IT's Conundrum: 'Making Do,' Rather Than 'Doing the Right Thing'

Loraine Lawson

When it comes to IT, there are three mysteries that have long puzzled me, and probably many of you:

  1. Why do I have to tell Windows to stop what it's doing and shut down six times before it actually does?
  2. Why can't we solve, once and for all, the IT/business disconnect?
  3. Why are organizations still creating information silos, and then integrating them point-to-point?

 

OK, to be honest, that last question really only occurred to me after I started covering integration a few years ago.

 

I'm still looking for an answer to that first question, and apparently I'm not the only one. But I think I've found some insight into questions two and three.

 

Akiva Marks is a senior SOA architect and integration specialist who works in Israel. He recently wrote a post sharing a conversation he'd had with a former co-worker, who is currently at a U.S. Fortune 50 firm. The company in question has been cutting staff and IT.

 

The IT architects are being told by their boss to "do things right," but there's no money to back it up, and the business is pressuring them to get things done. So the staff is spinning its wheels, trying to accommodate both goals and making neither side happy.


 

The friend put it this way to Marks:

... it's like we're on a cycle... and every few years it will circle back to what they wanted to go with a couple years ago... Everyone wants to do the right thing, but then money drives the decision and we never can. The architects are very frustrated.

 

Who wouldn't be frustrated? It's no fun to know what you should do, what you need to do, but lack the resources to do it. It's a common quandary for IT. You can also see how this would lead to frustration with the business side, which will no doubt be wondering why they spent "all this money" on a solution that will inevitably prove inadequate down the road. And IT is well aware that this won't end well. In fact, the friend even tells Marks:

But the architects are being told by the Architect Manager to do things the right way... so they get conflicting messages and gets them even more frustrated... Breaking the architects of that is very hard, but it's only because they know how it will turn on us in a couple years and the mess we'll be in then.

 

Often when we talk about IT/business alignment, we focus on what IT isn't doing or is doing wrong. In this case, IT is trying to do the right thing-plan ahead and support the business' long-term needs.They know poor planning will create integration and business problems down the road. Marks notes a client company made the same cost-cutting choices for years and now is stuck with "complete enterprise spaghetti" and a decidedly un-agile IT system, "They're desperate to be where (the) company was and has now turned from. Because the organizations that can change are going to start KILLING them," Marks writes.

 

But doing things right simply isn't what his friend's business needs right now.

 

The reality is, the friend's IT staff is trying to make a choice where one doesn't exist. If you don't have the means to do something, you have to make do. As Marks points out, the decision has already been made by the business:

They decided to outsource and cut their IT knowledge base. Then they decided to cut to barebones IT capabilities. If they feel the money savings short term is worth the long-term price....well, that's business. And you know what, they may be right! If those changes now keep the company profitable and other companies die, then they'll have the market share and reduced competition to re-improve the enterprise in the future.

 

This dialog is a great morality tale for both business and IT leaders. Business leaders should acknowledge their role in creating the integration- and agility-system problems that will most certainly arise down the road. But IT also needs to recognize there are tough decisions to be made in this economy. The focus has shifted from "doing things right" to survival, and that means everybody has to make do-including IT. That means letting go of "doing things the right way" and instead doing the best you can with what you have.

 

And if anybody has any advice about how to do that, please share with the class!

 

The flip side is, if IT can't let go of how things "should" be, I suspect it will create even more of a divide between IT and the business. And that's another battle IT won't win.



Add Comment      Leave a comment on this blog post
May 1, 2009 10:00 AM Francis Carden Francis Carden  says:

This could be a great long debate... So how about yet again, we try another tact..

1. Implying IT should do it right, implies they were not doing it right in the first place, no? That's simply not true. They used the tools, technology, time and money that was available to do the best they could. Sure, some IT projects were disasters but it is rare that anything we build, stands the test of all time (Dare I mention Chrysler, GM). 20/20 hindsight is not a luxury we have.

2. Perhaps todays 'new' costs of the hardware and supporting infrastructure and even lowered software costs means we can now afford to do solutions to just an OK standard rather than trying to be perfect and getting nowhere fast! After all, all the stuff we built 30, 20, 10 and 5r years ago, is still pretty much OK.

3. Perhaps it's finally time for low cost, high powered, agile, iterative integration tools to provide clever tactical solutions to be more than OK. Re-use what we have, just make it all a lot better. It doesn't have to cost an arm and a leg and carries little risk! After all, few companies I talk to, have the stomach for the costs/time around being strategic on everything they do. I am a firm believer that good tactical solutions have the highest probability of turning strategic, or at worst, are better than OK.

Hopefully, we can stir up a debate here because I think we are trying to fix something that perhaps is not so broken and that's taking our focus away from fixing stuff that REALLY IS broken.

My 2 cents.

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May 1, 2009 10:48 AM Loraine Lawson Loraine Lawson  says: in response to Francis Carden

Francis:

Good points. We've talked about the "doing it right" issue before and it's a point well taken.

However, in this case, I don't think saying "do it right" (or, actually "do things the right way") implies they were doing it wrong to begin with. For instance, they could be talking about a new initiative or an upgrade. Also, I think "doing it right," in this case, is shorthand for doing things the "ideal" way, rather than a literal right or wrong. For example, there are two ways I can clean my kitchen. I can give it a quick sweep and wipe down, or I can "do it right" and really clean from stern to stem the way my mother would.

Also, "doing it right" was from the dialogue, so this was an IT guy saying it.

I agree completely with points two and three. Just wanted to clarify about point one.

As always, thanks for your input!

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May 5, 2009 7:56 AM Frank Millar Frank Millar  says: in response to Loraine Lawson

Provocative and worthwhile blog.  Likewise, Francis' response.

I am aware of one Fortune 50 company that is struggling mightily in these areas.  Some smart people are working hard on these problems with considerable frustration.  In that envrionment there is a noteworthy reality:  the company has given major "lip service" to putting 'business first':  They have in place a team of executives whose sole function is advocacy-of-business within IT.

The outcome:  Rather than being bridging the IT/Business gap, the gap has been shifted to being an IT/IT gap...a development that few expected.

My observations about large companies suggest that "doing it right" requires a context of convergences-

1.  opportunity (a dire need and funding available for a solution)

2.  leadership (business sponsorship that is committed, preferrably passionate, and IT leadership that is productive, visionary, creative, resourceful, and knows how to "do it right")

3.  "flawless" execution  (= high customer satisfaction)

That said, leveraging such project success up into even the very next level in a large corporation where politics define contexts can be daunting and even more challenging.

As IBM has pronounced in at least one seminar on architecture recently:  "There are some companies where might never happen."

Frank

Frank Millar

Millar Consultants, LLC

http://millarconsultants.com

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