I had an interesting conversation about IT decision-making while attending an education foundation meeting that was focused on education. The meeting was a chance to speak with CIOs and other senior IT people in a non-business setting. These discussions can be far-ranging and unguarded. In this non-sales, non-consultative environment, the discussion came around to the challenges each executive faced and the risks they had in their positions.
The challenges included personnel issues as well as the products and solutions they had deployed in their IT operations. While it was interesting to hear about what systems (my focus was on storage but they talked about complete solutions that encompassed hardware and software) they had recently purchased, the more interesting discussions were about why they had made these purchases.
One theme came through frequently – many felt they had been stampeded into making a decision and purchase. They felt stampeded in the sense that they weren’t given time to do an adequate (in their opinions) evaluation to make an informed decision.
The reasons for not being given enough time included their receiving pressure from above saying the company required immediate action, and business would be lost if the solution was not delivered immediately. Organizationally, a group (internal customer for example) would look elsewhere if it failed to get an immediate solution.
“Look elsewhere” took the form of outsourcing, bringing their own systems to meet the needs, or threats of withdrawing budgetary support.
One person in the group said he was being forced to make “haphazard decisions” rather than informed ones. And these haphazard decisions included no thought of how this would affect the overall strategy or IT operations. The use of the word haphazard struck me as a somewhat alarming term.
From my standpoint, this looked like a great opportunity to do a case study of what the lack of a strategy or formal process can mean to IT. Asking what the results were for these stampeded or haphazard decisions did not yield a clear answer, however. It became obvious that the real effect may not become apparent for a few years. The initial responses were more emotional (and negative) than actual quantified results.
What I took away from this discussion was that decisions were still being made that were not informed and not really strategic. Whether they were bad decisions or not would take some time to find out. The people making the haphazard decisions were aware they were not proceeding correctly, and were embarrassed by it. But they felt they had no real choice. They had to make a decision and needed whatever information they could access quickly given the time they had.
Fortunately, the majority of decisions about purchasing systems and solutions (especially storage systems) do not take this route. But the reality is some decisions are being made haphazardly, and that can present problems.
(Randy Kerns is Senior Strategist at Evaluator Group, an IT analyst firm).