Ideal vs. Realistic

I attended an IT conference session recently with about 30 CEOs, CIOs and CTOs. One of the vendors present gave great overview of some of their technology. It was very innovative actually, and could definitely be applied to allow an organization to enhance their overall IT capability. An integral part of realizing the benefit however, is aligning IT resources across the organization to significantly benefit the company overall. During the open-discussion segment later in the conference, I commented to the group that I personally like this technology and am currently implementing it, but my challenge was not the technology itself, rather how to achieve that alignment across the group. Applying technology (or pretty much anything) globally is ideal, but is it realistic?

Unless you are one of the few exceptions, your currently reality is an IT environment that is a semi-regulated chaos of machines, software, connectivity and personalities. As the technical management, your responsibility for solid IT functionality puts you in an especially frustrating position. In your mind, your IT environment could be a technical utopia: clean, well run, easily managed, strict standards and controls, with a strong policy that everyone follows. In the real world however, you likely have to battle every little thing; budgets, equipment, patching, territoriality, egos, standards, lack-of-time, etc, all of which compound the complexity of your responsibilities. This is your ideal versus your reality. Back to my conference session, the other CxOs responded, commiserating that that they had the same challenges. Interestingly, the vendor’s representative mentioned that as an MNC themselves, they have the same internal challenges that any large company has. Even with their own solution (ideal) and they still have internal difficulties aligning resources and getting everyone to buy into it (realistic). I bring up this notion not to be negative, but to illustrate that better understanding both realistic and ideal gives you a significant opportunity. With some perspective, strategy and planning, you can make huge steps towards your ideal and start to see it become reality.

There is a staggering array of challenges that can obstruct you from getting IT to where you want it be; human nature, exchange rates, the boss’s mood, local culture, the weather; almost anything can influence how realistic something is. Your intentions are surely good from the IT point of view, but it is critical to also understand the perspective of the business and user groups. The business folks may simply see IT as a vague (and expensive) overhead component in the overall company machine. They probably don’t know or care what kind of servers you run or how you manage patching or backups. They just want IT to work, which is a very valid perspective, and something that you need to constantly keep in mind as a priority. Your own role and position may also influence your perspective. It can be especially difficult for high-level (often corporate) IT staff to be able to differentiate the two viewpoints of realistic and ideal for the overall group. What some IT management assume is happening on the front lines and what is actually happening, tend to be different things. Human behavior is also hard to rely on; users want their own functionality and will often take their own initiative whether you like it or not. Some of your users may be even more tech-savvy than you are (as if!), and they may have information (often misinformation) about how you should be doing your job. They tend to not have a great deal of perspective about the bigger technology picture and the complexities of managing IT, which (depending on the user) may actually make things even more difficult for you.

Considering your perspective and that of those around you puts you in a much better position to develop a strategy on how you want to move forward, targeting what you want to achieve. Like last month’s column on Balancing IT Security, getting your management’s buy-in and commitment is critical to be successful and begin to make progress towards what is best for your IT environment. As part of the bigger picture, your management is constantly determining what is best for the company. Unless IT is literally falling apart, they are not going to drop everything else just to focus on getting IT to work better. That is not the kind of management attention that you want anyway. Expect to meet them part way initially, and then work to close any gaps later on. In addition to understanding the perspective of others, it is equally important to have others understand your perspective. Being open about what you intend to do and why can have a great impact, and will often remove roadblocks.

Once you have a better idea of how you can strategically move ahead, you can develop a plan or roadmap. It is generally best to start with prioritizing the biggest threats or weaknesses; security, infrastructure, speed, etc. Taking small steps will get you closer and closer to your ideal state. You will have to have patience and accept that it will not happen all at once. Naturally, your IT staff and user community will be adamant that they require certain new functionality/equipment/capabilities right now, so you will need to work to balance out what is reasonable. Having a reliable and predictable plan will ensure that everyone knows what to expect and when.

Overall, sorting out where you ideally want your IT environment to be, where you realistically are, and how to bridge those will be a bigger obstacle than the actual technology portion. Expect and be prepared for difficulties, but also expect to make huge gains towards moving your IT environment ahead. Focus on what is realistic, while keeping in mind and consistently working towards what is ideal.