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Going over their heads: IT Decisions

By Phil Factor,

Marketing people find it hard to puzzle out the strange osmotic processes that determine IT decision-making in large companies. There are, of course, companies that have no decision-making process beyond calling the fire-brigade when smoke fills the room. The decision-process is so obscure that, In IT marketing generally, there is a persistent fantasy that one can make a huge sale by a direct appeal to the top, rather like a fairy-tale where one appeals directly to the King.

Serf: Sire! (Kneels) “With this new cross-bow I have invented, the forthcoming battle will end in a glorious victory”

…Fantasy…

King: “You speak the truth. (Aside, to the Lord Chancellor) Dress this man in finest raiment, press gold sovereigns into his hand, and make sure we have these excellent crossbows.”

…Reality…

King: (paraphrased) “Whatever. Where’s lunch?” (Sound of Serf being dragged away)

Likewise, the idea that a CIO should show leadership in the technical direction of the company is ridiculous. The modern fairy-tale involves the CIO being awash with data. I quote:

“The data deluge is here, and CIOs must invest in the applications and systems that enable them to turn increasing amounts of data into actionable intelligence and strategic insight—or run the risk of drowning in the data flood.”

And:

“The current flood of data is at biblical proportions”

This marketing message, whilst pretending to inform, instead attempts to convince the CIOs that their infrastructure is ill-equipped to deal with the data from social media, test equipment, websites, and so on and we should instead open the wallet for the new range of kit: This will make the CIO, in political-speak, the 'flag-carrier'.

CIO: (looking around the table at the management meeting) "Look, guys, we're awash with data and (glances at notes) need to invest heavily in serious big data infrastructure…"

…Fantasy…

All: Yes, how else do we turn all this valuable data into the actionable intelligence and strategic insights that will drive us forward?"

…Reality…

CTO: "The Data people say that it isn’t data, it is noise. It is as likely to hold the key to a better corporate strategy as the mould on that unwashed coffee-cup holding the successor to penicillin".

Ops Manager: “And we wouldn’t want to support a solution before we’d had a full evaluation of the cost of maintaining it. Anyway, we are fully occupied with ISO27001 compliance for the next six months.”

HR: “The training cost for all those self-service BI tools and fancy visualisations is going to make the eyes water. Finance is going to hate this”.

And so on, getting gradually more depressing.

So what makes the reality so different? Unless a technology serves to answer a pressing need, such as R, SSDs, JSON, REST or MVC, it will always be a struggle to convince the market that they can’t be without it. You might convince the odd CIO in the same way that a poacher occasionally hits a bird with a blunderbuss: but it is sheer luck: There is little he can do anyway. The CIO's task is to gather experts into one’s team and get them to cooperate to determine a technical direction, even if, at times, it seems silly, conservative, or fanboi. The CIO in a large company can do little to affect the technical direction beyond getting it reviewed by the rest of the team.

Technology doesn’t sell itself. There has to be a good consensus that it is worthwhile, and it is ironic that the culture of IT is so habitually conservative. It can be convinced, but it isn't easy.

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