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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,
User Rank: Author
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?
ChrisMurphy
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ChrisMurphy,
User Rank: Author
10/4/2013 | 8:09:54 PM
re: IT's Reputation: Broken Bad
Heck, i don't know -- i was busy taking notes!
D. Henschen
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D. Henschen,
User Rank: Author
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."
Laurianne
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Laurianne,
User Rank: Author
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.
rradina
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rradina,
User Rank: Ninja
10/7/2013 | 12:38:12 PM
re: IT's Reputation: Broken Bad
The financial crash had nothing to do with IT and everything to do with extremely poor business decisions. There's certainly opportunities for IT to improve and reduce cost but it has to be viewed as partner, not a cost center.

30 years ago my first IT concept was GIGO. Back then the meaning was fairly narrow but experience has proven its application to be universal. Contrary to IT pride or business vitriol toward IT, technology is not pixie dust. In my experience, driving decisions based on it isn't wise. Whenever I hear ideas like that I don't think of driving. I think of the chasing while throwing loads of cash out the window.

Throwing technology at questionable or unproven business processes/concepts/products after they are already failing is extremely risky and expensive. IT absolutely becomes part of this failure but never forget GIGO. If the business created a turd, photoshop can make it look like a supermodel but it will still smell like a turd.
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.
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 | 8:13:11 PM
re: IT's Reputation: Broken Bad
Edelman's new CIO did this kind of IT perception survey when he took over the job at the start of the year. Here's a story on how he used that:

Edelman CIO Shares His 90-Day Game Plan
http://www.informationweek.com...
TerryB
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TerryB,
User Rank: Ninja
10/7/2013 | 5:15:07 PM
re: IT's Reputation: Broken Bad
Our company does that, Lorna, but it does not really help. The survey is anonymous and questions so generic it does not give you enough info to improve anything. Mostly you are measuring how many people think internet connection is fast enough (not many) and whether they like having to use Lotus Notes (not many).
Before Corp started doing this, I sent out a request for feedback annually at our local unit. Very few people even bothered to reply and most of them just said things like "great job, keep it up" or "email system sucks", nothing you could really use to improve anything.
Thomas Claburn
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Thomas Claburn,
User Rank: Author
10/8/2013 | 1:32:24 AM
re: IT's Reputation: Broken Bad
Is anyone really happy with corporate IT, from an end user point of view?
cbabcock
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cbabcock,
User Rank: Strategist
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.
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.
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?
ChrisMurphy
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ChrisMurphy,
User Rank: Author
10/4/2013 | 8:06:17 PM
re: IT's Reputation: Broken Bad
Interestingly, Murphy didn't make the case for more autonomy. He did admit that sometimes he feels like just saying "I'm the CTO, we're doing it this way." But instead he said teams need to communicate tech projects in a way that's digestible to other departments, to make sure they get the cost, benefit, and even staffing decisions he's making about projects.
Lorna Garey
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Lorna Garey,
User Rank: Author
10/7/2013 | 1:30:32 PM
re: IT's Reputation: Broken Bad
To DDurbin's point though, generation all that communication in chunks digestible by the business is expensive - and in the end, the CFO may have veto power that would be unthinkable to give over the CMO.
parkercloud
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parkercloud,
User Rank: Apprentice
10/4/2013 | 8:14:48 PM
re: IT's Reputation: Broken Bad
You know IT is working when we are consulted at Project inception not after there is a problem.

The fix is to deliver services as needed and prevent problems. This is done by dividing Project resources from Operations resources and Reporting Service availability and capacity on a constant basis to all interested parties. Why this is not done more I dont know
Shane M. O'Neill
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Shane M. O'Neill,
User Rank: Author
10/4/2013 | 8:48:14 PM
re: IT's Reputation: Broken Bad
His first pillar makes a great point. It's easier for IT pros to learn business priorities than for business people to learn IT. Being more business-minded may be scary for some tech folks. But it's a big advantage as more companies confront digital disruption. The smart IT pros and CIOs will exploit it.
bfildes
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bfildes,
User Rank: Apprentice
10/4/2013 | 10:19:28 PM
re: IT's Reputation: Broken Bad
Too often IT interaction with the business is framed within the chosen technology and goes something like, "We can solve your problem with our new enterprise service bus technology", before the business even completes the problem description. They're shopping a solution, trying to justify its purchase and not listening to the business, evaluating possible solutions and sharing with the business the pros and cons of each.
WKash
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WKash,
User Rank: Author
10/5/2013 | 12:25:48 AM
re: IT's Reputation: Broken Bad
Another problem is that business models continue to be a work in progress, making it hard to architect IT into the business equation.
parkercloud
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parkercloud,
User Rank: Apprentice
10/5/2013 | 3:27:06 AM
re: IT's Reputation: Broken Bad
Cloud Computing abstracts business model from architecture, a main point of Cloud architecture
ChrisMurphy
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ChrisMurphy,
User Rank: Author
10/7/2013 | 6:14:06 PM
re: IT's Reputation: Broken Bad
I got this in-depth comment in via email from Alexander J. Keenan from Cincinnati Ohio. Good thinking and a good link here:

Have you considered that Gǣmanagement can have poor depth of knowledge regarding the tools and techniques IT provides to the organization?Gǥ

http://www.retailwire.com/disc...

Issues I have seen with management in a majority of companies.

1. Management do not understand the uncertainty involved in many IT project estimates. Many time you need a proof of concept, bench test, limited rollout, scaling up to division level, etc. IT can carry a learning cost.

2. Management fails to address Organizational processes when planning IT solutions. Automating a crappy process is called GǣPaving the cow pathGǥ in IT.

3. Management undercuts estimates believing the can force a cheaper and faster solution.

4. Management fails to say NO to features which results in features that are seldom or never used. Estimates vary in the cost of creating and maintaining these feature but it is very large.

5. Management fails to understand the difference between a structural change (major impact) and a cosmetic change (minor impact) when requesting changes to a project.

6. Management fails to plan and design for the life of the software asset. Many time the development cost is much less than the operating cost.

7. Management fails to understand impact of request on current operations. They love to create technical dept.

8. As the article above states, management is using tools that they have little true understanding of. I am taking a Intro to Operations Management for fun. I have created a IT study group and have a lot of members. IT is more than willing to learn the business side!!!

9. IT is about solving problems with knowledge workers. Operations is about efficiency and highly repeatable processes with low variances. Too very different work environments.
ANON1242037829718
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ANON1242037829718,
User Rank: Apprentice
10/14/2013 | 2:50:48 PM
re: IT's Reputation: Broken Bad
Chris, starting over is a good goal. But then too many IT folks look for "work plans" for the restart. The plan the work, work the plan ethos that serves IT well in many projects actually makes them vulnerable to structured "methodologies" and consultants when they need to re-imagine. I think they should also learn to "ad lib" like Joe Maddon of the Tampa Bay Rays does - see http://bit.ly/1fiAiQz
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