Subverting IT’s enemies

IT has ways of getting around the excessive bureaucracy that sometimes comes with compliance and audits, reports an anonymous US commentator

I work as an IT applications manager in the financial services industry. My organisation faces the typical systems integration challenges, outsourcing peril and budget issues — all 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 and snipe at us under the guise of “enhancing legitimate process”.

The application development team is the locus where users and clients meet the infrastructure, which includes IT management and compliance, project management and network teams. This is the battle zone where applications 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 merely become a part of 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 has been conducted it turns out that the responsibilities formerly held by a single database administrator will now be held by three individuals in other departments.

But, 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 organisation”, “best practices” and “risk management” — and who can argue with business administration buzz language like that?

Next, seven new individuals fresh out of business school have supplemented the single (highly knowledgeable) project manager previously assigned to coordinate 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 realises 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 learn swiftly 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!

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Tags managementbureaucracyIT

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