We all like to think we learn from mistakes, whether our own or others’. So in theory, the more serious bloopers you know about, the less likely you are to be under the bright light of interrogation, explaining how you managed to screw up big-time. That’s why we put out an all-points bulletin to IT managers and vendors everywhere: For the good of humanity, tell us about the gotchas that have gotten you, so others can avoid them.
As it turns out, our many contributors to this article had a lot to say -- but precious little to say on record. Names may be withheld, but the lessons are still potent. We’ve distilled this glut of information down to the top 20 mistakes -- instances in which wrong decisions can lead to costly project overruns, business disasters, and in the worst cases, lost jobs. Read on, takes notes, and avoid.
1. Botching your outsourcing strategy
Mistakes relating to outsourcing could easily fill our top 20 list on their own. There are two different flavors. The first is the sin of commission: outsourcing important IT functions to avoid the hard work of understanding them. Relinquishing those functions can make it hard to get simple things done.
The other mistake is to hold on to functions that could easily and effectively be outsourced, such as running your own messaging environment. IT organizations with an overt bias against outsourcing could be courting disaster. For example, one CTO we interviewed took over operations for a Manhattan-based online services company, only to discover that the Web-hosting infrastructure for all mission-critical and revenue-producing applications was in-house because the IT staff didn’t trust third-party operations. When the great blackout of August 2003 darkened parts of Manhattan for as long as 28 hours, the company’s UPS systems kept everything running for only a relatively short time -- while competitors at well-provisioned Web-hosting companies experienced no downtime.
2. Dismissing open source -- or bowing before it
For better or worse, many IT shops are susceptible to “religious” behavior -- a blind, unyielding devotion to a particular technology or platform. Nowhere is that more true than with open source.
On the one hand, the most conservative IT shops dismiss open source solutions as a matter of policy. That’s a big mistake: Taking an indefinite wait-and-see attitude toward open source means passing up proven, stable, and scalable low-cost solutions such as Linux, Apache, MySQL, and PHP. On the other hand, insisting on open source purity in your IT operation can delay progress, as developers are forced to cobble together inferior or unwieldy open source solutions when more appropriate commercial software solutions already exist.
Open source software is not inherently better than commercial software; it all depends on the problem to be solved and the maturity of the solution being considered.
3. Offshoring with blinders on
Any list of IT mistakes would be incomplete without a mention of offshoring. The experience of one vice president of operations provides an instructive cautionary tale. At his previous employer, the vice president opened a branch office in India for software development and encountered numerous surprises, many counter to conventional offshoring wisdom.