IT Independence

IT Independence. Over at Doc's IT Garage there's a lengthy post
about business needs, and using outside vendors as opposed to internal
IT people and the view of IT from the top. A couple of quotes:

new study by the white-shoe consultancy Bain & Co. finds that,
while 70% of senior executives at large corporations agree that
information technology is relevant to growth, 60% say IT is actually
inhibiting their growth efforts.”

“But why treat vendors as
another independent variable? Why not rely on your own IT people to get
you the information you need, and to design the systems that will do
the job of informing B about what's going on with A.”

I'll give
you a couple of examples from my own experience as to why I completely
believe this attitude about technology, and why I think it's sometimes
a really bad idea. First, I know there are some people in our little
office who view our technology, and me specifically, as inhibiting
their growth. I'm talking here about the people who don't understand
the capabilities of current systems, database for example, and want a
new one. Now our database is older, and it could probably use being
upgraded or replaced, I don't deny that, but before we put out $20,000
plus let's make sure we can get every department to tell me what
they're missing now, and what they want to be doing 3-5 years from now
and choose our DB system accordingly. Not one department has done that.
But some IT vendor can come in here, talk to one of the department
heads and wow them with new bells and whistles and they're demanding to
know why I haven't pushed to buy this new system!

A few years
ago, this exact thing happened. One of our department heads had
numerous conversations and meetings about upgrading our database and
didn't bother to bring me in until we were “this close” to making a
purchase decision. One of the first things I discovered when I took a
serious look at the upgrade he was selling was that the technical
specifications for both client and server side of the DB were beyond
anything we had in the building at that time! In all those meetings and
conversations, no one had bothered to check that out, we were seriously
considering the purchase of a DB system that we couldn't even run.

other area where IT independence doesn't exist is the area of our
website(s). In fact, I'm completely out of the loop when it comes to
working on our websites, for various reasons, one of which I'm sure was
this view that I was keeping people from doing what they want. They
used a bunch of outside vendors instead. We have 4 different websites
going right now, our own and some for specific issues. You can sign up
to get alerts, or information from any of the four. But you have to do
it 4 times. None of the backends to these sites talk to one another.
Our hosting company designed the back ends to two of them, but even
those only talk to each other on one front, sharing content. The
email/newsletter/alerts features don't. Another area of our site was
purchased on a subscription basis from another vendor. That requires a
separate set of data hosted with their service. Yet another simply
comes into someone here who keeps a manual mail list of people who sign
up, because that person wanted complete involvement in everything that
happened to “their site”.

Now I don't blame the vendors or our
web designer. They gave us exactly what people asked for. It's just
that the people who got to make these decisions don't know enough about
technology. They got the little slice of the pie that they wanted, with
no consideration for what the big picture would look like if/when you
tried to put all those different slices into one whole pie. Instead of
taking an approach that could allow us to upgrade our internal database
to something that would connect live with our website's backend, and
using that connection to connect it to the backend of all these other
sites, and even add in things we don't have, like e-commerce, that I'm
sure we'll end up buying from yet another vendor, we've piece-mealed
solutions together that we've grown to depend on. Once you're depending
on outside vendors for some of your core business, it becomes very
difficult to bring that back in house and it requires trusting your
internal people to find the best solutions. Too many business leaders
don't have that trust in their IT department. [Life of a one-man IT department]

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