In which Jill bashes the bad guys, defends the good guys, then blames everything on leadership. (Because it’s leadership’s fault.)

After my first two Upside Q&A columns I was feeling pretty good. On a roll, to tell you the truth. Based on my experience working with clients across industries on their analytics and strategic programs I’d wrestled two very astute, reality-based questions to the ground. And I managed to work pudding, universal translators, and disinfectant into my answers! Bonus!

Then earlier today, I received an email from someone asking me to explain how to optimize a canonical aggregate subquery against geospatial data in Hive. I’ve just spent the last 45 minutes flipping the light switch on and off, a la Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction.

Just as I put my pants back on I found this question in my inbox:

Dear Jill:

Nothing is happening. I think my IT organization is in crisis! Help!

                                      –Disaffected in Dayton

Dear Dis:

You may have heard that I wrote a book on this subject. It’s called: The New IT (McGraw-Hill, 2015), and it profiles a bunch of heavy-hitter executives and what they did to cultivate change. The book has sold quite well because, well, it profiles a bunch of heavy-hitter executives. And because the Foreword was written by none other than Geoffrey Moore. And because every chapter begins with a classic rock lyric.

And because everyone loves a good crisis. (Fatal Attraction’s box office? $320 million.) In researching the book I kept returning to a prevailing phenomenon that seems to be the source for all of IT’s problems. I’ll tell you what that phenomenon is if you promise to read the book anyway. Okay? It’s this:

IT cannot overcome its legacy reputation.

That’s right. Maybe IT is always late and over budget. Maybe they’re working on the wrong things. Or maybe your friend Bob had a bad early experience with IT on a project. And Bob’s now the CEO. Whatever the reason, people give up on IT, procuring their own technology budgets, letting vendors buy them lunch, and sequestering their business plans.

Sometimes this cynicism is warranted. IT isn’t delivering anything and is using legacy system maintenance and protracted vendor negotiations as a tired excuse. IT leaders hunker down in closed-door meetings while programmers talk more about whether to get to TechCrunch via Oakland or SFO. They become deservedly marginalized and, absent any meaningful work, they tinker with technology sans business justification.

Meantime lines of business try re-engaging IT until they take matters into their own hands. It’s the business version of, “I’m not going to be IGNORED, Dan!”

Effective IT leaders have already mapped out their strategies for change. They’ve identified their own archetypes and designed a path to get where they want to be, both as organizations and as leaders themselves. They are deploying digital, creating innovation labs, and embracing new ways of hiring diverse talent to help get them there.

So what’s wrong with IT? You tell me. Then decide whether you can change that, launching projects that deploy new technologies in the context of business solutions, working with your IT peers to enable innovative business models, or simply helping to build something relevant that doesn’t exist today.

If you can’t participate in this type of change at your company, find someone’s pet rabbit, and… On second thought, maybe it’s time to just quietly move on. Good luck!

Original post on Upside.com. Photo credit: By US Navy [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons