When business savvy ignores IT reality

In this IT tale, management and bean counters cut operating costs. The result? A cumbersome, chaotic, inefficient IT structure.

I used to work as a field analyst at the studio/corporate headquarters for a large entertainment conglomerate in California.

As is common in dealing with end-users, a lot of the issues we dealt with had to do with locked accounts and expired passwords. All of the field analysts had admin rights on the domain so that we could unlock accounts and reset passwords in a timely fashion. No third party had to be involved, and folks were able to get back to work very quickly. Most of us developed close working relationships with our end-users, and it was good public relations to have a familiar voice answer the phone when users called IT.

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This system worked pretty well. We analysts were able to set our own priorities for basic support issues, our users were able to get back to work quickly, and IT management rarely had to get involved with day-to-day support -- things got done and everyone liked it that way. Everyone, that is, except top management and the bean counters -- they wanted to cut operating costs and, in their words, the "lowest hanging fruit" was the IT department.

Enter the outsourcing trend to the scene.

As part of the search for an IT outsourcing provider, management had prospective companies engage in a reverse bidding war. Most of the IT staff referred to this as "selling us off to the lowest bidder."

In a further demonstration of the disconnect between "business savvy" and "IT best practices," upper management decided to split the outsourcing contract to save money. There were surprisingly few layoffs, and most of the conglomerate's IT staff were merely transitioned to the two outsource providers. Those of us who provided end-user support were outsourced to one provider, and those who worked for server administration were outsourced to another, thereby creating the most cumbersome IT structure possible.

As the go-live date for the switchover loomed, we were fed the usual lines: "your job will not change" and "only the company name on your check will be different."

Of course, in reality this couldn't have been further from the truth. All of the field analysts and system admins left on Friday as employees of the conglomerate, and came back on Monday working for different on-site vendors.

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For us field analysts, domain admin rights were taken away and users were instructed to contact the new help desk -- physically located in a different state -- for all computing issues. Gone was the familiar voice and customized service for users. In its place was a faceless voice reading from a cookie-cutter script and absolutely no practical knowledge of our day-to-day operations.

Here's the kicker: Because analysts and admins were now employees of different vendors, we were forbidden by our respective management to speak to each other directly. All communication was to be done via the tracking database in the tickets that were created by the out-of-state help desk. Since most of us were physically located in the same complex, it was an extremely frustrating situation. There were several times when an issue would come across our desk and we could see the guy at the other end of the cubicle farm who could resolve it, but we were forbidden to take it to him directly.

Confusion reigned and productivity plummeted as tickets were misrouted and lost, areas of responsibility were disputed, issues were diagnosed incorrectly, and descriptions were incomplete, inaccurate, or nonexistent. Work-stopping issues that should have been easily and quickly resolved spent days or even weeks getting shuffled around to the wrong departments and/or passed back and forth between the two outsource providers.

In the case of expired passwords, for instance, an issue that at one time had been easily resolved in less than 15 minutes with one phone call became a weeks-long testament to inefficiency and corporate BS. Word of the massive "Charlie Foxtrot" spread, and our competitors began referring to us by name as an IT model to be avoided at all costs. Both analysts and admins voiced their frustrations, and many offered ideas to make the chaotic situation better, but to no avail. In fact, in an absurd twist the more vocal of us were labeled as "not team players" because we spoke up about the futility of the system they had put in place.

Of course I got out of there as soon as I could. Recently I found a list of the worst CEOs in America, and the head of the company I had been outsourced to was ranked as one of the top 10 worst CEOs in the country. I guess this degree of incompetence trickles down from above.

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