IT managers reject claims of 'stupidity'

In a scathing attack on IT departments of mid-sized companies last week a new report found widespread mismanagement was stifling creativity and the full value of technology was unrealized.

Commenting on the Star Technology Report, From Basement to Boardroom, technology consultant Peter Cochrane, said the way IT departments are run is "stupid".

Cochrane, who is the former head technologist of BT, also said that working in IT is more akin to a "prison sentence".

The report, which was compiled by the Yankee Group, found 30 percent of IT managers spent no time at all in building an IT strategy and that up to 70 percent of time is spent on general "fire-fighting".

Cochrane said many of the present-day technical problems do not need IT staff to solve them.

"In one company I looked at, printing problems would be solved by the receptionist. If it was too complicated for her, she would just ring up the company that sold it - IT staff would probably have done exactly the same," he said.

He said that companies should tell their end users that they are responsible for their own PCs to encourage greater responsibility.

"If you treat people like children, then they'll behave like children. If you treat them like adults, you'll get more out of them."

Camille Mendler, Yankee Group vice president, said people think technology is a "necessary evil" instead of a "pro-active generator of business value". She said IT staff could be better employed thinking of ways of using technology to improve a company's business.

The research shows the need for companies to look at their own IT requirements more carefully, said Star Technology's vice president for IT, John Adey. Unsurpringly, he thinks that organizations should be more prepared to look at managed services.

"A company would be mad to clean its own windows and has no problems in employing a window cleaner. But they don't feel they can do the same with IT staff."

However, Australian IT managers rejected the report as inflammatory.

Len Gemelli, manager of information services at The Peter MacCallum Cancer Institute, said the job is really what you make it.

"If you want to make it a prison sentence it can be, but I wouldn't have been in it for 30 years if I was in prison - you only get 15 years for murder," Gemelli said adding that he has a business plan that is reviewed every 12 months.

"I must admit that fire fighting does take up a lot of time, but it is the nature of the business. Things change and move, but you must have a clear view of where you have come from and what you are doing.

"If you don't review and refresh, it's like going on holidays without a map."

Peter Blanker, RSPCA Victoria IT manager, said the report describes organizations - that he has consulted with - where it was like a prison sentence.

"There was no consultation, and it was more like the old-style IT department where the business users go and buy something rather than [discussing] a strategy," Blanker said.

"Here, we have a steering committee; at the steering level we define what IT is doing and the business expectations."

Philip Smith, WFM Motors Group of Australia IT and telecommunications manager, said the average IT manager does the best he or she can with a number of restrictions including budget and the level information available in a rapidly changing world.

"Technology changes all the time and keeping up to date and prioritizing everyone's different needs with a limited budget and priorities that change with the times is more of a juggling act," he said.

Ken Matthews, Newcrest Mining CIO and general manager of shared services, said IT pros who don't structure their teams appropriately get caught up in day-to-day issues.

"Your time should be spent 50 percent looking forward, 25 percent service delivery (including fire fighting) and 25 percent relationship-building and business development," he said. IT manager Michael Enriques said a successful IT strategy requires high-level buy-in.

"The IT strategy has to be implemented at the highest level or it will be overriden and anything non-strategic can be outsourced," he said.

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