IT Heroes

Information technology can be wonderfully agile when we have careful planning, standard processes and great communication. That's the message Computerworld's Julia King got from the IT leaders among this year's Premier 100. In fact, it's that stability that makes real IT agility possible.

Or, to put it another way, we can't do wonderful things if we spend all our time heroically putting out fires.

That's a kind of IT heroism we can no longer afford. But we've had nothing to replace it with -- until now.

And that has been a problem. IT people, from the greenest intern to the most seasoned CIO, want to be heroes. We all want to solve the problem, rescue the project, resurrect the network, save the IT budget. We want to demonstrate our value by making things work and keeping them working.

Unfortunately, for too many years that's exactly what we've had to do. Every time technology has jumped a level, we've scrambled to keep up. We've whipsawed from mainframes to minis to PCs to client/server to intranets and extranets. The hardware was shaky. The software didn't work. The networks were full of hiccups. In the early days after any technology shift, it took heroism just to keep things going at all.

And once those first days of crisis were over? We missed the excitement. We looked for new ways to be heroes. We knew the alternative was dull stability.

And we knew -- or hoped -- that the next technology wave could hit us at any time, washing out whatever planning and processes we had in place. So there was no point in buying into rigorous processes and inflexible planning, was there? We needed the agility to ride that new wave when it came crashing in on us.

Or anyway, that's what we told ourselves. So we have shelves groaning with unused methodologies and architectures. Fair is fair: Much of that shelfware was rigid. It would have required large investments in training and discipline. And if it didn't survive a technology transition, that all would have been wasted.

Besides, it sure didn't look like much fun. And if that was the alternative to IT heroics, who needed it?

And that's the way we've seen the choice: heroic adventure or brittle tedium. No surprise, then, that we've chosen to keep fighting IT fires.

But as our Premier 100 winners demonstrate, there's plenty of room for heroism, even when planning, processes and communication give us rock-steady IT. It's just not old-fashioned IT heroism.

It's heroism for the business.

Heroism that makes it possible to win a big new customer. Or develop applications without adequate user specs that still deliver exactly what the users need. Or extend a business in radically new ways.

There's no tedium here, no ho-hum approach to IT work. Putting out fires? Sure, that's still part of the game. But now it's focused on business crises, not technical issues. Stable, solid IT makes that possible.

p10_2006_mainwht.jpg
Sudden, unexpected changes? They don't have to wash away everything we've built, because that solid foundation gives us a stable base from which to pivot at a moment's notice. And the changes come not just from technology shifts but from every direction: customers, markets, products.

All the challenge is still there, and all the opportunity for heroics to prove our value. It's just kicked up to a new level: We're doing those wonderful things for the business, not just our technology.

That's the new IT heroism -- a kind of heroism we can't afford to be without.

So read the stories of these Premier 100 IT heroes. Admire their accomplishments. Then steal their ideas. Turn your own IT department into a place where careful planning, standard processes and great communication aren't the enemies of heroics, but the first steps to heroism.

Because IT needs all the heroes it can get.

Frank Hayes, Computerworld's senior news columnist, has covered IT for more than 20 years. Contact him at frank_hayes@computerworld.com.

Special Report

2006 Premier 100 IT Leaders

Stories in this report:

Related:

Copyright © 2005 IDG Communications, Inc.

7 inconvenient truths about the hybrid work trend
Shop Tech Products at Amazon