Gulf between boardroom and IT as big as ever

opinion piece - Knorr is editor in chief at InfoWorld

Like a low tide after a storm, an economic plunge can expose things you never noticed before. When the economy was barrelling along, we neither knew nor cared about $1400 trash cans or $87,000 rugs decorating certain executive offices. Now, after the implosion, such extravagances reveal that some people live their lives so far above the fray, they can't possibly know what's going on in the real world. Likewise, the privations resulting from the collapse have exposed a yawning division in IT – between the CIOs who sign big contracts with big vendors and the IT people who live with the consequences. The gulf has never been wider. The high-level pitches spouted by vendors and swallowed by CIOs today seem to bear even less relevance to real-world IT than they normally do. Worse, with so many IT organisations hard pressed to keep the lights on, who can tolerate wasting resources on products and services that were bought as a result of some slick boardroom sell job? Let's check out what some of the big vendors are saying. IBM is in a class by itself with its stratospheric Smarter Planet campaign. You might think this has to do with green IT– and you would be right, but that is only part of it. IBM is talking about 21 different things, from healthcare, to retail, to education, to collaboration to ... well, you name it. And oh yes, cloud computing, too. It's the broadest tech marketing campaign I have ever witnessed, and if I am hearing "smarter planet" mentioned with every new IBM product announcement, so are CIOs. What possible relevance does it have to IT getting things done? Flying several thousand metres closer to the ground is HP's Adaptive Infrastructure campaign. The notion here is that, through technology that fosters flexibility (mainly blade servers and virtualisation as far as I can tell) as well as more effective monitoring and management of the network, you can transform your infrastructure and vastly increase quality of service while reducing costs. Cisco also talks about transforming the enterprise through collaboration and network virtualisation – with premium Cisco products, presumably. Such transformational pitches have been around since the idea of "re-engineering" was first floated in the 1980s. Transformation requires huge effort and resources. Are we any closer? Are CIOs really buying it? We are in this funny phase in IT, in which Gartner tells us that everyone's favourite trend, cloud computing, is at the peak of the hype cycle and on the cusp of the "trough of disillusionment". How can anyone be disenchanted with something that has never been properly defined? If you ask me, this isn't the time for grandiose ideas that are going to change IT forever. Sure, people should use cloud services when they make better sense than adding servers and/or licensing software locally. And new technologies like virtualisation and automated server provisioning have had a major, positive impact on IT. But transformation takes time. And in most organisations, now is not the time for highfaluting initiatives, when IT people must leverage diminished resources against more pressing matters. Like how to handle the rampant growth of enterprise data or keep some irreplaceable legacy system up and running. Management always wants IT to do more with less and in this economy that is not going to ease up any time soon. In exchange for even more sacrifice, the guys in the plush offices should learn what's really happening on the ground before they push ahead.

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