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Opinion: The unspoken truth about why your IT sucks

Version 2.0

By j.ello
December 1, 2009 09:44 AM ET

Computerworld - Editor's note: The author was not satisfied with the way he expressed himself in the article as it originally appeared, and so he has rewritten it extensively. The article below is substantially different from what was posted on Dec. 1, though the overall message remains the same. As the author told us, "I believe the message is important enough to get it right."

A couple of months ago, the author wrote "The unspoken truth about managing geeks" to illustrate how common, fundamental flaws produce stereotypical behaviors among IT professionals. These flaws have a source, he writes in his current column, and they cost an incalculable amount of time and money.


Back in the fifth grade, I was in a school musical, The GIGO Effect, in which the evil Glitches attempted to corrupt a computer named Mabel with "dirty power." The point of the show was that technology is unable to produce intelligent results without intelligent direction, a truism encapsulated in the formerly popular computer acronym GIGO, "garbage in, garbage out."

Computerworld columnist Jeff Ello
Jeff Ello

I don't think any business leaders are inclined to get their insights on running IT from a bunch of singing fifth-graders, but they could do worse (and generally do, to tell the truth). Intelligent direction is a product of competence, which IT professionals view as a mix of technical knowledge, creativity and judgment.

Everyone prefers competence. Everyone wants to do the right thing. But just as IT pros act and react logically according to their perceptions, so do the executives who employ them. Both approach IT with the same intention, but the outcome -- for lack of a better term -- sucks. And it sucks more as time goes on.

Don't take my word for it; ask your own IT pros or someone else's. Read any IT or CIO survey over the past couple of decades and you'll find that the same problems reported this year have been reported every year. Do a little more research and you'll find that IT morale is disturbingly low, stress is ridiculously high, and the best people are lost to burnout while the worst are rewarded. Project success rates are as comically low as the average term of a CIO is conveniently short. IT is assaulted by snake oil salesmen and extremists from the churches of IT outsourcing, insourcing or whatever-sourcing who promise that their latest buzzword will save everyone in tidy, graphable ways.

But there is a bright side. Organizations that do IT very well are no different than those lost in the sucking vacuum of the GIGOsphere. But they have a tool that allows business leaders and IT professionals to speak, at least in part, the same language. Be it subconscious or by epiphany, they have stumbled upon a definition.

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