Friday, December 16, 2020

Why Pick on IT?

ISR, the US employee research firm, has published data that suggests people working in IT have a worse time than other professionals when it comes to long hours and overwork. Apparently, 51% of US IT workers suffer job stress and 53% say their workload is excessive. The comparable figures for all US workers are 41% and 39%. Job insecurity seems to be part of the pattern, with 57% of IT people feeling their jobs are secure, compared to 68% of the workforce as a whole.

ISR's staff blame the shift from seeing IT as a source of business advantage to viewing it as a cost center. It seems that only 46% of IT professionals believe their companies reward innovation, compared to 64% as recently as 2001.

That may be part of the answer, but I can't help wondering whether IT is simply a victim of its own exaggerated claims in the past. Companies were led to believe computerization would remove most, if not all, clerical and administrative work, with a tremendous saving in costs and employee numbers.

The reality is very different. Computerizing functions is slow, costly and often causes considerable upheaval. Claimed savings aren't met, while more staff need to be hired to keep the rocky systems operating. Outsourcing has become an attractive option, shifting the problems onto a supplier, but removing many IT jobs in the process.

What has this to do with Slow Leadership? In their haste to jump on the computerization bandwagon, executives failed to give themselves time to explore some fundamental questions.
  • What will happen if the projected savings don't arise?

  • What will be the wider impact on customer and suppliers?

  • How will they feel about changing to suit our systems?

  • Will they get any benefits they care about?

  • What's wrong with things the way they are?

Slow Leadership, like Slow Food, always runs the risk of being seen as a Luddite movement, trying to oppose technological improvements. That, of course, is nonsense. Technology has enhanced everyone's life—and could do far more, if only we took time to decide how best to use it to make working more enjoyable. Instead, we've allowed ourselves to be rushed into seeing the most immediate—and most limited—possibilities from our technology: those associated with saving costs and cutting numbers. And, in their eagerness to "sell" their brainchildren, IT experts allowed the risks and timescales to be underestimated.

The answer is neither outsourcing to other countries, nor deciding IT is over-hyped and is just another cost to be minimized. The answer is to stand back and take the time to consider all the angles.

The answer is the practice of Slow Leadership by those making all key decisions.

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Fredrik Rubensson said...

Thanks - this is very much true even in Sweden where I have been part of the IT business for some years. More and more reluctantly so considering that all systems I work with isn't given the appropriate time too mature. As soon as the system does approximately the stuff it was supposed to do it is considered finished eventhough it may not be maintainable or the code will make any future maintainer feel sick. The agile movement is both good and bad when thinking about slow coding. The good part is that the essential things are considered important - useless documentation is thrown away. The bad part is that it is often taken as an excuse do things faster and with less pondering. My current boss, for example, thinks that test driven development is great becasue it makes it easier for him to shuffle his resources around. (Big mistake if you ask me.)

1:03 AM  
Carmine Coyote said...

Hi Froderick

Thanks for your great comment, which truly puts this into practical perspective. Keep on reading -- and maybe try getting your boss to read this too!

12:41 PM  

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