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:

“FA 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.

The 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.

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