The IT Department doesn’t Care about your Productivity

The IT department in your medium-to-large organisation doesn’t care about your productivity. In most organizations IT is a cost, not an enabler, or something that gives your organization a competitive advantage, and your organisation is no different. Shelling out more money for better networking hardware, or more storage, or new software licenses has real, measurable costs that the IT department has to front up for, and which they have to pass on. When you have to wait 30 seconds between double-clicking a network folder and the contents displaying on the screen the cost is so small it’s hard to measure, and it isn’t a cost that the IT department pays. Sure, it robs people of their productivity, bringing in to sharp contrast for most of them just how unimportant they are, and invites them to task-switch to something else which has proven detrimental effects on productivity, but that isn’t the IT department’s problem now is it. 

Your productivity is collateral damage in the IT Department’s war with entropy. Flexibility is the enemy. Flexibility leads to change (forward progress is one kind of change, but allowing users to change their desktop background or their system font is another kind of change). Change leads to increased costs – one out of every thousand users who change their desktop background is going to accidentally lock themselves out of their account somehow, and cost the IT department in support calls to the helpdesk (a total misnomer since there is no desk, and no help). In order to try and put a lid on entropy things are closed and locked down. Legitimate sites and MIME types are inadvertently blocked at the corporate firewall, because there is a risk for the IT Department in letting them through, and there is no cost to the IT department for preventing you doing your job. 

This goes double if you’re a developer. The IT department like homogeneity. They like taking away user ‘rights’, and locking things down. They crave order and structure and minimal surface area. As a developer you don’t fit their model. You need access to configure web or database servers, to start and stop services, to install programs, to attach debuggers. You need exactly the same kinds of rights they have themselves, but you lack the fear of change that normally ensures the IT Department never does anything with them. And maybe you actually know what you’re doing. For the IT Department, preventing you doing your job as a developer is critically important, because as a developer you are an agent of change. Every key-press you’re writing a new future for some part of their IT ecosystem. Creating? Enabling? Improving? Maybe – those are subjective, and the IT Department probably won’t reap any of the benefits of those anyway. But changing – yes & ndash; that is not subjective, and that IS a risk/cost the IT Department must bear. Improvement and enabling are not possible without change, and the IT Department is diametrically opposed to change. Since they can’t directly oppose the change you’re carrying out they need to reign it in, and slow it down. Make you work in a virtual machine. Make you work in a virtual machine via VNC. Make you work in a virtual machine hosted in another country via VNC, over a slow link. 

Processes are one of the chief tools the IT Department has to reign in your positive change: Complex change control processes; opaque ‘network tests’ for anything that is deployed; Refusal to roll out supporting componentry; tiny windows for change to occur in; N months of ‘security testing’ before anything is rolled out. It’s fine for the IT Department to cause rolling outages during the working day because someone there can’t be bothered staying back late to deploy a change, because people’s productivity doesn’t matter to the IT Department. But not you, your work can’t be deployed for another 6 weeks because there is a change embargo in place until the end of the holiday season. 

The IT department is driven by that fear. Fear of change. Fear of additional effort. Fear of being taken out of their comfort zone. Fear of being wrong. Fear that they’ll be found out as imposters.  Fear that if they let you look at that proxy configuration, or that network trace you’ll see why that network folder takes 30 seconds to open for no good reason, and they’ll lose their mystique, their authority. And without that how can they retain control?

Of course their fears are somewhat misplaced. Where else are you going to go? It’s not like there are two IT departments vying for your business. It’s their network, and their hardware. Plugging in your own stuff can be grounds for dismissal, as can attempting to circumvent their controls. When two organizations merge the dominant IT Department will fight aggressively to bring things back into equilibrium. There can be only one. All those change control processes they enforced on you get thrown under a bus while the IT Department’s immune response system kicks in. And once again, if your productivity is impacted by this the IT Department just doesn’t care.

These are my observations from working in a number of medium to large organizations, both corporate and government at different levels. I wish it wasn’t this way, but it is.


Go on, why don’t you say what you really mean ; ) Nothing like a good tirade to cleanse the soul, huh?
30/06/2010 2:47:18 PM
And is it going to be better or worse when large parts of their draconian domain is outsourced to the cloud?

Better because their will be less of them, worse because they will have less power overall and will take out their frustrations on locking down your rights.

30/06/2010 5:53:51 PM
You sound angry! Probably justifiably so.

I get the impression you are talking in the context of [i]general /i organisations? If so, I think the flipside of this position is that the vast majority of their users are not technologically savvy; a long-time ago the prevailing IT department culture was probably more well intentioned, but eventually became deranged after having to uninstall comet cursor from a company pc for the 3000th time.

1/07/2010 2:55:13 AM
Joseph Cooney
adante - I’m not really angry, just trying to call it as I see it. And yes, you’re quite correct, these are organisations where software development or some aspect of IT is not the core business.
1/07/2010 3:03:03 AM
Val Beiriger
The IT Department doesn’t Care about your Productivity was a wonderful read. I love it, I can read this stuff forever, keep em coming!
1/07/2010 6:13:44 AM
Enjoying being back there I see ;) Good to see they haven’t changed much…..

Same where I am…. but you forgot the pissing comps that go on between different factions within the IT Dept, and you’re stuck in the middle like a deer in the headlights wondering if this emergency patch that will make the core system work will ever make its way to this fictional place called production…

1/07/2010 1:55:13 PM
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1/07/2010 2:09:10 PM
Interesting article... I run a cloud computing business, as such we have to "compete" for business, deliver to SLA's and provide sterling service, a key "motivator" is something you eluded to in that if we provide an ordinary service the client will naturally go somewhere else - and i ve always found this to be significant in the motivation of service providers versus incumbents where the client has no choice and service is usually mediocore or outright poor. Picking up on your comment about IT being afraid of change, i think this is primarily driven by the "arse kick & blame syndrome" where as in the swinging ninetees & dot com era the business would tolerate outages, five minutes downtime now equates to a lynch mob at the departments front door, the consequence of this is IT has adopted a "leave it be" or it aint broke then dont fix it approach as they are terrified of the ramifications of "that harmless patch" to combat these outages methodologies and process has reared its head and brought IT into line, the consequence now is strict change management which inveitably has crushed inovation to and extent and put goverance into overdrive, the key loser here is the ironically the business - the entity that fought to eradicate unplanned outages In my experience there are two kinds of business, the ones that get IT and use it for competitve advantage - they usually have a more freeflowing IT environment that responds better to business requests for change and the other that as you say sees IT as a cost centre only, kicks its arse when things go wrong and either underinvests or refuses to invest unless something breaks This is my humble view as both a business owner and a technologist with 10 years of battle scars!
1/07/2010 5:46:23 PM
Antony Kline
Your writing could use some enhancement to better drive home your points, but the tone of your argument is right on. I speak from experience because the nonprofit I work for runs an yearly little company competitors, and what most of our applicants have in common is the fact that they've figured out individuals practices that help them contiually outperform their competitors, who usually are bigger.
3/07/2010 12:59:13 AM