TDWI Upside - Where Data Means Business

IT in Crisis: Q&A with Jill Dyché

The prevailing phenomenon that seems to be the source for all of IT's problems can be boiled down into a single, simple sentence.

After my first two Upside Q&A columns, I was feeling pretty good. On a roll, to tell you the truth. Based on my experience working with clients across industries on their analytics and strategic programs, I'd wrestled two very astute, reality-based questions to the ground. I's also managed to work pudding, universal translators, and disinfectant into my answers! Bonus!

Then earlier today, I received an email from someone asking me to explain how to optimize a canonical aggregate subquery against geospatial data in Hive. Questions like this make me want to quit work early and watch cat videos, but then I saw this in my inbox:

Dear Jill:

Nothing is happening. I think my IT organization is in crisis! Help!

--Disaffected in Dayton

Dear Dis:

You may have heard that I wrote a book on this subject. It's called: The New IT (McGraw-Hill, 2015) and it profiles a number of heavy-hitter executives and what they did to cultivate change. The book has sold out on Amazon three times because, well, it profiles a bunch of heavy-hitter executives, and because the Foreword was written by none other than Geoffrey Moore -- and because every chapter begins with a classic rock lyric.

Everyone loves a good crisis. (Case in point: Fatal Attraction's box office was $320 million.) In researching the book, I kept returning to a prevailing phenomenon that seems to be the source for all of IT's problems. I'll tell you what that phenomenon is if you promise to read the book anyway. Okay? It's this:

IT cannot overcome its legacy reputation.

That's right. Maybe IT is always late and over budget. Maybe they're working on the wrong things. Maybe your friend Bob had a bad early experience with IT on a project and Bob's now the CEO. Whatever the reason, people give up on IT, procure their own technology budgets, let vendors buy them lunch, and sequester their business plans.

Sometimes this cynicism is warranted. IT isn't delivering anything and is using legacy system maintenance and protracted vendor negotiations as tired excuses. IT leaders hunker down in closed-door meetings while programmers talk more about whether to travel to TechCrunch via Oakland or San Francisco airports. They become deservedly marginalized and, absent any meaningful work, they tinker with technology sans business justification.

Meantime lines of business try re-engaging IT until they take matters into their own hands. It's the business version of Glenn Close's line in Fatal Attraction: "I'm not going to be ignored, Dan!"

Effective IT managers have already mapped out their strategies for change. They've identified behavior archetypes and designed a path to get where they want to be, both as organizations and as leaders themselves. They are Creating digital strategies, forming innovation labs, and embracing new ways of hiring diverse talent to help get them there.

What's wrong with IT? You tell me. Then decide whether you can change that. Can you launch projects that deploy new technologies in the context of business solutions, work with your IT peers to enable innovative business models, or simply help to build something relevant that doesn't exist today?

If you can't participate in this type of change at your company, it may be time for Plan B (and I don't mean watching on-line cat videos). Good luck!

About the Author

Jill Dyché has advised clients and executive teams on their analytics and data programs for as long as she can remember. Longer, in fact. She’s the author of four books on the business value of technology and regularly talks to teams about what keeps them up at night. Ambivalent about analytics? Maddened by management? Constricted by your culture? Check out Jill’s Q&A column, Q&A with Jill Dyché, here.

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