The company which owns mine recently recruited another member of IT staff, making the department five strong. They’re all male and they dwell in the darkest recess of their building – the IT dungeon – from whence they exert dark and terrible influence over the rest of the business. The directors are frightened of them. At board meetings I have occasionally made comments about “the tail wagging the dog”, which have invariably been greeted much as the Yard’s remarks about science and morals were on Dinner with Portillo.
As I see it, an ideal IT department would:
1) introduce systems to serve the needs of the business, which are sufficiently effective to have a net benefit on profitability when the cost of the system (including the IT staff) is taken into account
2) train staff and maintain, secure and troubleshoot on those systems
Whereas in reality what happens is:
1) the business decides it wants to do something, consults the IT department and then, having heard their lengthy and baffling objections, compromises on what it wants to do for the convenience of the IT department
2) the IT department regularly ‘upgrades’ systems for esoteric IT reasons, as opposed to obvious business reasons, requiring users to retrain and creating endless new troubleshooting opportunities
The frequency of (2) not only justifies the existence of the current IT department, it requires it to regularly expand. Each of its members is, I imagine, on a pretty hefty salary – significantly heftier for example than a ‘low-skilled’ admin worker of the kind that used to populate businesses that relied on less ‘efficient’ manual or paper-based systems.
I appreciate there’s another element here, which is that as suppliers, customers etc upgrade their systems, so the pressure is on everyone else in the chain. But what drives this? Is it business efficiency, or marketing by IT suppliers, or IT departments themselves?
So the question is: does anyone have a view – or indeed is there any research out there – on whether the inexorable rise of IT has actually benefited the average business, or would we have been better off, from a cost/benefit point of view, had we stopped when we invented the fax machine and the photocopier?