Do you feel as though your IT shop is out of control? Are you desperate to gain a better understanding of why you are not getting what you want, need, hope and dream for from your computing resources? Have you ever been so frustrated by the constantly unfulfilled quest for information that you picked up a pitchfork and joined the screaming masses around you to find who is keeping you in this condition?

To gain a better understanding of the problems in front of you, why don't you put down the pitchfork and take a few minutes to examine some of the dynamics of your situation, such as: Why do you feel powerless? Who is responsible? What are appropriate expectations? What can you do to get better results? To help you with these questions, we'll look at why you feel out of control and how to get you in the driver's seat. We will also give you a practical, step-by-step walkthrough on things you can do to manage your IT shop better.


Why You Feel Out of Control: The IT Letdown

In most organizations, the relationship your organization has with information and data is through the reports and transactional databases that are used to manage your business. The management responsibility for these kinds of services is typically housed in your IT department. Because IT manages these services, the organization assumes that the responsibility to manage the information and data rests with IT, too.

When there is no need for change, such as modifying or creating new client services, IT appears to be doing a good job managing the data because where there is no change, there is usually low breakage and nobody notices problems. However, introduce a change, and you will learn who is really responsible and who is not. Then the blame begins, and tensions and pitchforks rise.

Information management is more than just data storage. From the point of view of the IT staff, their responsibility usually ends at the production and maintenance of your data. Your reports mean nothing to them beyond whether they are functioning and available.

It is not as if IT does not care about your needs; it's just that they do not understand them. This lack of understanding means IT cannot build new reports or even change the ones you have without your help and guidance. Even when the changes seem small and reasonable, they are often difficult and costly for IT to implement. And when you receive the work order from IT, you find out your simple job exceeds your annual budget.

So if you are like most people, what do you do? You get a cup of coffee, consider smoking a cigarette - regardless of whether you smoke or not - call your loved ones to let them know you will be working late again, and just roll up your sleeves to get "it" done. The bottom line in your mind is that your IT shop has let you down again.


Blame the Data Guys, the CIO?

So now, pitchfork in hand again, you seek out the one to blame. And who is a better target than your CIO? After all, isn't he in charge of your IT shop?

Although it may seem otherwise, the CIOs of the world are not locking up your data and keeping it from you. CIOs do not meet on a regular basis with their peers to plan best techniques for locking up data and throwing away the keys. There is no direct incentive to the CIO to cause you to fail, at least no conscious incentive.

Oftentimes in our modernistic, George Jetson world, the person you think of as your CIO is just the person who manages your databases and shows up to all the meetings. This person probably knows a lot about your payroll systems, your customer tracking systems and has some level of understanding of your business requirements, but is not the visionary leader you expect.

If you do have a bona fide CIO, and he or she is willing to talk to you candidly about your situation, then you might be able to see that the thing you suspected for years, but have never been able to prove, is true: IT is not difficult to accomplish, but it is difficult to plan. What you will find is that the problem isn't just an IT problem. It is primarily a business planning problem. And isn't that really your problem?

Let's assume that you answered, "Yes!" to assuming some responsibility. At least let's assume that you agree with the possibility that there might be some limited truth in it. If you can do this, then you are at least 12.275 percent of the way to solving the problem.

So go ahead, put your pitchfork down once and for all and set aside the quest for the "one" to blame. You know it's not your CIO, regardless of how much you want it to be. Besides, blame takes a lot of time that you probably don't have, and it really doesn't help you solve your problems. Whatever your problems are, they are your problems. By identifying them, even if it's only 12.275 percent of the solution, you can begin to take control.


Get in the Driver's Seat

The problem is that we have become enamored with technology and the people who manage it. The rate of change is baffling. We know that computer systems, and computing, are not just a supporting mechanism. In many cases, they are critical to the business. However, that doesn't mean you have to rely on someone else to drive your business or vision. You can master this or any technology to take you where you want to go, and most people do it every day.

Let's switch technologies for a minute and focus on a technology that drives our lives, quite literally: our cars.
Automobiles are very complex technology environments, incorporating a multitude of mechanical and computing systems. Most people do not understand or care about the nuances of antilock braking systems or even how an engine works. Yet millions of people purchase cars every year. This kind of technology investment is neither inexpensive nor uncomplicated, either on a personal or societal basis.

Corporations and societies would fail without people having the ability to drive and operate cars. Unlike computing technologies, the average person is not intimidated by the car. With some planning and experience, the average person feels capable of buying a car, getting into the driver's seat and driving off. He feels comfortable planning everything about his car, from what he wants to do with it to how it should look. And he doesn't feel uncomfortable asking for help to manage the things that he doesn't understand. However, that same capable techno-conqueror will often freeze in his tracks when trying to consider how to manage the computer systems he is responsible for.
Service workers in the automotive industry are no different than those in IT. They are there to meet your expectations. The real difference is in your ability to set your expectations.


Practical Methods for Driving IT

The following six-step program offers some practical planning and management practices that will help you take control of IT, and at half the cost of a typical twelve-step program.

1. Start Where You Stand

Unless your company is new, you need to realize you are not starting at the beginning; any effort is a remodel and requires a lot of work. You need to learn about your business as it stands now.

"Start where you stand" means taking an assessment. As part of this assessment, you need to identify whether you have the right people, what culture is in place, your vision and direction, the systems that you have and how your data and information needs are currently met.

Don't say, "We're starting something new," without recognizing these things exist and will require a lot of convincing and direction to change. Also, recognize that there is probably more foundation than you know about for the business, and don't expect to change everything. Plan to keep the good and toss the bad.

2. Model Your Business to Your Reality

Find highly qualified business analysts who understand business process and strategic planning at least as well as you do, and work with them to determine what you really want. You might have these people on staff, but don't be afraid to hire consultants if you don't. This is an often overlooked step, but it is critical. This model defines the core set of principles that drives your entire business, so do not employ amateurs to do the work.

One sign of a good analyst is that when they interview key management staff, they keep detailed notes and produce documentation you can easily understand. It's a little more difficult to determine when you have a bad analyst, but if the analyst guarantees success or gives you a project plan in the first two days, or upfront, then there is a very good chance he or she isn't listening to your needs and won't be able to build a plan with you that will effectively communicate your vision to your company.

3. Plan for Change

It's important to figure out what you want, but you also have to build a model that accommodates changes without breaking. The best way to accomplish this model is to find a good systems architect that will help you plan the organization you want. The architect is someone who is qualified to provide the system master plan, the vision, that allows you both to see where you are going and to direct the actions of those who will take you there. This person must be very capable of understanding what you want and need, and able to turn that into a plan you can accept.

Just a tip, don't hire your architect based only on reputation or because he or she promises you results in less time than the other guys. This will lead to failure. Make sure your architect shares your vision or is able to help create it if you don't have one you like.

4. People Matter Most

Tools do not work without people. Find the best people from inside and outside the company to do the work. Provide incentives: prestige, money, vacation time, big parties, whatever fits. Make sure your employees feel this is a chance to improve themselves as well as the organization. Make sure that good ideas are rewarded when they come from outside your core design group, too.

5. Establish the Right Culture for Change

Change is difficult. It is a cliché to say it, but it is true. It is difficult emotionally, but that is just a symptom. Change is really difficult in most places because we build so many dependencies on the things around us in our workplaces that any change requires a lot of planning and reactive fixing.

Change management is a cultural discipline and requires the people of your organization to build it into their regular practices. The right people at all levels make this work.

6. Your Leadership Matters

If you have a responsibility to lead at any level, your leadership matters. Your vision and guidance is necessary to take control. Take the risks required to bring others along with you.


Take Control: IT is in Your Hands

How your organization plans and manages your business should not be a function of the CIO. Taking control means you take the time to understand how to fit the IT plan into your plan.

You must simply establish a practical baseline, model your business to reality, plan for changes, hire the right people, establish a strong culture and lead. You are in the driver's seat.


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