No holding back this time, I’m just going to let it all come out. I just got done reading my 1,000th article on how to improve an IT department and it was as worthless as most of the others that I’ve read. For way too long I’ve been listening to gurus, consultants, and other so-called smart people who have proposed band-aid after band-aid to stop the hemoraging that is going on in IT right now. As an industry we seem to be going through CIO-of-the-month scenarios, my friends and colleagues are burned out and fed up, and now we’re learning that the next generation of kids don’t want to have anything to do with IT.
What’s Wrong With IT?
In a nutshell, we’re too different. Yeah, yeah, I know that we treasure our late start times, all night work sessions, flip-flops at the office and multi-screen desktops that sit in front of our original Star Wars posters, but it’s killing us. Foosball tables in the hallways, SQL command hierarchy charts on the wall, and action figures lined up on top of cube partitions don’t do a good job of saying “we’re part of this company”. Instead, they say “we’re different”. That’s the problem.
I’m not sure how this all started, but I blame air-conditioning. The early mainframe computers could only operate from within well air-conditioned rooms and so naturally the technicians who maintained and programmed them were placed in the same room or near by. This allowed them to be hidden from the rest of the company. Out of sight, out of mind. The action figures showed up, the dress code got thrown away, and the MIS team stopped trying to fit in.
You do. Your career is going to be very short and you are going to be quite bitter when your IT job goes away. The company views you and your department as a cost not an asset and they are even now looking for ways to reduce the expense that is known as you.
The CIO cares because he/she just doesn’t seem to understand why none of the other executives really want to play with them. The reason is simple, the IT department is weird and so by extension the CIO must be weird and who really want’s to play with a weirdo?
What To Do?
In the immortal words of the hair removal lady in the movie The 40 Year-Old Virgin, “…this is going to hurt.” What needs to be done is that IT needs to look, act, and talk like the other parts of the company. I’m going to go one step further and say that the role model that they need to follow is the finance department. “Ouch!” you say. Yep, put the long sleeve shirts back on, jettison the Foosball table, take down the star wars posters, and let’s all get back to moving the company forward.
The thinking behind this is simple: who do we like to work with? We like to work with people who are like us. That means that if the IT department really wants to align itself with the rest of the business, then it needs to start to look like, sound like, and act like the other departments. The finance department is generally well respected and has the ear of the senior management team so they are a great role model for the IT department. In fact, the IT department should try to be viewed as finance’s “brother department” — if you’re talking to one, you should be talking to both.
What would this do for a CIO? First it would instantly boost his / her respectability. All of a sudden everyone would realize that the CIO and the IT department were really part of the company and that they were working to make a profit also. This would allow the CIO to start to take on different information management tasks that showed real value to the company. Finally! Alignment would be possible.
Don’t get me wrong here, I like Foosball as much as the next IT staffer. However, I believe that the “IT markings” need to be taken down so that we can blend in with the rest of the company. There should be some special place buried deep within the IT department that can be turned into a shrine for IT. This is the place where the IT employees can go to indulge in IT talk and, perhaps, play some Foosball. However, once they leave this special palace, they should re-enter a workplace that looks like they are a part of the rest of the company.