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The IT drug – Just say no?

If you haven’t ever read the opening passages of Alice in Wonderland, you should. Lewis Carroll managed, in 1865, to write a pretty accurate description of most modern IT projects.

The business-like rabbit rushing by, very late for a very important date, always just out of reach around the next turn of the rabbit hole or opportunity, and unavailable for any meaningful dialog. The falling, tumbling, almost hallucinogenic quality of a workload rushing by one’s ears. And then that vendor-like bottle, labeled “Drink Me” with all the promise and none of the explanation. Followed, of course, by unexpected complications and self-recrimination.

The root cause of all this fuss and bother is the idea that technology is a prescription, a drug we can take for whatever ails us. We don’t have to be a chemist or doctor to pop a pill, and we don’t have to be a technologist to take that technology cure. We’re all pretty well trained in the pharmaceutical way. We give some expert as little time as possible and expect a great deal of insight and intuition into what ails us to be quickly followed by an effective remedy.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the corner drug store. The medical community has discovered that the more we invest our own time and attention in our own health, the better results we see. While the pills and potions might help us not be sick, they probably aren’t enough to help us be really well.

I’m not trying to suggest that your local SAP ABAP programmer is just like a medical doctor.
What I am trying to suggest is a parallel between our modern experience of medicine with its blend of technology, science, judgment and people, and our modern experience of business. We get the best results when we are informed, disciplined, and sometimes courageous, especially when we are at the ever-evolving edge of our capabilities. And also that when misapplied or mismanaged, great harm can result.

So what are the signs of an IT addiction, that IT drug gone bad? It shows up in different ways for different groups.

On the IT side, do you have one or more of those expensive applications where 20% of the features satisfy 80% of the real need, but you’ve got to buy the whole thing? Have you ever had the latest and greatest push aside your current “solution” before you really figured out how to use it? Do you spend more time talking about features and functions than financial and customer impact?

If you answered yes to any of these questions you may have an IT drug problem.

On the business side, do you tell yourself the technology isn’t really part of what you do? That you use the technology because it’s easier but not really necessary? That you could stop anytime you want to?

If you answered yes to any of these questions you may have an IT drug problem. And guess what? If you didn’t even notice when I divided things into an IT side and a business side, that may be an early indicator of an IT problem.

There isn’t an IT wing in the Betty Ford clinic. And all those best practices, methodologies, and benchmarks? Powerful stuff. But you have to be careful not to chase the monkey off your back with another monkey. Going cold turkey now and forever is not a luxury we have. Getting the best results starts with how we respond the next time that rabbit runs by or some shrink-wrapped wonder drops on our desk labeled “Drink Me.”

We are going to be pulled through the looking glass. There’s no question about that. But we can delay our reaction, just a bit and in that pause begin to connect that urgent moment with all the other urgent moments that came before, and begin to line those up with all the urgent moments knocking at our door. We have to, because if we don’t, all we’re left with is an endless tumble down the rabbit hole.

Byron Glick is a principal at Prairie Star Consulting, LLC of Madison Wis. Prairie Star specializes in managing the organizational impacts of technology. He can be contacted via e-mail at or via telephone at 608/345-3958.

The opinions expressed herein or statements made in the above column are solely those of the author, & do not necessarily reflect the views of Wisconsin Technology Network, LLC. (WTN). WTN, LLC accepts no legal liability or responsibility for any claims made or opinions expressed herein.


Brian Tinkler responded 10 years ago: #1

Great article. It may be happening as Mr. Glick purports in some organizations today, but I haven't seen this type of behavior in my clients since the late 1990's. In a time when people felt they were being rushed by their competition to make hasty decisions in IT investments. However, the calming effects embued on the world's business leaders from Y2K being a non-issue and the nearly simultaneous implosion of the tech bubble in the stock markets, drastically changed the course of IT decisions. For the past few years, it has been a very real struggle to help organizations understand to take the calculated and relatively small risk of investing in technology that does meet their business needs and will help them move forward in their competitive markets.

While I agree with Mr. Glick's comments, I would caution readers to consider that choosing not to decide is still a decision. Choosing not to make technology investments because of the fears discussed here can have equal or even greater consequences than making a mistake.

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