Confessions of an IT Director

“You Own IT”

“You own it”

I had a recent conversation with a VP, and despite my protestations and disagreements, he said (rather matter-of-factly), “If it has X’s and O’s [sic], you own it”. I knew the conversation wasn’t a collaborative one, so correcting him by telling him it was “1’s and 0’s” wasn’t going to be productive, and probably be a detriment to a conversation where I was clearly being assigned something that I didn’t think IT should be assigned. 

Truth is, I still disagree – because I don’t think IT should “own” much of anything, to be honest. Actually, by his logic, if IT actually “owned” all things 1’s and 0’s that would pretty much constitute most of everything… don’t you think? In the digital age, not much is done by way of analog anymore… Does IT have the authority to be the gatekeeper for all things? 

I worked in an environment once where the manager (my boss at the time) took that stance, that IT was the gatekeeper to all digital assets… What it resulted in was a culture that viewed IT as an impediment to their ability to work. Furthermore, when something would go wrong, regardless of whether it was actually an “IT” issue or not, the organization would have carte blanche to blame IT, because such was the culture… “IT didn’t give me [X], so I can’t do [Y]”. You wouldn’t believe the level of ridiculousness when it came to the perception of IT in that environment. The thought process behind the level of IT interference was so bad, I remember during a company luncheon (I believe the In-N-Out truck was there to celebrate safety), the C.O.O. (who was… advanced… in his age) argued with the us, the IT team for 45 minutes because he insisted that my manager had developed some sort of software that told him that he had typed his password in incorrectly at login every time. He insisted that the second time he tried to login, he was permitted, but that first time always told him it was incorrect – he was convinced that the IT Manager was purposely creating a lag to slow down production.

Culture is a difficult thing to fix… long after that manager departed the company, lasting sentiment about how much IT affected how the organization did business hovered for a long time. It wasn’t until I was able to provide actual metrics regarding requests, response times, effectiveness, and data for rebuttal that perception began to shift, slightly.  Even still though, three years later when I departed the company, there was guilt by association. 

I don’t fault the IT manager, though. He built the environment from the ground up, and so speaking from experience, when you feel you “own” all the “1’s and 0’s” there’s a tendency to protect your customers (the users IT supports) from themselves. We used to joke that his favorite phrase when being asked for something was, “What is the business case?”

So how much should IT, “own” if anything at all? That’s a tricky question. IT’s influence is no doubt felt throughout the entire organization, from printers to scanners to computers, to software, development, automation… in the “digital” age – everything is done with something that uses “1’s and 0’s” to do its job. With that said, should IT own “everything?” 

I would always answer no. The answer I give is this: IT should not be relied upon to do day to day operational tasks. I’ll give an example – 

One of the locations I worked at, somehow, some way, became reliant upon IT to run MRP everyday. Without going into heavy manufacturing theory, MRP basically allows the business units, daily (at this place) to know what items they required to make their job loads, how many of said items, and when they were going to be needed, based on the schedule. The idea is that if everything is scheduled, you can operate at peak efficiency, because you have the exact amount of raw material available to you to manufacture your product, without any waste, and more is delivered to you for your next job… I digress.

The MRP module was a module within our ERP system, and somehow, many years before I had started there, it was given to a developer in my department to run. When she went out of town on vacation or was sick or anything else, it was very likely that MRP didn’t run, meaning that production would have no visibility as to what materials were needed that day, or when… and things would be ground to a halt.

IT should never be the lynchpin to which a process occurs everyday. Yes, it’s 1’s and 0’s, yes, it runs in a software environment, but the process should be OWNED by the department that uses it (in this case, Materials Mgmt). 

So what does IT own?

In this case, infrastructure, and the software and systems that these business processes run on are owned by IT… but the processes themselves should not be. In the case of my first example, where the VP was talking to me about what I “own”, this particular VP was trying to make the case that IT “Owned” and was responsible for the development of the website. I’m not a web developer, and know enough to be dangerous. I can manage the vendors, however… but that’s not what they want. The disconnect came when I said I lacked the credentials to make decisions based on the marketing aspects on the site, like content and functionality – but could advise as to the platform and technical requirements. 

Needless to say, I’m now in charge of the website content, form, and function. Yay me. (Can I put that on the resume?) 

I’m being slightly sarcastic about the entire thing, but the truth of the matter is, why do you want your IT guy deciding on what goes on the website? Just because it displays on a screen doesn’t mean the IT guy has dominion over it. You take your car to a mechanic, but you don’t ask them where you should drive on vacation… that’s on you. He’s just there to support your desire to do so.

It’s this scope creep that gets companies in trouble, that expands IT costs in a way that becomes uncontrollable. In a world of specialized jobs, why does the IT guy a generalist for all things that require electricity and network?  (As I write this, I’m developing a financial report that’s doing business analysis on price changes of our products, based on targeted gross profit margin…. So there’s that)

IT needs to supplement the business processes that the BUSINESS owns. The disappointing thing is that the buck is usually passed to IT when there isn’t a specialized talent there to handle the task.  It plugs in! Give it to IT!

At the end of the day, in order to bridge the gap between organizations and their IT, and the chasm of understanding between the two, it’s clear that IT will have to wear multiple hats, and I’m well aware of the risks, as they were, in doing so. But IT has to be upfront and relinquish control as well, be honest with the business about what they can, and cannot do… and what they should, and shouldn’t own. 

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