadn’t done anything they would say, “The Requirements Were Unclear” and force you to write a novel.

And once in awhile when they did squeeze out some software it broke at the first sign of trouble, and getting anyone who was accountable required going Orpheus-like into the underworld.

Donkey Balls.

What Happened?

What happened, you ask?

Here’s What Happened:  Corporate IT is for Losers. The Business Unit Presidents, in that final meeting, decided that the firm could save the money it needed to if those other losers around the table were forced to use it.

Losers like the Global Functions (for example HR) would receive their Just Karmic Punishment for being Cost Center by being forced to argue over SLAs with mid-level Service Partners, or escalating to the CIO every time the database shit the bed.

Winners -- parts of the business making actual money -- get to hire Accenture or Deloitte or hip, millennial-based design firms to build their software. Winners get MBAs with soft hands to gently fluff their egos while dark rooms full of SEAsoned IT Professionals grunt out specifications and working code. You get an actual software architect because you pay for one (he bills three figures an hour). No one you're paying mad money for will demand “Requirements Document” or a seven-step approval process.

And even the savvy losers knew they had a way out: Shadow IT. They would avoid ever having to ask the Corporate IT Boondoggle for anything by putting a computer under the desk, calling it a server, and having the kid who just graduated and knows “websites” write the department database.

The Moral of This Story

The moral of this story is: If you’re being forced to use the Corporate IT Department, it’s because you’re a money-sucking leech and you deserve all the frustration you get. You’re the sacrifice to the Volcano God so that all the good little boys and girls can keep hiring E&Y. I mean, seriously: when the President of North America wants something done, who do you think she goes to?

Also, while I’m at it: Your HR service sucks for the same reason. All those incredibly asinine processes that don’t seem like they could possibly lead to hiring someone don’t. They’re designed to save money by giving hiring managers like you, who don’t rate something to spend their time on.

The people who matter make one phone call and get permission bypass the whole mess and then hire whoever they want.

You’re Welcome.

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