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Why IT Has A Credibility Problem

How can every project save money? Our first-ever IT Spending Priorities Survey shows that is IT's expectation, and that it needs to ground rosy projections in reality.

Future Shock

As for promises of long-term payback, the results to be realized "later" may well be when the employee who championed the project has switched jobs, and you're left holding the bag. We remember the promises of the network management systems of the 1990s, when network managers (whipped into a frenzy by system vendors) promised the sun, moon, and stars--only to find out that these systems were huge cash sinks that produced little more than low-cost packages such as WhatsUp Gold. Somehow, the network managers who recommended those systems had always managed to escape to other pastures.

Or what about that ATM infrastructure that got built by the only guy who really understood it, only to be ripped out when Fast Ethernet rose to dominance? Or that e-commerce site that was predicted to yield a huge payback but got nuked by Amazon's success?

Companies should always align these IT decisions with conservative principles of financial management: Underestimate revenues and overestimate costs. Think Enron and do the opposite. And don't factor in soft returns when you're talking about savings; stick to cash. If you promise head count savings, don't be surprised if the CFO asks for names of those you plan to let go. That'll put a sharp point on what he thinks real savings are.

The unbridled IT pro optimism is showing up even with something like mobile device management. In our survey, half of those respondents who plan to implement MDM say it will save them money over the long term. Really? We're talking about software that offers some policy enforcement and security measures on Android or iOS phones. Sure, there are some soft cost savings (MDM systems can be used to manage software rollouts), and the organizational benefits of enterprise apps on mobile devices are legion. But ... save money? Maybe if the alternative is sending IT-trained minders along with all mobile device users. Otherwise, it's just a new cost.

No matter how cynical an observer is, you can't deny that this is the year most IT organizations finally get to do some spending. Only 12% of the respondents to our survey are expecting IT budget cuts. Of those anticipating an increase, more than a quarter of them expect it to be in the 10% to 14% range, and 11% expect increases of more than 20%.

But for those anticipating a new binge of innovation, our data shows another sobering trend: Four out of our respondents' top five IT projects are all of the block-and-tackle variety, not transformative innovations.

Three of the top four priorities are improve security, upgrade storage, and upgrade networking--IT basics unlikely to get noticed by LOB execs. Even No. 2, virtualization, which 23% of our survey respondents consider a top priority, is now a basic activity.

What about hybrid clouds and cloud bursting, activities that promise to change the face of IT spending and human resourcing as we know it? Marquee names like Zynga and DreamWorks are pioneers, having optimized their infrastructure spending by balancing private and public cloud resources. Yet only 11% of our survey respondents identify private cloud as a top priority.

Which technology area has grabbed the attention of non-IT partners? We guarantee you: If we had surveyed CMOs and their direct reports instead of CIOs and their reports, social networking would be near the top of the priority list. Yet the social enterprise sits at the bottom of our survey respondents' list.

To be clear, we're not even talking about participating in external social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, or integrating current enterprise applications into them. Our survey question specifically said "launch/upgrade an enterprise social networking platform." And while we didn't offer an option for projects relating to external social media, no survey takers brought those up in the "Other" category.

No matter how you slice it, either social media's not on our respondents' radar or it's bundled in with the lowest of the low priority of deploying something like Yammer internally (a mere 2% of our respondents). Your CMO might not want Yammer, but she almost certainly is wigging out about the lack of social media integration with enterprise customer touch points, and surely your CEO has noticed how important social is to business growth. Is dead last really where it belongs on your IT priority list?

We may be blaming this disconnect on the victim. The reason for this focus-on-the-basics approach may simply be IT's long winter of budget cuts. A recent InformationWeek column that previewed our findings posed the question: "Are these spending priorities coming from the standpoint that many IT teams are simply overtasked and underfunded?" One reader agreed passionately that organizations need the bulk of IT dollars to keep systems from completely failing. "I don't even understand why most systems haven't failed already," the reader said. "We are heading for a perfect storm and it is called 'I quit.'"

chart: Which of these statements best apply to your adoption or increased use of public cloud services?

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Faye Kane, homeless brain
Faye Kane, homeless brain,
User Rank: Strategist
8/8/2012 | 9:05:42 PM
re: Why IT Has A Credibility Problem
You only make these mistakes if you delude yourself to begin with. Take "the cloud". No one in their right mind thinks it's a good idea to hand all your data to Microsoft instead of keeping it on your own server. For no reason. And PAY them for it.

The same with virtualization. CPUs are cheap, virtualization is complex, fragile, and costs money with no ROI. And the same with software-as-service, VOIP (using your computer as a telephone), mobile apps (using your telephone as a computer), and all the other "new paradigms that will revolutionize IT!"

It's like in software engineering. Beginning with structured programming, every few years some new way of doing it was supposed to "design the bugs out!", be "self-documenting!", and "multiply programmer productivity!" I fell for it until I wised up.

We don't get fooled again.

Just keep looking at how the users do their jobs and how they could do them faster and easier with [fill in the blank]. Adding a spell-checker to the secretary's word processor passes that test. Making her work with the "ribbon" interface she hates on a virtual desktop through a touch screen using Windows 8/Metro running on a computer in Redmond instead of one under her desk does not.

Every product that every vendor comes up with is supposed to "revolutionize IT!" The only things that actually did were relational databases in the 60's, PARC's mouse-driven GUI in the 70's, the PC in the 80s, and networks in the 90's (including the internet). Other than that, it's mostly a lot of marginally-improved and expensive hot air, hoo-hah, and ballocks.

-- faye kane
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