Government // Mobile & Wireless
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10/4/2013
10:19 AM
Chris Murphy
Chris Murphy
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IT's Reputation: Broken Bad

If Coca-Cola had a brand that was the equivalent of IT today, they would kill it and start again, says Blackstone Group CTO. He shares 4 processes IT leaders can use to change IT's bad rep.

William Murphy, CTO of the investment firm Blackstone Group, seemed like a pleasant enough fellow when he came onto the Interop New York tech conference stage this week. He even promised to kick things off on a high note.

Then he proceeded to describe the perception of IT departments as at best adequate -- a cost center and a back-office necessity at many companies. Worst case, "we're categorized as people who say 'No' first and ask questions later," Murphy said. IT's too often considered defensive, late, overprice, uninformed and unhelpful.

"If Coca-Cola had a brand that was the equivalent of IT today, they would just kill it and start again," said Murphy. At Blackstone, Murphy changed the name of IT to Innovations & Infrastructure, and took some meatier steps (more below on that) to reshape the perception of IT.

[ Maybe you should just look for another job. If so, read 5 IT Resume Blunders To Avoid. ]

Murphy wasn't a lone clarion call to CIOs and CTOs this week. Throughout the InformationWeek CIO Summit that followed Murphy's keynote, IT leaders described their efforts to rehabilitate IT's brand, to cast it in a role of innovator and problem solver and not an obstacle to progress.

Because as bad as IT's reputation is, colleagues know that "it's also central to creating business change, new products, efficiency of their current workloads, really the future of the company," Murphy said.

Murphy didn't just sound the alarm. He offered four operational pillars that are core to IT fixing its brand so it's seen by other business departments as a problem solver.

1. An Open Design process, driven by technology.

IT needs a prioritization process so business unit and IT leaders are working on the top priority problems. But IT needs to consider itself the tech innovator here, not the order taker -- non-IT employees only know what business problems they're having and not what's possible with technology to solve them. Expecting line of business staff and leaders to learn about technology "I think is much harder than for everyone in this room to learn the business," Murphy told the crowd of IT professionals. So IT teams must deeply understand their industry and company to match business problems to the right technology.

2. Iterative release model.

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Murphy warns that it can be hard to get both business unit and IT people on board with iterative tech project releases, since people just want to finish projects and move on. "You need to think of your projects as products that need care and feeding over time," he said, or else they'll grow stale and out of date.

3. Transparent cost and decision process.

It's scary to share detailed tech project costs and plans in the early stages, Murphy warns. But doing so explains the "why" of IT projects and avoids misunderstanding and even suspicion later. Be efficient and clear on how you communicate project plans and costs, but "include more rather than less people" of your business partners, he said. If you don't communicate, "people assume you're doing the wrong thing."

4. A simple, honest feedback process.

And when you get it, "you have to translate the feedback into positive change," Murphy said.

So how will IT know when it has built a strong brand inside its company? When a problem arises, Murphy said, business unit leaders "come to us for our wisdom, our knowledge and our help."

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David F. Carr
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David F. Carr,
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10/4/2013 | 3:39:02 PM
re: IT's Reputation: Broken Bad
How did the audience respond to his speech? Did you see a lot of heads nodding?
D. Henschen
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D. Henschen,
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10/4/2013 | 3:42:14 PM
re: IT's Reputation: Broken Bad
Another speaker at the CIO Summit, Dr. Howard Rubin, noted that corporate tech spending now exceeds $12,000 per employee, per year on average, and that's just IT, not to mention the many technologies that show up outside of the IT budget. The problem is that this baseline of spending and the platforms enterprises build up become inflexible and hard to unplug. Banks, for instance, are saddled with vast IT budgets that grew up over years, yet the financial crash suddenly changed the revenue picture overnight, making those IT expenditures unsustainable.

The key to the future, said Rubin, will be taking advantage of cloud, virtualization & innovative to introduce flexibility and curb rampant tech spending growth. Increases in compute power coupled with declining storage and processing costs have helped, but the money line from Rubin was "Moore's Law can't save your ass anymore."
Lorna Garey
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Lorna Garey,
User Rank: Author
10/4/2013 | 3:52:28 PM
re: IT's Reputation: Broken Bad
One thing IT groups rarely do (at least based on our most recent survey) is regularly poll the business about how they're doing and how the department is perceived. The anonymous 360-degree eval process, which should probably be done by a third-party so people feel secure enough to be brutally honest, may be pricey, but it seems like money well spent if the results are taken to heart and used to improve operations.
cbabcock
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cbabcock,
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10/4/2013 | 4:10:06 PM
re: IT's Reputation: Broken Bad
I'm not sure Walter White would like your headline. But then, his field was chemistry, not IT.
PiyaliR378
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PiyaliR378,
User Rank: Apprentice
10/4/2013 | 4:30:14 PM
re: IT's Reputation: Broken Bad
It is a ridiculous question that IT is overpriced or late. Its the lavishness of fertile brains that try to portray IT as a bad or unnecessary cost center. The day has come, when the related apps and games developers have been earning huge money from appnext or admob or revmob even without being termed as their permanent employees
tsdoaks
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tsdoaks,
User Rank: Apprentice
10/4/2013 | 5:57:08 PM
re: IT's Reputation: Broken Bad
As tiresome as the message is - "IT is broken" - all IT execs must get their collective heads out of the sand and listen. It's not the work that we do as much as it is how we do our work. Future opportunities for curbing/reducing costs exists in cloud, virtualization, etc. However, the cost is the cost and that isn't going to change but how we go about communicating the cost is vitally important. For the most part, we must ensure we are piggybacking on a true business case, rather than a separate case "just for IT". It is a branding exercise but ultimately, we still have to deliver the same IT services regardless of packaging.
Laurianne
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Laurianne,
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10/4/2013 | 5:58:49 PM
re: IT's Reputation: Broken Bad
Virtualization helped many IT leader go from "no" people to "yes" people already. Public cloud is a much more complex leap than virtualization was. But the huge agility potential is there.
DDURBIN1
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DDURBIN1,
User Rank: Ninja
10/4/2013 | 6:20:31 PM
re: IT's Reputation: Broken Bad
This is all well said and done however the core problem with the bad rep is that 65% of the head technology positions report to the CFO thus the final decision maker is an accountant. Would the engineering department allow an account to make their engineering decisions? Would the marketing department allow an accountant to make their decisions? So why do so many organizations place the IT department in the hands of accountants?
DDURBIN1
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DDURBIN1,
User Rank: Ninja
10/4/2013 | 6:26:19 PM
re: IT's Reputation: Broken Bad
Good idea but someone has to pay for that process and with the CFO demanding lower IT costs each budget process this never makes the list. Most CFO's are not a "customer focus" lot.
ChrisMurphy
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ChrisMurphy,
User Rank: Author
10/4/2013 | 6:57:35 PM
re: IT's Reputation: Broken Bad
You put it very well. To be clear, Murphy isn't disrespecting the work IT pros do or the skill and energy it takes to do well. He notes that many of his non-IT colleagues acknowledge "I wouldn't want your job." His emphasis was firmly on the elements you're zeroing in on -- strategies around how to communicate about costs well, and in a way that makes sense to business unit partners so they're right there with you discussing the cost-benefit at every turn.
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