IT's worst addictions (and how to cure them)

Jargon, data, power -- the first step to IT recovery is recognizing the monkey on your back

Are you a jargon junkie? Got an insatiable appetite for information? Do you rule over your company's systems with an iron fist, unwilling to yield control until someone pries the keyboard from your cold, dead hands?

You're going to have to face it -- you're addicted to tech. It's not an uncommon problem, but it can lead to bad decisions, lost productivity, wasted money, and data breaches, to name just a few downsides.

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Fortunately, there are cures. But first you must admit you are powerless over your addiction to acronyms, your dependence on data, and your cravings for power. You must resist the illusion you can make your network perfectly secure or that technology can solve all your problems. And you must stop clinging to old ways of doing things -- or lusting for anything shiny and new.

Consider this your first step on the long road to recovery.

IT addiction no. 1: Jargon

Geeks love their jargon. It's a way to show off, not to mention an effective technique for fooling others into thinking you know more than you actually do. But an acronym addiction ultimately serves no one well, says Glenn Phillips, president of Forte, which builds custom software and offers "nerd-to-English" translation coaching for executives.

"Some tech may say things like, 'We need a RAID 5 SAN or our backups will fail,' and management won't have any idea what that means," Phillips says. "Instead he could say, 'We don't have enough space to store our backups; we could lose all our data.' And if he's just making up a bunch of crap, management won't have any idea. You need someone technically competent enough to call BS or say the emperor has no clothes."

The cure: Smart IT pros know good communication skills are essential, and they work hard to develop those skills, says Phillips. But executives must also be willing to admit they don't have the slightest idea what their techs are telling them. 

"A good leadership team can cut through the jargon by not running from it," he says. "If you don't understand what your IT guys are saying, say, 'That's fascinating; now try it again in language that makes sense to the rest of us.' Otherwise you think you're delegating responsibility for your company's technology when you're actually just ignoring it."

IT addiction no. 2: Power

A little power can be a dangerous thing, as any organization that has endured a rogue system administrator can tell you. Because technology is both so central to how modern organizations operate and so poorly understood by those outside the IT department, it's easy for tech whizzes to perpetuate their own internal fiefdoms.

"The worst addiction IT employees succumb to is what fire wardens call Lookout Syndrome," says Bill Horne, owner of William Warren Consulting. "It happens to wardens who serve in remote posts for long periods of time with little or no outside contact. After a while they start to believe they're in charge of everything that happens in their area. In like manner, system administrators start to assume they're in charge of everything that happens on the systems they maintain, which can lead to childish rules about which applications users are allowed to run, what their log-ons should look like, even what countries are allowed to send email to 'their' system."

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