Whether in business or in personal life, we’ve all seen fads come and go. Some of these fads are fun, while others are a little bit odd, like the Pet Rock. Of course, the world of IT goes through its fads, too, and every once in a while a fad comes along that just defies logic. Here are a few such IT fads.
The first IT fad that I ever ran into in my IT career was attire that was way too fancy for the job. Back in the 1970s, my grandfather was responsible for computer operations for a Fortune 500 company. In fact, it was my grandfather who got me interested in computers. Although I was probably only about 4 or 5 years old at the time, I vividly remember my grandfather wearing a coat and tie to the office each day. At the time, I never thought that much about it.
Fast forward a couple of decades, and I got a job as a network administrator for a large insurance company. Prior to starting the job, I was told to wear a suit to the office each day. Halfway through the first day, I found myself crawling around on the floor behind a dusty wiring panel. I asked the boss why I was wearing dress clothes if the job involved getting dirty. He responded by telling me that there was an expectation for all IT pros to dress like “IBM-ers.”
Thankfully, that particular fad eventually went away (I’ve never been a fan of dressing up). In fact, I’m pretty sure that I don’t even own a tie anymore.
This one is a much more recent fad but is perhaps even more mind-boggling than the idea of having IT pros get dressed up for work. If you aren’t familiar with the concept of chargebacks, it is the practice of billing the individual departments within the organization for the IT resources that they use.
There are a lot of different ways in which chargebacks can be implemented, but I have seen corporate IT departments bill other departments in the organization based on the number of calls that their employees make to the helpdesk, or based on the amount of CPU, memory, and storage resources that their workloads consume. The practice really isn’t all that different from the way that IaaS cloud providers bill their tenants.
In theory, chargebacks are a way of ensuring equitable use of IT resources and making sure that the IT department has enough funding to do its job. In practice, imposing chargebacks can be disastrous (although in all fairness, I have seen a few seemingly successful implementations).
Chargebacks can stifle innovation and growth because an organization’s departments have to worry about what their IT resource use is costing them. In fact, this has led to situations in which IT departments bill chargebacks at an excessive rate, which leads to rampant shadow IT use. Employees in the one such company that I know of abandoned the IT department in droves in favor of public cloud solutions that were outside of the IT department’s control.
Perhaps even more importantly, I have seen chargebacks absolutely destroy the relationship between corporate IT and other departments. I recall one organization in particular in which the implementation of IT chargebacks created an atmosphere that was completely toxic.
A much more benign, but still mind-boggling IT fad is something that I like to call IT lingo. This one comes in several different forms but boils down to IT having its own way of speaking and writing.
The most obvious example of strange IT lingo is the rampant use of meaningless IT buzzwords. A few years ago, for example, the term “Big Data” was getting tossed around like crazy, even though nobody could at first agree on what it even meant. At the time, for example, I had someone ask me to write an article about Big Data. I wrote the article from the standpoint of using data from multiple databases to derive business intelligence. When I submitted the article, the editor told me that I must be confused, because everybody knows that Big Data refers to 1080p digital video.
Another example of the It lingo fad has to do with spoken sentence structure. I first noticed this about 15 years ago on a trip to the corporate headquarters of a certain tech giant. While I was there, I noticed that no matter who I talked to, everyone would say the word “so” when answering a question (“so, that particular database…”). I also noticed that other common words such as “story” took on an entirely different meaning when talking to employees of this particular company. Over time, I have noticed that the use of “corporate speak” isn’t completely unique to IT, but I have run into it more often in IT than in other places.
One more example of crazy IT lingo was the fad in which software vendors felt compelled to omit spaces from their product names. I’m talking about names like JetDirect, CyberGauge, OneSphere, OpenStack, and LanSurveyor. Thankfully, this is one of the IT fads that seems to have run its course.
The omission of spaces from product names probably would not have been nearly as big a deal to me if I were not a technology author. Product names with missing spaces tend to confuse spell checkers and render dictation software useless.
Another of the IT fads that I have never understood is the use of self-imposed service level agreements (SLAs). Now please don’t misunderstand me. SLAs make sense in certain situations. If I am subscribing to a cloud application, then I expect an SLA. Even so, I find self-imposed SLAs to be ludicrous. It’s one thing to tell the powers that be that you are striving to provide a certain level of service. It’s quite another thing to guarantee that level of service and to somehow punish the IT department for failing to deliver. Besides, I have seen too many situations in which SLAs were not defined by IT employees (who know what level of service can be realistically expected), but rather by clueless managers whose only goal is to impress upper management with big numbers.
I have never made a secret of the fact that I am not a fan of IT outsourcing. I have had friends lose jobs to IT outsourcing, and have seen firsthand the problems that IT outsourcing can cause. Even so, I find helpdesk outsourcing to be especially egregious. Here’s why.
I spent the early part of my IT career working in a helpdesk environment. Even though I was working for a huge company, it became very easy to notice patterns. For example, there were certain problems that would only occur on a particular model of hardware, and we had figured out a workaround. With that in mind, imagine someone with the affected hardware contacting an overseas helpdesk. Because the technician is not familiar with the company’s unique IT environment, they would waste a lot of time trying to diagnose the problem, whereas an in-house helpdesk would figure out the solution once and be ready to help anyone else who experiences the problem.
While working on the helpdesk, I also learned who tended to have a lot of self-inflicted problems, who was tech-savvy, and which users would lie to the helpdesk staff to try to cover up the real source of a problem. The bottom line is that an in-house helpdesk can provide better service because they know the company’s systems and its employees. The best that a helpdesk outsourcing company can hope to do is to provide generic support.
Being online 24/7
One of the IT fads that is really in vogue right now is the expectation to be online 24/7. I have had employees of a particular computer manufacturer tell me that for them Monday morning starts on Sunday evening. Employees are expected to be online and working, even though it’s still the weekend, and they are at home.
In my day-to-day life, I constantly see people stopping to answer work emails while having a meal at a restaurant or while out at a public place with their family. The proliferation of mobile devices and the ubiquitous nature of Internet connectivity have caused work/life balance to evaporate. My guess is that in a few years, we will see this trend reverse in a major way.
IT fads: More silly than dangerous
IT fads don’t necessarily have to be harmful. Every once in a while fads come along that are silly or even fun. Post a comment and let me know what IT fads you have found to be the most amusing.
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