By Toby Malbec, Managing Director, ConStrata Technology Consulting
There are often conflicts that can make it easy for executives to be skeptical of IT managers. Toby Malbec draws on his 30+ years of experience in restaurant IT, including time spent as the director of POS for IPC/SUBWAY, to provide a first-hand—and often humorous — look at some of the most common reasons executives don’t trust IT managers, and along the way provides some guidance for course correcting. This week Malbec shares the first five of ten issues that can sometimes stand in the way of true synergy between IT and upper management.
10. You don’t speak English
It’s part of technology culture to speak in acronyms; it is almost coveted to try and complete a sentence without ever using a real word. In a culture dominated by VoIP, TCPIP, SAN, SAAS, XML, and other incomprehensible jargon, it is no wonder that the executive looks with concern (read: fear) when the director of IT begins to banter enthusiastically about the latest project. To deconstruct these incomprehensible feats into plain terms is almost demeaning; the idea that the accomplishments being made by the IT group can be understood by those outside of the fraternity is blasphemous.
The reality is, when the task is translated into English and shared with management, it doesn’t sound quite as scary anymore. To effectively communicate, the IT group needs to recognize that there are no points earned for speaking in a foreign language.
9. You won’t understand
Following in the footsteps of the Acronym Obfuscation comes the huffy breath eye-roll; it is taught in every technical program as the reflexive response when an executive dares to ask questions about why the company needs to spend a million dollars to make this do-hicky talk to that do-hicky. The attitude seems to suggest that management’s understanding of what IT is doing and how they are spending the company’s money is secondary to the opportunity to brag on geek blogs about the amazing work being done. Realize, however, that engaging sage business people to help define the problem can lead to an easier and less expensive solution.
8. Resources can be scarce
Whether it is funds, people, or time, nothing comes quickly or inexpensively, but unfortunately some executives perceive IT as a black hole that sucks people, money and time out of the organization. It is often with trepidation that other managers approach the IT group with a project since they know the answer is never a simple “yes”. This request, they fear, will begin a complex process involving a feasibility study, the formation of a committee, a requirements gathering session, a formal bid process, price negotiations, a proof-of-concept, and perhaps shortly before the employee retires, a deployment of the solution. Help reduce this roadblock by keeping resource requests clear and reasonable.
7. The executive team asks, “How Hard can it Be?”
These five words are verbal Kryptonite to the IT Manager; when uttered it causes visible pain often followed by a wave of nausea and irrational emotional babbling often sounding like the technologist is speaking in tongues rather than rationalizing the level of effort.
Akin to your doctor charging $50,000 to fix your broken arm since they know the insurance company will offer up $5.00, distrust can make it impossible for a reasonable conversation to be had over the true complexity of any project, from the most simple to the unbelievably complicated.
6. Ready-Fire-Aim does not work
It has become vogue in this age of radical entrepreneurialism to not let the completion of a project get in the way of having already “put it out there.” Every time you pick up an autobiography or interview with maverick movers and shakers, they extoll the virtues of not waiting until something is fully baked before trying to out in the marketplace, and that the experiences gained from this exposure are exponentially more valuable than having the team back at the corporate office polishing the cannon-ball.
Note to management: this theory does not work in the IT world. Unlike most operational business processes that can be modified on the fly or in cases of dismal failure reverted to their previous state, IT changes tend to have greater impact and ergo consequence. While the undo key exists in many applications (and even works in some) the business-altering effect of most IT projects can’t be half-installed and then modified based on the whims of the customer. In fact, IT professionals are programmed at an early age to understand the concept of “done-ness:” in other words, what does this application or new feature need to do in order for us all to agree we’ve met your requirements? The idea that IT can half-develop something, put it into the field, and have a developer and QA team hiding behind the front-desk or bar tweaking the software real time is enough to make the IT managers head cave in.
Stay tuned next week for the final five “Reasons Execs Don’t Trust IT Managers.”
Toby W. Malbec is the Managing Director of ConStrata Technology Consulting based in suburban Washington DC. The company provides technology guidance to the hospitality, retail, and foodservice industries, focusing on the operational aspects of the business. His experience in these industries spans three decades having worked as an operator, a supplier, and now as a consultant. He can be reached at Toby.Malbec@constratatech.com