“We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that. This enables us to do something, and to do it very well.”

– Oscar Romero y Galdamez, suggested by my friend and long-time subscriber, Greg Fetter.

Somewhere in the business you support is a manager who needs to do things more effectively. The alternatives:

  • Shovel a request into the IT request queue.
  • Ask Clyde, who’s “good with PCs” to do something magical with Excel.
  • Bring in a local IT services company to build a system that helps do things more effectively.
  • Find some inexpensive off-the-shelf software that will help do things more effectively, then badger IT into allowing its installation.
  • Contract with a SaaS vendor whose software will help do things more effectively and don’t tell IT anything about it.
  • Sigh a great sigh and give up on making things happen more effectively.

The first bullet is The Right Way To Do Things.

The remaining bullets are all some form of end-user computing (EUC) or the dreaded shadow IT.

Except for the last bullet, that is. The Great Sigh is a key reason entrepreneurships are able to beat, or at least hold their own against their giant competitors.

Let’s add a dimension to this mess exciting array of alternatives: The backbone and hub of your enterprise technical architecture is one of the major commercial ERP suites. What the manager needs would, most logically, be implemented as a customization to one of the ERP suite’s modules.

Nope. Can’t have that. So option #1 — the right way to do things — is off the table, leaving only end-user computing (EUC), Shadow IT, or sighing deep sighs on the table for our sadly un-mythical manager to choose from.

Compared to the rest of the population, KJR’s readers are, disproportionately, metrics nerds, so let’s add a nerdy metrical dimension as well.

The metrics your average business manager cares about in this situation are, in descending order of importance:
1. Cycle time: Start the stopwatch the moment the manager first develops a reasonably clear idea of what’s needed. Stop it when the software is in production and the manager’s employees are doing things the new way. More than anything else, managers want this cycle time to be short.
2. Quality: No, not being bug free, although that’s nice too. Quality isn’t just the absence of defects. It’s also adherence to specifications – whether the software does what the manager needs it to do. By this definition, the plain-vanilla version of the ERP suite’s module is a low-quality solution. It doesn’t do what the manager needs it to do, because if it did, the manager wouldn’t be submitting the request. Q.E.D.
3. Fixed cost: This is the initial spend – how much the manager will have to pay for the solution. This matters because above a certain amount the software becomes a capital acquisition, which means the manager would have to go through the company’s CapEx approval process … a governance process that makes the IT request queue seem downright friendly and inviting in comparison.
IT’s priorities, presumably reflected in your company’s IT request governance, are quite different, usually along the lines of:

1. Financial Value: Amortize the fixed project costs over some reasonable number of useful years of software service. Add the expected cost of ongoing maintenance. Subtract from the business benefits that will come from doing things the new way. Divide by total cost to turn the result into a percentage. (Yes, yes, multiply by 100. Don’t be pedantic. Oh, I forgot — you’re a metrics nerd too. Okay.)

If the result is a positive number, rank it against all the other requests that have to compete for IT’s time and attention.

2. Political Value: Don’t be shocked. Also, don’t be outraged. The Financial Value undervalues a lot of what are, in polite company, called “intangible benefits.” (In less polite company they’re called “warm fuzzies”; also, “Don’t be ridiculous!”)

As minor matters like customer satisfaction usually fall into the intangibles bucket, there’s often value in political value — for someone standing up for what matters most, even if it’s hard to put a number to it.

3. Strategic Value: Some projects are part of the strategic plan — they advance the strategy. Others aren’t part of the plan but they are consistent with strategic intent. There are no others — any manager worth his or her salt knows how to write the obligatory two-paragraph account of how their pet project fits into the company strategy.

Compare the two sets of priorities and it should be clear why, for most managers, and especially for smaller efforts, EUC and shadow IT are the preferred ways to go.

Doing things the so-called right way might make a manager a good corporate citizen.

But EUC and shadow IT are what get the annual bonus.