Don’t buy management tools for exoneration

One of the unfortunate legacies of management software is the still-too-universal force of exoneration as a purchase rationale. When the “blame game” kicks in, we turn to our management tools in an attempt to gather evidence that will exonerate us from blame. This is a dangerous, yet pervasive element of IT culture that must be exterminated. Perpetuation of these insidious forces will threaten the very viability of the entire organization.

IT has long been the scapegoat for everything that goes wrong in the company, and quite frankly, we deserve much of this unsavory scrutiny. The way we’ve run IT is more characteristic of sloppiness than disciplined execution. Such an atmosphere is destructive to the entire organization and this destruction is obvious to many business leaders. They will take action to remedy the situation, action that will prove disastrous for those who fail to demonstrate progress toward discipline.

First, I’ll point out a prominent root cause of this problem. It is probably painfully resonant with many of you. That root cause is the persistence of organizational fiefdoms and the inevitable attack and defense culture that festers within such an organization. We all know the “us” and “them” attitude is dangerous, yet it persists because humans tend to cluster into groups with common interests and common causes. It’s too much like teenage social cliques and these cliques nearly always become competitive with one another. As I said, it’s just human nature, nothing more, nothing less.

What happens in such a combative atmosphere is that the clique competition fosters strong offensive and defensive positions with regard to the cliques themselves. In the case of IT, a common result is the finger-pointing triggered by service outages and many other incidents. The application people blame the networking people, the server people blame the storage administrators, and so on.

These offensive tactics naturally foster defensive posturing within the cliques. Everyone puts up their shields to deflect the blame. One of the main shields in use is management software. An inordinate proportion of management tool spending over the past two decades was to support one major goal: exoneration. We’re talking tens of billions of US dollars here!

It is time to reject this common philosophy and turn to an organizational culture of cooperation. The technologies are finally emerging to help, but the highest hurdle is within us. We all have to overcome behaviors that have become so ingrained in many of us that it is now second nature; almost as involuntary as breathing! This is incredibly difficult. Don’t underestimate the effort it will take to break from one institutionalized behavior to another that is radically different. This is the real challenge of IT.

When faced with a common enemy, foes join forces. Do not view your IT colleagues as foes. We are all united in combat against the common enemies. Those enemies are poor service and ourselves. The cartoonist Walt Kelly penned the now iconic quote “We have met the enemy and he is us.” in a 1971 Pogo cartoon. How ironic it is that a comic strip reference has become a poignant battle cry for IT 37 years later.

Management tools need to synchronize with the shift in philosophy and the attack on the common enemies. We can fight the common enemy of poor service by refocusing tools on process improvement. Process improvement eliminates wasted effort and helps ensure optimum service quality. An even better side effect is that a process focus brings people together for the common cause.

Process improvement is not just process. It is not just technology. It is not just people. It is both people and technology executing according to process definitions that are proven through years of refinement by the worldwide IT community. When bright people follow good processes, they will execute well. Add the right automation to that execution and they will execute well with speed, agility, and accuracy. These are the hallmarks of good service. These are the traits that will transform the IT organization into heroes of the business. These are the qualities that nurture goodwill among IT peers and the business, where IT is a true business contributor, not a necessary evil.

By leveraging the right tools in the right way to automate by process instead of technology silos, we have a potent weapon against internal discord. When we do this right, there is no need for exoneration. Anyone who tries to adhere to the destructive practices of self-defense in such a venerable organization will find themselves vilified and expelled. A well-run operation will spit out the bad apples. Charles Darwin was right about natural selection – at least in its application to organizational dynamics!

What are your thoughts? We would love to hear your comments and tales of your own battles.

By Glenn O'Donnell

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re: Don’t buy management tools for exoneration

[...]By leveraging the right tools in the right way to automate by process instead of technology silos, we have a potent weapon against internal discord.[...]

re: Don’t buy management tools for exoneration

Glenn, thanks for highlighting what has been the biggest problem in the space for years.But hope is on the horizon as compliance demands and cost-cutting requirements are forcing us to consider fresh approaches to management. As the convergence of network, systems, security and compliance management continues, more of us will rely on tools and processes that help each other.It parallels life - sports teams and communities are better off when they work together. Cooperation is where the magic happens. Let's hope these compliance and cost-cutting catalysts help us finally take a big step forward and enjoy the benefits of integrated technologies and teamwork.

re: Don’t buy management tools for exoneration

Thanks, Mark!People will indeed find that exoneration is a destructive motive for many of their actions. You are right. This is not just limited to management software. It permeates entire enterprises, but those enterprises inevitably find themselves at a severe disadvantage from competitors. It's natural selection. Those with the flexibility to adapt survive. Those encumbered by protectionist cliques become dinosaurs.There are many catalysts finally changing these attitudes. Compliance in a very broad sense of the term is the biggest. I'm not talking PCI or Sarbanes-Oxley here. I mean compliance in the "we need to get our act together" context. Most IT organizations are sloppy in their execution and it doesn't take a lot of effort to show more discipline. Discipline breeds more discipline and so the snowball rolls, on to a state of operational excellence.-- Glenn --

re: Don’t buy management tools for exoneration

What a refreshing change to read this analysis. Sometimes, technology can help break down the barriers between competing groups. We had a great experience introducing RFID asset tracking to a government organization, where the technology created benefits for the security team, for the asset audit team, and for desktop system administrators. They had to discuss and pool their interests to ensure the success of the project. And if there's ever a problem, I guess they will club together and all blame the vendor instead. Ouch!