IT's Reputation: Broken Bad - InformationWeek

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10/4/2013
10:19 AM
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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Thomas Claburn
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Thomas Claburn,
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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?
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.
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.
WKash
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WKash,
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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.
Shane M. O'Neill
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Shane M. O'Neill,
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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.
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...
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!
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.
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.
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.
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