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

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The cure: Get agile. Adopt modern methodologies like extreme programming or behavior-driven design. Develop an understanding of the underlying business processes so that you can communicate intelligently with the people who have to use what you build.

"Letting go of beloved techniques can be difficult," Lowe says. "After all, if method X has served you well since 1970, why abandon it for some newfangled acronym-soup? For the same reason people traded bicycles for motorcycles and horses for cars: to get there faster."

IT addiction no. 5: New machines

Everybody loves new toys. For most techies, strolling through a data center full of gleaming servers, humming drives, and blinking lights is like waking up on Christmas morning. But having the latest and greatest of everything is a costly fixation that can drag you and your organization down the money hole.

Take storage, for example. Most big enterprises and government agencies rip and replace their storage systems every few years to store a ton of data they will never use again, says Anthony R. Howard, a best-selling author ("The Invisible Enemy: Black Fox") and independent technology consultant for Fortune 50 companies and the U.S. military.

"The shocking fact is that most IT data isn't touched again after the first 30 days," he says. "Companies are wasting millions buying storage for the big data they need now, and then forklifting it to a new system every three to five years. Imagine a tiering system where only the data you need would go on the expensive drives, and the data you don't would automatically go on the cheap drives. Imagine if organizations only paid for the components that actually needed to be upgraded, then added them to their current infrastructure. Imagine a world where our government would never have to pay for multimillion-dollar forklift upgrades. Think about what they could do with that money."

The cure: Most IT pros are fixated on initial purchase price when they should be analyzing total cost of ownership, says Howard. A hard look at real costs may help curb their addiction to the latest and greatest of everything.

"Forget about the prices of the server or the storage," he says. "The important questions to ask are how much it will cost you to deploy, manage, maintain, and run these things over their lifetimes. Most companies let the vendors tell them what's included in TCO. Most vendors usually don't include the important stuff."

IT addiction no. 6: Illusions of security

In an age when hackers make headlines almost daily, it's easy to see why many enterprise IT shops have developed a serious security habit. The problem? You can pour millions into building a "bulletproof" network, only to discover that it isn't -- and never will be.

"IT departments are addicted to the perception of security," says Headspring's Palermo. "They think it's something you can turn on and off like a switch. Instead of using policy to guide employees about how to properly handle information, they embrace things like PINs, passwords, and user roles that offer the illusion of security."

Ron Bittner, IT director at computer parts distributor National Parts Depot, says security is still a crapshoot, especially for smaller organizations.

"I've established and monitored firewalls, antivirus, and other security tools, and I still don't know conclusively whether I'm properly protected," says Bittner, a 20-year IT veteran who has also worked for major book publishers and film studios. "Without major resources to dedicate staff to computer security, SMBs are constantly worried they haven't bulletproofed their operations so that amateur or organized hackers can't get to it."

The cure: Embrace the reality that no network or organization can ever be 100 percent secure. Close the security gap through traceability, says Palermo.

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