The oversized IT.

People are driven by expectations. Some of them are realistic (we don´t need to worry about this ones) and some, not so much. An unrealistic expectation can put someone in a unfruitful path that will ultimately generate frustration.

Most people have unrealistic expectations towards IT. Even people that work in IT falls victim to this. In the last years, IT became a solution for everything. No matter what is the problem you are trying to solve, what you need is an application that will deal with it for you.

The problem here is that most people do not realize what is behind an application. The real cost of applications are not even visible to most levels on an organization. When an executive asks how much it will cost to build/purchase an application he is usually thinking about the shelf cost or the implementation cost, but is ignoring maintenance, infrastructure, support, how that application will communicate with their existing applications, data security, data recovery and many other elements that are necessary to keep an application up and running. Without understanding the real cost (the shelf price or implementation cost is usually a fraction of the other costs involved) it is natural to make a decision to move on with the new application and even more natural to get frustrated with the results.

Toyota used to have a very interesting approach to adoption of new technology. On the book The Toyota Way there is an entire chapter dedicated to the subject. According to Jeffrey Liker, the author, “Toyota looks at technology as a tool that, like any other tool, exists to support the people and the process” Also, in Toyota, before a system get implemented a serious analysis of the real value of the system was performed. It was a common practice inside Toyota to first work out the manual process first and after analysis of the process and the value of it, they would automate the process. This should not be misinterpreted as resistance to innovate or a phobia to technology, but actions to ensure that you are always delivering real value to the business.

Technology can also easily grow in complexity.
Some people say that passion is the fuel of technology.
Techies are interesting people. They usually are very passionate about technology and want to excel in their pursue of knowledge and experience. There are more blogs that talk about technology than any other areas, and this reflects the passion technologist have for their work. If you ask a techie on how to solve a simple problem, there is a big chance that he will suggest a new tech that he just read about and that should do the job. The simple is not attractive for someone who is eager to put their hands on the bleeding new technology being discussed in forums, blogged and presented in conferences. But most times, simple is what majority of the business actually need. Unless you are a Tech company that have a product and your business depends on innovation, IT should be a supportive area. A supportive area should be exactly that, an area that helps and support your product, doing so in a simple and not expensive way.

And after all that, comes the technology market, offering silver bullets for anyone willing to pay their price. Vendors selling solutions to cover the lack of knowledge of weak leaderships in companies, that not knowing how to address a problem, fall for faint promises of sales reps that usually have as much knowledge of their products as the desperate manager across the table.

I know many companies that have went thru this road, and now have an IT that is overgrown, complex, highly expensive and still fails to deliver the business expectations. There is no point in pointing fingers, because we all have our share in this. The executive that just want a solution to his problem, even if that represents a even larger problem to someone else; the techie that just want to explore the new tech hype, even if it is not what the business needs, the vendor that just want to hit his sales target, even if there is no real value for the company who is buying it.

If you don´t want to join this ride, here are a few advices.

Understand that the need of your company for IT will depend on the nature of your business. Try to assess if IT is a supportive area or a strategical area for you. Once you define this, deal with it accordingly.

Hire someone who have experience working on IT (not a professional manager, but someone who had his hands on it) to run your area. The more experienced the IT leadership is the less likely they would fall for any of this.

Once you hired someone who have real experience in IT, trust the person. Empower the person and seek his/her advice for everything that is related to technology.

Remember that there is no silver bullet. This advices may or may not help you, but is easier to avoid a trap when you know how it looks like.