Is IT a Profession or Bureaucracy?


Poor performance is at the root of IT's bad reputation, says Nicholas Spanos, a consulting principal at the IT consultancy Computer Aid, responding to the CIO Insight editorial IT's Bad Rep (September 2007). Spanos presents eight reasons why IT's bad reputation is warranted:

1. Reactive Profession

Many IT pros react and want to be told exactly what to do. If they do not receive specific instructions, they either guess or they keep asking for a level of specificity the business is unable to provide. IT should define the technology strategy that supports the business strategy but most IT organizations either wait for the business to dictate technology strategy or their developers set technology strategy by giving them freedom to choose their own development languages and database management systems. IT should also solicit and understand business requirements and design an appropriate solution. Instead, IT requires the business to provide very detailed design specifications which delays projects and causes confusion.

2. Lack of Career Path

There's no career path in IT and no way to differentiate the quality professionals from the marginal ones. Everyone has the title of developer. Some people have the title of architect without any definition of what this means. In most cases, an architect is a junior-level person who has training in a new technology but no experience designing systems.

Additionally, IT is the only profession where experience is considered a negative. If IT professionals have more than 10 years experience, they are considered obsolete and undesirable. As a result, junior staff are developing new applications while the experienced staff are assigned to support legacy applications.

3. Unreliable Technology

Hardware prices have fallen drastically while performance has improved exponentially. Unfortunately, operating systems are bloated and unreliable and development languages are going backward instead of evolving. C++ and Java are low-level languages that are one step above assembler. These languages can only be understood and utilized by the top 20 percent of the IT developers. Like assembler, they are difficult to use and difficult to test, resulting in unreliable software. The software industry is trying to enhance languages such as Java and C++ instead of creating a state-of-the-art application development language that is easy to use and support.

4. Rigidity

ERP software begins as a custom developed application for a specific industry. The vendor then spends the next few years trying to expand the usability of the software to other industries. This increases complexity and results in a square-peg-in-a-round-hole solution. As a result, enterprise resource planning software does not typically have the flexibility required to support changing business requirements. Instead, the software forces the businesses to change their processes. Process change is expensive and quite risky for most organizations, hence the high cost and failure rate for ERP.

5. Leadership Void

There is no consistent definition of roles and responsibilities or career path for a CIO. CIOs are usually either the head "infrastructure geek" or they are a business executive with little or no knowledge of technology. Few CIO's provide strategic direction (except for infrastructure consolidation). In many cases, they are unaware of the business applications that are being supported. They don't even know if the business is still using these applications. They can track costs but they cannot identify the value delivered for the costs.

6. Lack of Curiosity

IT doesn't ask why. They respond to the same problems over and over without implementing permanent fixes. They operate and support redundant applications even though no one uses them. They do not question business priorities and complain when all requests are listed as high priority by the business.

7. Lack of Commitment

IT does not make commitments. And, even if it does, IT does not believe it has an obligation to meet the commitments (dates, costs, scope).

8. Denial.

It's the biggest problem of all. By blaming the business for the issues, IT avoids internal continuous improvement. It is common practice to dismiss or punish the people who are willing to offer innovative ideas. The staff eventually learns to avoid innovation.

I'm left with one conclusion: IT operates like a bureaucracy instead of a profession.

Do you agree or disagree with Spanos' reasoning? Add your views below.