The real enemies of IT

Bureaucrats can throttle productivity with a single buzzword

I work as an IT application manager in the financial services industry. My organization faces the typical systems-integration challenges, outsourcing perils, and budget issues -- all this in addition to a surge of mergers and acquisitions and the need to manage compliance with standards such as Sarbanes-Oxley. While these challenges present significant stumbling blocks, I've come to believe there's a far more dangerous enemy lurking in the shadows: bureaucrats who seem determined to ambush our IT teams, sniping at us from the cover of "enhancing legitimate process."

The app-dev team is the locus where users and clients meet the infrastructure, which includes IT executive management, compliance, project management, and network teams. This is the battle zone where application managers are held responsible for results, yet seldom have the authority to influence all the parties to effect success.

The most critical indicator of this success is efficiency. If we can get more servers built, more tickets resolved, more users up and running, then we've done our job well. So long as we can find the Holy Grail of maximum efficiency somewhere in the midst of the firefight, all the obstructions listed above recede into a merely hostile but mostly manageable environment. We're accustomed to completing our missions in spite of heavy incoming fire -- and getting our guys back to safety.

The degradation of efficiency starts innocently enough, much like the birth of Damien in those Omen horror movies. For instance, the Audit Compliance team tells your development team that they will no longer have access to test and production environments because it's a major risk. After a lengthy (and costly) analysis is completed, it turns out that the responsibilities formerly held by a single database administrator will now be held by three individuals in other departments.

But then, you ask, what about customer service? What about getting tasks done efficiently? It's not about efficiency, you're told; your service levels are too aggressive. The brave new world is all about "protecting the organization," "best practices," and "risk management" -- and who can argue with Business Administration buzz language like that?

Next thing you know, seven new individuals fresh out of business school have supplemented the single (highly knowledgeable) project manager previously assigned to coordinating infrastructure tasks. Your PM is no longer permitted to talk directly to the network team. As the budget owner, you insist that these individuals go back to the infernal underworld from which they came because none of them can demonstrate any added value.

If there's a happy ending, this is it: The evil empire of bureaucracy never realizes that IT is awesomely adept at subverting authority. We attend teleconferences from our desk, where we multitask. We fill out the innumerable forms "they" insist they need by copying and pasting from other documents. We swiftly learn what they consider the right answer and give it back to them as quickly as we can, so we can get back to work.

In short, instead of confronting the enemy head on, we move into guerrilla-warfare mode. Long live the rebel forces!

Copyright © 2005 IDG Communications, Inc.