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3 May 2005

People make IT expensive

By Andrew Clifford

50% to 90% of IT costs can be saved by managing IT demand. Nearly all excess demand stems from simple human over-enthusiasm, self-advancement, self-protection and peer pressure. We need to redirect our perception of IT so that our human nature drives us to an ever more efficient use of IT.

Our human nature drives a lot of IT demand. We understand this on a small scale, but it applies for major spend too.

We are familiar with the passionate tecchie, who must have the latest toys. In a commercial environment, we rightly control his (and it usually is his) urges, and make him justify any purchases.

But are we so careful with his senior colleagues: the project managers, systems engineers and IT architects? We trust their professionalism. Surely they wouldn't pursue a plan, design or method just because it is the latest thing?

We are all familiar with users who want to look cool with the latest PCs with 3GHz chips, flat screens and the like. We put hardware policies in place to limit their enthusiasm, to force them to make do with something more economical.

But purchases of the latest customer relationship or supply chain management tools are often classed "strategic", and are progressed outside our normal project justification and control processes.

We know the pushy salesman, trying to convince us of the value of his dubious software. Or the consultant sowing fear, uncertainty and doubt in the hope of securing their services.

But we are less critical of the in-house IT department. It wants budget, and will push its project and solutions to get it.

We are all familiar with the technical team who promote the use of their specialist technology to further their influence and importance.

But what about the whole company using IT spend as a way of presenting a forward-looking image to its investors? Investing £20m in a new stock control system gives the impression of a forward-looking company, which needs high-powered and high-paid executives.

This isn't a "don't blame the little guy" tirade. The big guy is just a little guy with an office.

We are all human. We all want to protect our position, advance and prosper. We all like to play with new things. We all want to be cool.

The problem is that IT is so very expensive, we need to manage this better, especially at senior levels. We need to find ways of addressing the big inefficiencies, not just the little ones. We need to manage our human nature.

We can't deny our humanity. We need to find a way of redirecting our human nature so that it works towards, and not against, the efficient use of IT.

The key is to see IT for what it really is. It isn't magic. It doesn't prove that you are important. It's just a business automation tool. It's only cool when it works. We need to stop rewarding mere IT activity and spend, but look more critically at IT outcome and value. If we change our perception of IT and how we reward it, our human nature will drive us to an ever more efficient use of IT.

Next: Don't manage IT demand, reduce it

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