3 Ways That IT Still Fails Itself

Sometimes we in IT act as our own worst enemy. IT leaders must study these mistakes with brutal honesty.

Jonathan Feldman, CIO, City of Asheville, NC

February 11, 2013

4 Min Read

My InformationWeek colleague Chris Murphy recently wrote a pair of columns: "6 Ways IT Still Fails The Business," followed by "5 Ways Business Still Fails The IT Organization," both of which struck a nerve with some of my colleagues at the city where I'm CIO. But let me suggest another way to look at this complex relationship: There are times when we in IT fail ourselves.

Change starts from within, and IT leaders must examine with brutal honesty the ways we act as our own worst enemy.

1. We Fail To Automate IT

This is my No. 1 pet peeve: IT merrily automates others' business processes, but not its own. As a peer of mine observed last week, it's a vicious cycle: Nobody seems to have enough time to automate the little things (resetting passwords, clearing browser cache, etc.), so we continue to let our time get leached away.

We've been most successful at automating the big stuff -- system management comes to mind. Yet because there's not a huge ROI in automating the small things, we hand them to various IT personnel. Big projects tend to be complex and take lots of time, so I wonder if automating five simple things would yield more of a payback than one big effort. It's hard to measure.

[ You say your staff is your "most important resource" -- but do you really mean it? See How To Scare Off Your Best IT People. ]

One technique we're using to start automating the small stuff is to get some bright people together, add food and fun, put a problem in front of them and then knock it out. We used just such a "barn raising" social to design and deploy a portal that automates the time-consuming process of responding to citizens' open-records requests, freeing up not only IT pros but also legal and public information staffers.

2. We Don't Ask Our Business Colleagues For Help

I still encounter project managers and network engineers who complain along the following lines: "'They' asked us to do XYZ. Can you believe it? They want more and more! We just don't have the resources!"

The missing piece here isn't to respond "no, but ..." It's to say "yes, and ..." Being busy is a great problem to have. If you're a startup, you're thrilled when you start to have too many customers.

IT's problem is that most of us are rugged individualists who want to do things on our own. But sometimes you can't. While we can't say no to another amazing project that promises to help the business succeed, we can give our colleagues a heads-up about the impact of taking on the new project. How about: "Yes, we can take it on, and we have options to kill another project ..." or "we'll need X additional resources to complete this one on time."

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3. We Fail To Report What We Do

Only 39% of business technology pros outline service metrics, such as customer service feedback, uptime and defect/outage rates, to their colleagues using a formal quarterly or annual report, according to a 2011 InformationWeek survey. And that percentage was down seven points from the previous year's survey.

The problem is that a lot of IT folks look at ongoing reporting as a dog-and-pony show, but that's simply not true. It's a great way to consolidate the good, the bad and the ugly -- celebrate success and raise morale; adjust and fix things that aren't going so well; and remind colleagues just how much work we're doing on their behalf. Maybe if we reminded our colleagues what we do for them on a more regular basis, they'd be more understanding about our project load. And maybe they would offer some fresh ideas on how to fix some of our challenges.

We can debate endlessly how "the business" is failing IT or the other way around. But I would suggest that we IT pros could make our world substantially better simply by focusing inward and fixing our own self-destructive behaviors.

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About the Author(s)

Jonathan Feldman

CIO, City of Asheville, NC

Jonathan Feldman is Chief Information Officer for the City of Asheville, North Carolina, where his business background and work as an InformationWeek columnist have helped him to innovate in government through better practices in business technology, process, and human resources management. Asheville is a rapidly growing and popular city; it has been named a Fodor top travel destination, and is the site of many new breweries, including New Belgium's east coast expansion. During Jonathan's leadership, the City has been recognized nationally and internationally (including the International Economic Development Council New Media, Government Innovation Grant, and the GMIS Best Practices awards) for improving services to citizens and reducing expenses through new practices and technology.  He is active in the IT, startup and open data communities, was named a "Top 100 CIO to follow" by the Huffington Post, and is a co-author of Code For America's book, Beyond Transparency. Learn more about Jonathan at Feldman.org.

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