Archive for October 2006

The Second Life (of IT Management)

October 24, 2006

Today’s lunchtime conversation with the CFO of Navis (www.navis.com) highlighted one of the many confusions that plague our profession: if we are plumbers, they want us to be architects; if we are architects, they want us to be visionaries; if we are visionaries, they want us to be plumbers.

It is the nature of an industry in its adolescence, wherein the needs are many and the resources are few, an industry best known for problems – inadequate backups, poorly blocked spam, legacy system burdens, staff burnout…The primary assumption: if there are no deficiencies in your information systems, you are probably spending too much money on them.

Alan at Navis is among the few Chief Financial Officers who appreciate IT, and the dedication of an over-worked staff.  Others, in my career, Mark from Documentum, Dave from Synopsys – they recognize the value of a solid infrastructure and layer of applications in the success of a modern business.   The most interesting aspect of today’s conversation was the realization that Organizational Architecture (the capacity to adapt to new projects/initiatives with an adaptable organization rather than a rigid hierarchy) presents a challenge to executives seeking competent IT managers: should they sacrifice technical skill for people skills, or will that simply create an aloof management team that is no longer capable of laying network wire or rebooting a router?

My response: with the exception of recent graduates who do not yet have any customer/business background, it is easier to take the escalator downward from solid IT theory to the application of theory in practice, more difficult to ride an escalator upward from practician to businessperson.

The inclination, among many in the profession, is to point a finger at the educational institutions that emphasize systems, or to point a finger at executives who simply do not comprehend “how their own automobile functions” yet criticize mechanics.  However, it seems to me (yet another mirror analogy) that we, in IT, need to look at our own reflections and shrug the chip of our collective shoulders.  Just because we’re under-appreciated, underpaid and overworked does not mean that we are not ultimately responsible for our own well-rounded skill set.  We cannot wait for the servers to go down or telecom systems to become unaffordable before we leap into action.  We should be speaking to our colleagues, reading about new technologies and concepts, sending our teams to training.  We don’t want our doctors to be relying upon 5 year-old information, and we shouldn’t want our IT staff to be similarly bereft of knowledge.

I recently joined Linden’s Second Life community, and the virtual world is compelling.  There is an allure to the avatars, the interactions, the new economies that exist solely on the net.  I can imagine that most of us would much rather spend time exploring this new world than taking refresher courses on email archive-and-recovery strategies.  Such apparently contradictory uses of our time need not be an Either/Or. 

Create an avatar that looks and talks howsoever you want, and have the avatar become your research assistant – the Second Life world can be a diversion but it could be much more: a training tool, a team-building environment, a place to test your hypotheses with others who may have much more experience than you do about the very problems you are trying to solve at work.  That world can be as collaborative as any real-time data center, in fact, at its core, it is a real-time data center with a sophisticated user interface.

It need not be a game, this thing we do.