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10 May 2005

Don't manage IT demand, reduce it

By Andrew Clifford

IT is full of overused phrases like "alignment" and "demand management". If we really want to reduce IT costs, we have to be crystal clear about our meaning, and avoid ambiguous phrases like these.

I recently read something that made me realise that I was wrong to say that we need to manage IT demand.

What I should have said is that we need to reduce IT demand.

I was reading about a new "Demand Management" product from Mercury Interactive, a company best known for its test management software. When I first read about this, I was quite excited. Maybe a mainstream company had seen the light. But slowly the truth filtered through the marketing. This "Demand Management" is a series of tools for recording and tracking IT requests. I'm sure this is very useful, but it is not demand management. It is an automated bureaucracy for saying "no" to some of the excess demand. It is supply management.

Rather like rolling brown-outs in areas with too little electricity, this approach is an admission of defeat. It builds a reservoir of unrequited demand, which in the long run will lead to disillusionment, and a pressure to bypass the IT process and seek alternative suppliers.

This toolset also provides management information to help with "alignment". It can show IT spending broken down by business areas, so that IT managers can make sure that their spending is aligned with corporate priorities. (Shown, of course, as full-colour graphics for executive presentation.)

This was momentarily plausible. But quickly I realised this would be laughable for any other profession. The fleet manager of a company wouldn't buy cars for the call centre staff just because customer care was a priority. Neither would the office manager buy them bigger desks. But the IT manager? No wonder so many customer relationship management systems fail. "Alignment" based blindly on copying spending patterns is ignorant of the nature and value of IT.

To restate:

  • We must reduce demand for IT. This isn't just saying "no", however much automated bureaucracy we surround ourselves with to make this look professional. This needs a clear explanation of the nature and value of IT, and constant vigilance against the many aspects of the IT supply industry, and our human nature, which lead to excessive demand.
  • We must align IT to our businesses. This isn't about trying to look good by doing IT where management is looking. It's a realisation that IT needs to work within existing business structures, and not undermine these by pushing for systems that cut across them.

I'm not against the systems from Mercury Interactive and others. My concern is the misuse of language. The term "demand management" is used to mean the opposite. The term "alignment" is used to mean an inept attempt to look like you understand the business.

We need to express our argument without confusing it with woolly-minded marketing speak. We have to restate our aims in a way that can't be misunderstood. And we can start by being clear that we don't just want to manage demand for IT, we want to reduce it.

Next: IT needs new metaphors

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