IT's Reputation: Broken Bad - InformationWeek

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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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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.
Lorna Garey
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.
D. Henschen
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."
David F. Carr
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?
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