Confessions of an IT Director

“No IT Involvement Needed”

A few years ago, the CFO of the company I worked for (and de facto boss, since IT rolled up to Finance) took a cold call from a software vendor, a financial consolidation, Corporate Performance Management (CPM) vendor, to be specific. I wasn’t in the “Room Where it Happens”, but I can imagine how the call went. As an IT director, and being in IT leadership for a while now, I get my share of cold calls. They usually start with a request to connect on LinkedIn, followed by a phone call to the office. This is especially true if your contact details are advertised and published on the company website. (IT Director tip: do not publish internal contact’s information on external facing websites) 

The salesperson is usually energetic, upbeat, and researched in the pain points that you are feeling in your current position. At least, they should be, if they did any sort of homework before. A good one will be able to relate to your predicament. In this case, it was how to coalesce financial data streams from different entities that the company had acquired and put them together in a comprehensive reporting tool/dashboard so that at a click of a button, the CFO could have detailed reports that have mashed together all the financial data from the different entities worldwide, cleaned, polished, aligned, and accurate. Then came the magic words that tipped the scales, closed the deal, and altered the construct for which the call lived in. “No IT involvement needed.”

Sold. 

I’m sure there were more details, handshakes, invites to events and a Christmas gift of nice alcohol or at least a hot/cold tumbler with the vendor’s logo sent to the CFO. However, in my mind, the CFO might as well have said, “Okay, that’s what I like to hear! I’m in! How much? Do you take American Express? I’ll wire the money to you right now!”.. And it was the “No IT involvement” that did the trick. 

Now, this was one of the first times I heard the phrase, “No IT involvement needed” but it certainly wasn’t the last. The semantics have changed and the phrase may be more cleverly hidden in the pitch, but ultimately it is a sales tactic. “I will sell you this thing that runs on and depends on technology and you won’t have to involve your IT department, those bums that they are, and it will solve all your biggest issues and you will be hailed as the prevailing hero of the company! Sign here!” 

Spoiler alert: “No IT involvement needed” isn’t true. Not now, not ever. In the instance above, the first thing the company (CFO) had to do once the deal was finalized and project kicked off was to get a dedicated server spun up and provide pathways into the data sources…. And where do you think that had to happen? 

IT at that company was in a locked, limited access, badge-controlled room (side note: I took for granted how beneficial that was, and in my experience enterprises underestimate the benefit of having IT segmented away from the operational business units, but that’s a blog post for another day) and I remember the CFO walking in, and the conversation went sort of like, “I bought this software, and we’re going to use it for [insert reason here], and this is what they need, so please do this.”

Fast forward eighteen months later. The software isn’t used, the dashboards were never really fully built, and while one report was made that it spat out, the buy-in had all but evaporated. Eventually the platform was decommissioned and the company’s attention was pointed at a different area of need (picture the eye of Sauron). The damage was done, however, because the money was spent, categorized as a sunk cost. The failings of IT were exacerbated because while the vendor claimed there was no IT involvement necessary, the truth of the matter is that IT was not only involved, but charged with the deployment and maintenance of the platform. Since IT wasn’t brought in at the onset, there was little motivation and buy-in from the IT group, but more of a “grumble, grumble we have to make this thing that the boss bought work…” 

So why is it that the phrase “No IT involvement needed” is so enticing to business leaders? There is a perception that initiatives caught up in the annals of IT work grind to a halt. Perhaps it’s cultural, from Jimmy Fallon’s, “Nick Burns, Your Company’s Computer Guy” to “The IT Crowd” (the description being: “Companies rely on their IT departments to keep things running, and Reynholm Industries is no different. Relegated to the basement of its shining London office tower, the IT group, technicians Moss and Roy and department head Jen, does its best to keep things running with a minimum of effort and social contact. Work is a special challenge for Jen, for although her CV indicated a great deal of familiarity with computers, in reality, she doesn’t have a clue.”)  To “Silicon Valley” and a myriad of other portrayals of “IT people”. The prevailing thought is that IT is rogue, a necessary evil, mavericks who do things their own way because they can and nobody else can. IT people have a special culture (to which there are TV shows and characters dedicated to portraying them), which is simultaneously humorous, entertaining, and frustrating because you know real life IT people like that. I mean, if you want to make sure something doesn’t get done, give it to IT, right?

And yet, confessing as an IT director, the frustration is felt the other way around as well. I often tell people to not come to me with their solutions, but to come to me with their problems and I will help find a solution utilizing technology. Sadly, the former way of thinking (“here, I bought this, install it and make it work) is just so ingrained in how companies integrate with IT. IT spends most of its time being too busy fighting the alligators to drain the swamp. The unplanned, pet project of the CEO is completed, and it has a cascading effect across the system, causing more unplanned work, and by the time everything is “fixed”, the company is no longer interested and does not need the thing that the original project promised, because the company has learned to operate without it. And the cycle continues. I can only sit and imagine how much differently the above mentioned project might have been had the CFO brought IT in at the start. If IT was involved in the evaluation process, and the roadmap sorted out prior to purchase, could some of that sunk cost be avoided? We’ll never know in that particular instance, but I’m willing to bet that the result would have been much better. 

So what do we do? Change the culture. 

I wish I could tell you a major success story, a story of a successful implementation that I (and by proxy, IT) got involved in at the onset and was a happy and seamless marriage between business and IT. I can’t… yet. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve realized wins. Successful ERP implementations, infrastructure refreshes, data center build outs, rip and replace… major outages and minor headaches. I’ve been around the block, and have a modicum of personal success to show for my efforts. However, too many of the aforementioned “wins” come with kicking and screaming, are reactionary, come at great financial cost (what doesn’t?), and ultimately seemingly always have an asterisk next to them. IT departments (and directors!) have to be long-term strategic, and day to day tactical. We have to have the heart of a customer servant, yet be a good corporate steward. We (I) have to help the business realize that IT isn’t an inhibitor to success, but rather a critical pathway to success. 

In the rare occurrence that I’ve been given the authority, autonomy (and financial backing to be autonomous) and support to accomplish a goal, I can prove, without a shadow of a doubt, that IT can not only be successful, but drive value into the business. Real, actionable, tangible value. However, culturally, this isn’t the case. IT is the weird guy who hangs out in the cold server room, avoids social contact and insults you when you don’t know how to make your computer print something… and it’s time for change.

That’s my mission, folks. I’m not an “IT guy” , I’m a normal guy, who wants to see the business succeed, and I happen to be proficient at IT. It’s a mutually beneficial relationship. As I help the business succeed, stock in IT goes up. As stock in IT goes up, the more company goals we’re able to facilitate, the more trust you put in IT (and me) and the less inclined you are to whip out the checkbook next time an eager salesperson hits you with, “No IT involvement needed.”

One thought on ““No IT Involvement Needed””

  1. When I say, “I’m not an IT guy,” it’s an incredible understatement! I am technologically challenged person who needs my 20-year-old daughter to bail me out constantly in how to use my smart phone, which is many, many times smarter than I. (And, since she goes to school in another state, the number of opportunities to grow and learn under her tutelage, are few – and sadly – far between. Your blog renews the appreciation I had for the IT men and women at my place of work – and my frustration! Yes, frustration. Just as you suspect, I wanted them to wave their magic IT wand and create something out of nothing that would make us cutting edge and the envy of the world – without the need of opening a checkbook! I’m ashamed and embarrassed. Please forgive me.

    Like

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