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Technology Management Paradox

October 29, 2012 at 12:00 PM    


The book, The CIO Paradox, by Martha Heller identifes some common contradicitions of managing technology, grouped into four main categories:

Your Role:

  • You were hired to be strategic, but you are forced to spend most of your time on operational issues.
  • You are the steward of risk mitigation and cost containment, yet you are expected to innovate.
  • Your function is seen as that of an enabler, yet you are also expected to be a business driver.
  • IT can make or break a company, but you are not a member of the corporate board.

Your Stakeholders:

  • You run one of the most pervasive, critical functions, yet you must prove your value constantly.
  • Your many successes are invisible; your few mistakes are highly visible.
  • You are intimately involved in every facet of the business, yet you are considered separate and removed from it.
  • You are accountable for project success, but the business has ownership.

Your Organization/Team:

  • Your staff loves technology but must embrace business to advance.
  • Your team members are uncomfortable with people, but to succeed they must build relationships and influence others.
  • You develop successors, yet the CEO almost always goes outside for the next CIO.
  • You are forced to seek less expensive overseas sourcing, yet you are expected to ensure the profession.

Your Industry:

  • Technology takes a long time to implement, yet your tool set changes constantly.
  • Technology is a long-term investment, but the company thinks in quarters.
  • Your tools cost a fortune, yet have the highest defect rate of any product.
  • You sign vendors' checks, yet they try their darndest to sell to your business peers.

I could add another category, "Your Management". In many organizations, technology reports into finance. This was a natural fit because finance and accounting are in many cases the biggest "users" of IT and IT is seen as a cost center that needs to be reigned in. The book makes the case for the new IT paradigm which is based on visibility and accountability. Many organizations evolve slowly, however so those challenges are still real. According to a recent study by Gartner, the CMO will grow to be the biggest IT spender by 2017. Does this mean IT will eventually report to Marketing?

Acquisitions are a major component of growing businesses, and often you see managers being put over product lines or services that they have no expertise in. Whether it is accounting/CFO, marketing/CMO or operations/COO, many senior managers charged with managing the technology team don't understand technology or how to manage it. The paradoxes that this creates for technology managers are:

  • Management makes decisions and promises based on ego instead of fact, often blaming technology when the facts don't line up with their assumptions.
  • You are told to "own" the roadmap, uptime, and technology behind the product or service, yet you are micromanaged to failure.
  • Management has strategy meetings but doesn't include technology leadership or see technology as an important partner.
  • Your management constantly shifts direction and requirements away from commitments made, leaving technology saddled with the image of not delivering or responding quickly enough.

Like the other CIO paradoxes, most of these are addressable or are symptoms of a different problem such as corporate structure or even bad management.

I highly recommend Martha Heller's book as good reading for any technology manager or even developers who face some of these same challenges. Solving many of the "paradoxes" comes down to communicating effectively and creating the right kind of visibility. The tactics and approaches illustrated in the book are helpful in any (functional) organization.

If you are stuck with a bad manager, you can always offer them some relevant reading.

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