Greatest Secret of IT Revealed

I am finally getting around to publishing a few posts from my info360 presentation in March where I was asked to speak again on Mobile Content Management. Hopefully by now everyone has at least admitted they need a mobile strategy so I thought I would address some of the trends overcoming what could be the greatest barrier to mobile content management initiatives – your own IT organization.

A few years ago there was a series of TV specials titled Magic’s Biggest Secrets Finally Revealed – a delightfully campy set up where a masked magician breaks the code of silence and reveals how popular illusions are performed. Today in a similar vein I am breaking the IT code of political correctness and job preservation because there is a secret about your IT organization that you should know. This is however probably the worst kept secret – ever.

The Greatest Secret of IT Revealed

The secret is – your IT department really does hate you. That’s right. You are not paranoid and it is not your imagination. Before you cringe and get defensive you have to understand that this is a conditioned response brought on by the horribly dysfunctional relationship between IT departments and the businesses they serve. As with all counseling sessions we begin by asking what are the things about the other party that cause this response. A few things are undeniable in your relationship.

  • You break things – you don’t mean to but it happens. And when it does you are the source for extra work keeping somebody from the very important problem you dumped on them yesterday.
  • You control the money – IT though they rarely admit it, exists to serve you not the other way around. The budget comes from those parts of the business that generate revenue and this gives you a power over IT that breeds contempt.
  • You ask for things you cannot afford – while you have ultimate control of the money you have no real insight into how much anything really costs to procure and implement. Consequently you tend to demand far morre than the meager budget you contribute can cover. IT is forced to pool these multiple sources and then play the role of arbiter between waring departmental factions. Regardless of the outcome, both departments will blame IT – not each other for the problems that occure
  • You break rules but hold IT accountable for them – It is this last point that is the heart of the dysfunction. IT by charter is responsible for maintaining the integrity of the data and they do so by a number of means, many of which prevent you from doing what ever you want. So naturally you circumvent those rules (or turn a blind eye when someone else does) yet when a security breach occurs or a system fails because a rule was broken it is the IT manager responsible for maintaining it that is often the one to pay the price politically and professionally.
  • You hate them too – Antiquated and protectionist IT practices are the rightfully the butt of many jokes. To be fair though no one likes to be derided, made fun of or criticized for enforcing policies they have no control over or projects they cannot influence. The vast majority of people you meet in IT are just as frustrated as you are but the adversarial approach used against the average IT foot soldier conditions them to push back and say no to everything because they have learned time and again that no good deed goes unpunished.

Why IT Hates Mobile Content Management

None of the problems discussed so far are specific to enterprise mobile initiatives but there are aspects that make such projects even more challenging. Mobility disrupts the balance of risk and productivity that IT struggles to maintain and demands adjusting to a new way of doing business faster than they can often accommodate with existing processes.

Loss of Control

Mobile projects introduce risk into the equation by creating an environment where IT cannot control where data resides at any given time. The fact that users will drive the requirement to access data that historically was not just behind a firewall but behind your offices brick walls terrifies old timers. Add to this the complexities of eDiscovery in our rabidly litigious and mobile workplace and the complexities can boggle the mind.

Consumerized Expectations

Secondly, no one wants to consumerize the user experience more than IT people but one of the greatest challenges faced by IT departments is dealing with iPhone expectations. IT people are the alpha geeks and live for playing with the new toys. It is mind numbingly frustrating using poor technology in the workplace when you truly know what is possible.

IT processes exist to create stability – so when you go and try to do your job the system is up and running but the rate of change created by the consumer driven technology experience is more than most organizations can manage. It is easy to declare in a conference room that all this should be as easy as X is on my phone.

What these statements fail to consider is that user populations at all large companies are wildly diverse across all demographic measures. The next time you try to help your mother get her email just remind yourself that is only a small taste of what a help desk in a large IT shop deals with 24x7x365.

Organizational Inertia

It must be called out though that organizational inertia has a huge role to play in this problem. Systems are often put in place by innovators but are inherited by those skilled at execution not creativity. Consequently once a process is in place it requires much more force to remove it simply because those running the current system are predisposed to want to keep it the same.

There is certainly a level of job and turf protection but I believe these get blamed for far more than they are actually responsible for when it comes to introducing more technology. At the heart of it all, even in IT, there is a closely held belief that whatever you change is going to be more work not less. Probably because in the past we have done a terrible job of turning off the old way of doing things. Nevertheless, the organization change in development practices for mobile scenarios can and probably should be very different but that is for another post.

Outdated Funding Models

Lastly the rapid pace of mobile technology and disruption from mobile initiatives does not often fit into outdated IT funding models. In large organizations, transformational project funding is often an 18 – 24 month excercise. That means even if you started your iPad project the day it launched – the iPad2 is out before you can get it into your normal procurement cycle. This rate of change demand that funding processes adjust to be successful in a new mobile world.

In my next post I will outline five trends in the market I believe are making mobile initiatives more palletable to even the most conservative IT organizations.

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