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The Back-to-Basics shiny ball

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Call them “speculative character flaws.” They’re flaws in the character of people we don’t like but can’t explain why. The only actual evidence of the flaw is that we need justification for disliking the tribe’s members.

Such is the case of IT and the “shiny ball syndrome,” which we in IT are supposedly afflicted with.

Only we in IT just don’t get distracted by technical shiny balls all that often. We don’t have time for the distraction, because right now we’re busy recovering from an outage on the part of one of our cloud providers, data loss from a recently departed employee who’s access privileges were inadvertently left in place, or some other occurrence of similar urgency.

The IT trade press? That’s a whole different matter. Industry journalists are constantly plagued with weekly deadlines, limits on their areas of expertise, and constraints on their enthusiasm given how many articles they’ve already written about those areas of expertise. So please forgive them for having latched onto the ransomware, workforce shortage, or generative AI shiny balls, to name three of recent vintage.

Which is why IT leaders, constantly challenged with keeping track of what’s new and exciting in our shared business domain, need to be cautious in inferring importance from publishing frequency.

Take the aforementioned generative AI. It’s dominated IT trade-press headlines for months. And yet, CIOs need to balance pressure from the CEO who wants to know what IT is doing about it with pressure from the Enterprise Architecture team to give them enough funding to populate an accurate applications inventory.

And pressure from IT Operations to modernize their ITSM toolkit.

And pressure from InfoSec to research and invest in anti-malware deep-learning AI technology.

Not to mention pressure from …

You get the idea. What needs the most attention from the IT management team isn’t the latest IT trade press shiny ball. It’s support for the prosaic, boring, and in many ways tedious IT fundamentals.

How to set IT’s priorities? Here’s one way:

Start with the IT Effectiveness Framework introduced in this space 10 years ago (“What makes IT work,” March 19, 2013). It divides the factors that result in an effective IT organization into four subject areas: Business Integration, Process Maturity, Technical Architecture, and Human Performance.

Next, look at the overall IT labor time budget – how many total hours are worked in IT. With your management team, decide on how big a slice you want to carve out and invest in improving IT’s abilities in these four subject areas.

Now comes the hardest parts: Making the carve-outs real, and figuring out how to invest the time and effort you’ve just carved out.

Bob’s last word: You’ve undoubtedly read lots of material talking about organizational resistance to change and what to do about it (including, of course, Bare Bones Change Management). But the importance of organizational change resistance pales in comparison to the difficulties associated with finding the time and effort an organization needs to define a change, and organizing the tasks needed to accomplish it.

Now in CIO.com’s CIO Survival Guide:The surefire way to waste money on IT consultants.” What it’s about: Politics are an inescapable part of most consulting engagements. Just don’t make politics the point.

Comments (2)

  • If politics is part of IT management, then so is teaching.

    I now think it’s as naive to expect others to understand the organization’s information infrastructure, as it would be to expect them to understand the organization’s mechanical infrastructure.

    Management of both are too technical for outsiders to really “get”.

    But, shiny objects are easy for others to think they understand. So, IT has to put on its teacher’s hat to educate, to teach, in simple terms and vocabulary (as you would explain to a 4th grader),

    1. Exactly what the shiny object is,

    2. Why it is or isn’t a mature technology, and,

    3. How the shiny new object relates to the current organization mission goals and data infrastructure.

    Like effectively teaching calculus to a 4th grader, but it’s a strategy to keep everyone on the same page.

  • Excellent insight! “Which is why IT leaders, constantly challenged with keeping track of what’s new and exciting in our shared business domain, need to be cautious in inferring importance from publishing frequency.”
    And your Last Word – after 40+ years participating in and following IT management, some things never change!

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