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Jargon, data, power -- the first step to IT recovery is recognizing the monkey on your back
Worst IT addictions (and how to cure them)
Are you a jargon junkie? Got an insatiable appetite for information? Do you rule over your company's systems with an iron fist, unwilling to yield control until someone pries the keyboard from your cold, dead hands?
You're going to have to face it -- you're addicted to tech. It's not an uncommon problem, but it can lead to bad decisions, lost productivity, wasted money, and data breaches, to name just a few downsides.
Fortunately, there are cures. Consider this your first step on the long road to recovery.
IT addiction no. 1: Jargon
Jargon is a way to show off and fool others into thinking you know more than you do. But an acronym addiction serves no one well.
"Some tech may say, 'We need a RAID 5 SAN or our backups will fail,' and management won't have any idea what that means," says Glenn Phillips, president of Forte. "And if he's making up a bunch of crap, management won't have any idea. You need someone technically competent enough to call BS."
The cure: Smart IT pros know communication skills are essential, and they work to develop them. But executives must be willing to admit they don't have a clue what IT is telling them.
IT addiction no. 2: Power
Power can be dangerous, as any organization that has endured a rogue sysadmin knows. Because technology is central to modern organizations and poorly understood by those outside IT, it's easy for tech whizzes to perpetuate fiefdoms.
As a result, IT pros often forget they exist to support the business.
The cure: "Having all of their computing resources in one massive IT department that's supposed to magically manage priorities and resources for every other department just doesn't work any more,” notes Jeffrey Palermo, president and COO of Headspring. “They need to disband the big IT departments, give each functional department their own tech staff and computing resources, and allow them to set their own priorities."
IT addiction no. 3: Data
Blame cheap storage or the magical belief that big data will revolutionize your company, but many IT pros are unrepentant information junkies -- and that can lead to data overload, or worse.
"While data storage advances make data retention and distribution easy, they also make privacy hard," says Dr. Donn DiNunno, quality director at EM&I. "If data is never erased, potential threats to privacy and security endure for years."
The cure: IT needs to look more selectively at the data it collects and retains.
"Privacy controls, better understanding of the user's needs, working on the value and quality of data, and respecting the use of 'IT power' so that that power doesn't corrupt us all -- these are the cures," DiNunno says.
IT addiction no. 4: Old methods
If you're still clinging to the methodologies you were using 5, 10, or 20 years ago, you have a monkey on your back -- and it has a gray muzzle.
For example, software developers who cling to waterfall methodologies or structured design techniques can end up creating software that's obsolete before it's even implemented, or pouring valuable resources into creating documentation no one else will ever read.
The cure: Get agile. Adopt modern methodologies like extreme programming or behavior-driven design. Develop an understanding of the underlying business processes so that you can communicate intelligently with the people who have to use what you build.
IT addiction no. 5: New machines
Having the latest and greatest is a costly fixation that can drag you and your organization down the money hole.
Take storage, for example. "Companies are wasting millions buying storage for the big data they need now, and then forklifting it to a new system every three to five years,” says tech consultant Anthony R. Howard.
The cure: Most IT pros are fixated on initial purchase price when they should be analyzing TCO, says Howard.
"Forget about the prices of the server or the storage," he says. "The important questions to ask are how much it will cost you to deploy, manage, maintain, and run these things over their lifetimes."
IT addiction no. 6: Illusions of security
In an age when hackers make headlines almost daily, it's easy to see why many enterprise IT shops have developed a serious security habit. The problem? You can pour millions into building a "bulletproof" network, only to discover that it isn't -- and never will be.
The cure: Embrace the reality that no network or organization can ever be 100 percent secure. Close the security gap through traceability, says Headspring’s Palermo.
"You want to keep improper access to data from happening, but once it does happen, you need to trace it back to its source," he says. "You want to be able to find the employee who broke company policies or the ISP that hosted the outside person coming in."
IT addiction no. 7: Delusions of grandeur
Technology has progressed at such an astounding rate that many believe anything is possible -- no trade-offs or sacrifices required.
Some IT people still believe any problem can be solved if you just throw enough resources against it, says Michael McKiernan, VP of business technology at Citrix. If they could just collect enough data and dump it into a massive business intelligence system, they'd emerge with a single source of truth for making decisions.
The cure: Get real. Develop an IT portfolio that balances risk and reward, and hedge your big bets. Don't swing for the fences every time unless you enjoy striking out. It's better to hit for singles and doubles to boost your enterprise batting average instead of going for personal glory.