It’s a truism of many IT consultancies that technology delivery is not hard: it’s the management and exploitation of it that is. Technology, so the theory goes, leverages known physical processes to realise predictable outputs – an engineering problem, in other words – whereas dealing with the random factors of managing people (including customers and employees) is unpredictable and therefore complex and difficult.

Many technical people might object to this gross oversimplification of their profession. If it’s so easy, why don’t the managers try it since they are so clever? And true enough, it takes specialist skills and knowledge to even scratch the surface of a modern corporate IT department and understand the work of a database administrator, application developer or SAN storage analyst.

One of the problems here is that these tasks require such different mindsets to complete them successfully. A technical analyst in any field requires levels of patience and conceptualisation unimaginable to most management professionals, but few that develop these skills also go on to acquire empathy, diplomacy, tact and all the other “human” skills that a modern manager needs – especially so since those with the higher level technical skills are also correspondingly more challenging to manage.

I believe that some of these problems may have been behind the shift to outsourcing of IT departments that has been happening over the last two decades: managers simply find themselves unable to manage the technical workforce and so decide to package it up and make it someone else’s problem without really fixing some of the core problems inherent in their architectures. This usually means the outsourcing will fail to realise any savings or even reduce the complexity of the management task.

A number of methods have been proposed to fix the problem. ITIL Service management, Enterprise Architecture, governance standards and project management have all become part of the standard toolkit for many corporate IT departments over recent years.

What interests me now is, have any of these methods worked? Why is corporate IT so brain-meltingly mediocre?

Or do you disagree and know of a corporate IT department that is really genuinely successful and what made it that way?

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