Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Why IT Managers are the Dumbest People On Earth...

Okay, so just why was it that I had to go into Manhattan yesterday? Well, there was the prospect of some work, is why!

There is a certain software company, which shall remain nameless, which produces an entire line of (very expensive) products which it promises that it's customers will be able to make the optimum use of information to make themselves more profitable. If you've ever worked in the IT industry, this is a standard sales ploy: our software will enable your sales force to do X, your employees to do Y, and your management to do Z, all of which will increase "productivity" and sales, cut down on miscommunication and human error, and save you scads of cash.

Which will then be given to people who do no useful work, and already make scads of cash. But that's besides the point...

The truth is that very often these claims are hard to justify. Yes, there are instances where automation can save you money, but more often than not you spend more than you save between implementation costs, maintenance, upgrades, and the disruption to the normal "routine" that each new technological gee-gaw introduces to your work flow. Programmers must devote hours to implementation and customization. Workflow Experts must decide how these tools can best be used and introduced. People need to be trained on how to use the thing. There's often new equipment to buy to make use of it. You have to hire consultants to put the thing into operation and integrate it with your existing infrastructure, or spend a lot of man-hours taking your staff from their regular duties to work with the new crap.

Technology evolves every few years, and today's bargain or productivity tool is tomorrow's White Elephant. As an IT manager, you have to be aware of this, and you need to realize that when you make a purchasing decision, that you make it for the long term. Nowadays, the trend is to buy the latest-and-greatest...and then replace it six or 12 months later when something latest-er-and-greatest-er comes along. IT budgets balloon, cash gets tight, and then you have to fire a lot of people just to keep your job.

And a year later, you make the same mistakes and the cycle continues. Because once most IT managers reach a certain level in the corporate pecking order they become more politician-than-line-worker, you eventually wind up with a multiplicity of tools of dubious value (the quickest way up the ladder is to convince your superiors that you've got the latest money-saving idea, rather than the most efficient or intelligent idea). You can't get rid of these White Elephants because you're locked into multi-year contracts, and you simply can't go back to your bosses and ask for yet-another $2 million for a new-and-improved version of what you've just fucked up.

Eventually, you wind up having to write memos exhorting the troops to use a piece of software that they a) hate using, b) often find useless and c) can't really take full advantage of, just to justify the original expense...and you desperately hope no one above you notices (don't worry, they usually don't, because they're even further removed from reality than you are).

The next step in saving your job is to implement a regime of more rigorous Information Management technologies, which is a fancy term for "can someone make sense of this shitpile for me"? If it's your shitpile and you can't make heads or tails from it, you have a problem. What makes you think I can fix it for you in a short period of time? The solution involves tying together various platforms, a multitude of different data types, and is the electronic version of trying to herd cats, into a simpler, more efficient system that promises to deliver information to those who need it, as they need it, in a way that doesn't require a PhD in Attic Greek to understand what you're looking at, and of course, cheaply.

Except that consultants ain't cheap, and neither is starting from scratch.

IT managers get into this hole because they have been raised in a climate where"Information is Power", and because it is believed (wrongly) that an employee who has access to information that otherwise has no bearing on how they do their job is a more efficient, and therefore more valuable, employee. This is wrong because the same IT managers almost always make the same secondary mistake:

Having spent millions on new technology and the means to diffuse it (iPads, Blackberries, cell phones, desktops, servers, e-mail, and so forth), they do not make any effort on training employees on how to actually use and evaluate this information properly. After all, Training People is an Expense, you see. Eventually, the typical IT worker reaches a curious state; he's supposed to be an expert in the technology you're using, but he hasn't necessarily been trained on it, and he now has information being blasted at him from all quarters, most of which he doesn't need, and he's overloaded. He's not expected to actually think (thinking leads people to make mistakes), but he is expected to always have the answers to every douchebag who calls the help line, or every visiting VIP who asks him a question about what he does and how he does it.

This is your first line of defense against problems which interfere with your, supposedly, most valuable asset: information.

And so, you find yourself on the lookout for the next best technological answer to a relatively simple manpower problem. You're not making effective use of an employee's brainpower, in fact, you're discounting the possibility of them having any brainpower at all, and become reliant on technology rather than people, and you're invested up to the neck in it. People have an advantage over technology in that they are able to think in the abstract, and are capable of showing initiative when properly motivated. If more IT managers realized this, there wouldn't be a multi-hundred-billion dollar "Information Management Software" industry, fewer IT workers would die of heart attacks before their 45th birthday, and American business would not be beholden to machines that most cannot comprehend.

And I wouldn't have to take an interview to work for an Information Management Software Company that hardly makes use of it's own products because it knows they're unequal to the Herculean task of delivering what they promise to deliver: efficiency, flexibility and cost-savings at an affordable price. You think I want to work here? Guess again!

Who wants to design NEW software to do what the last batch promised to do, but doesn't? Why didn't they just keep those programmers and designers and tell them to fix the piece of shit when they discovered it was a total kludge? Oh, right, that would have entailed expense: keeping employees with institutional knowledge, not to mention recreating something that already cost you more than you expected.

Total waste of time, this interview, except for all the ladies that I saw on the way in (see last post). You can only reinvent the wheel so many times before it's no longer a wheel. Besides, most of the kludge comes from all the bells-and-whistles (they're typically so-called "Flexible management features", which is a metaphor for "bullshit" ) you've added to your software, which usually originated by a request from ONE customer to do something differently -- usually because his bosses prefer multi-color pie-charts to monochromatic bar graphs. .

It seems to me that if you really wanted to make money in information management these days, you'd do better to recommend that managers actually make an honest evaluation of their mistakes, and then pour resources into bringing staff up to speed on what they have available to them, and them how to properly use it instead of constantly having to buy something else. I'm going to talk to some folks I know, because there's obviously a dollar or two to made here without having to write code.

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