IT’s worst enemies?

Sometimes, it’s the Technologists!

Here we are sitting around an impressive conference table at the plush headquarters of a multinational manufacturing company (names have been changed, of course, to protect the guilty) when their chief technology guy proclaims:

“I want to make clear one thing from the start.  Our mandate:  Zero Impact to the Business!

Dramatic pause.   A small bead of cold sweat was starting to form on my forehead.  He continued:

“Meet ‘Project Colossus.’  It is our world-wide enterprise IT initiative to standardize all our technologies into a common platform, a single technology stack, that we can grow on and singularly focus our support and development efforts.”

At this point it took a lot of discipline to a) Not run for the doors screaming, b) Call the authorities, c) Perform a citizen’s arrest, or d) Call CSI and look for drugs in the coffee or air vents.

Our firm has working with one of the verticals of this international behemoth, responsible for only a few hundred million dollars or so worth of revenue.  Peanuts!  Over a period of eleven years we had architected and developed a mission critical application that managed the business workflow from concept to delivery.  Not a trivial application, now on version twelve running on a LAMP stack.

“Our decision,” he continued, “is to move everything to .NET.  We’ll save millions in support costs alone, cross-leverage code and applications, and life will be good, and order will reign in the IT galactic empire.  Any questions?”

This was the first meeting with Enterprise IT from the mother ship.  For eleven years, no one had cared about this tiny one billion dollar division, floating out there in the outskirts.  Not really part of the core business.  But now… Now, we have “Project Colossus” and “cross-leveraging of code and applications?”  Really?

As much as our  .NET architect was salivating, we had to ask the obvious: “Have you considered the cost and time that it would take to re-platform a mature, working, mission-critical, LAMP application with several thousand lines of code over to .NET?”  At this point the division’s president was shaking like a leaf in the fall.  About the same color too…

No answer from the technologist or his team.  A glazed surprised look, and a couple of shrugs.  But, they did promise to get back to us.  God willing, it will be another eleven years for the next meeting.

Hence my point:  Here we have an IT initiative with a “mandate” of “zero impact to the business” and a unilateral decision to “standardize” to a single technology stack.  And this was sold to management?  And they bought it?

At a minimum I see two counts of criminal negligence:

First, as per my earlier post of “Why can’t I get e-mail when e-mail is down” management is criminally negligent in its lack of understanding of the technology universe, the various options, when it makes sense to have a unified standard, and when it makes sense to allow the vertical businesses to use what is appropriate to their needs.

Second, what power hungry, one-platform-to-rule-them-all, controlling technologist comes up with this…”idea?”  And then proceeds to first convince his IT troupers to support it, and then “sell it” to the aforementioned criminally ignorant managers that this “project” will save money and keep them safe from the horrors that lurk in the dark server rooms?

Where is integrated thinking? Where is “business first?” Where is unit enablement?  Where is business empowerment?  But, I digress.

Bottom line:  It always takes two to tango.

Just as managers are responsible and accountable for critical thinking, tech know-how,  and decision making, so are technologists.  They too are responsible and accountable to maintain a view outside of their ordered world of bits and bytes, apply solid management practices, and demonstrate business savvy.

My recommendation to both:  Think! You’ll find it surprisingly refreshing!

And, if anyone, ever, tells you that they’ll do something with “zero impact to the business” keep calm, smile, and discretely call for the padded wagon.


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