How do IT departments in big corporations see their mandate – Service Provider or Roadblock?

Von ee
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Here is the first contribution from Dr. Edwin Ederle. He will concern himself principally with the solution of IT management problems:

Let me start with a small real life example. (I have experienced similar ones quite often).

Early in February I was asked for advice by someone from the strategy department of a big German bank. Once a month they have to collect quite a lot of data from about 35 units (data comes from various systems; some data even has to be entered manually). The data must then be analysed, aggregated and prepared for presentation to the board. For several (historic) reasons this task has evolved into a 40-MB-Excel-monster, which needs to be filled in by the units and which is then manually (using copy and paste) aggregated and processed. This takes 2-3 weeks every quarter, is error-prone and very fragile. (Excel crashes quite often. Recalculation takes 10 minutes). Urgently needed enhancement or the storing of a history is impossible. In total a painful, annoying and unacceptable situation that begs for a solution, ideally at once to avoid another round of manual work.

I suggested, as I always do in such situations: “Let’s build a slim, professional user-friendly Excel data-collection tool and an Access-based aggregation tool. These will allow you to import the data sheets and to produce predefined analysis reports. The tools can be produced within 4 weeks for about 30 k€, and will solve the problem”. Everybody was quite pleased!

Now comes the catch. IT solutions have to be approved and developed by the bank’s corporate IT. My proposal did not find approval!

Excel and Access are not professional tools and are not used by IT.

Excel and Access tools cannot be documented in accordance with the internal IT regulations. So they cannot be maintained or enhanced.

There is no guarantee that these tools will run on future versions of Microsoft Office.

The professional solution for the problem is an Oracle database with JAVA front-end.

So people had something to investigate. Already a few days ago (end of May) there was an offer from the IT department for the professional solution. It would cost 300 k€, 10 times my proposal and unfortunately outside the budget of the requesting department!

So now they have two options. Either they get the board to put pressure on the IT, to force them to order the pragmatic tool, or they continue with the third best solution – the manual solution, which is time wasting, undocumented, risky and not extensible. There cannot be a solution before July.

Coming to the theme of my post: What do these IT people think? I can see a lot of reasons why Oracle “is better” than Access – but shouldn’t IT be trying to help other departments to do their work??? Here we have a real pressing problem and IT’s answer is to point out why nothing can be done (either because it doesn’t follow IT regulations, or because it’s just too expensive). The problem still exists and one has to live with a much more unprofessional “solution”. There is just frustration on all sides.

IT seems to see their mandate as the development of technically perfect, elegant, state-of-the-art applications (that primarily must comply with all policies that have been set up by IT (!)), rather than to solve a real pressing user problem!

Is that perhaps one of the reasons why people don’t like IT departments?

E2E

Comment by the moderator (Roland M. Dürre)

We hope that Dr. Edwin Ederle will often write for IF-Blog. His articles should be particularly interesting for managers and administrators.

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