Information Technology Dark Side

Struggles of a Self-Taught Coder

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Defining the Dark Side

April 17th, 2006 · 1 Comment

Why is corporate IT the dark side of technology? It took me ten years to figure this out, and I hope that fact alone doesn’t mean I am as stupid as a rock.

To understand why corporate IT is the dark side of technology, you have to first understand what the sunny side of technology is. The sunny side of technology is, simply put, a technology company that actually sells what you produce. In other words, you make something (like a software application) and the company you work for slaps a barcode on it, takes it out in the marketplace, and sells it. The more effort you put into doing what you do, the better that thing sells. Screw it up, and you and the company you rode in on could be toast. In other words, you contribute directly to COMPETITIVE ADVANTAGE. The company is stronger in the marketplace because of YOU. This makes you important. You contribute directly to the company’s success or failure as a purveyor of virtual merchandise (software).

How’s that different from corporate IT? The guy with the job in “the sunny side” still sits in a cubicle, pounds out code, (or defects, if he’s a tester), puts up with a pointy-haired boss, and writes status reports. Sure, he might work in Silicon Valley, Silicon Alley, or some other technology hot spot, but his job isn’t much different from yours, right?

Wrong. His job is totally different from yours. Maybe not in a “what did you do today, honey?” sort of way, but in the relationship that his work output has to the competitive advantage of his employer. I’m going to spell this relationship out for you, but first I have to warn you: it ain’t pretty. You’re not going to be happy about this.

So here it is: Corporate IT doesn’t sell what you build. Nobody goes to the store and “buys” your work. Nobody. Don’t try to tell me that your internal business partners “buy” your services. That’s baloney. Okay, it’s not totally baloney, but it’s not the same either. You don’t create a product. Heck, you probably don’t even directly support a product that is sold openly on the marketplace.

In other words, you don’t contribute directly to COMPETITIVE ADVANTAGE. Business activities that contribute directly to competitive advantage are “core” activities. Marketing, product support (not production support), sales incentives, commission policies, etc. are all things that contribute directly to competitive advantage. None of these activities happen in corporate IT.

Sadly, it gets worse. Most corporate IT work doesn’t even contribute to competitive advantage in an indirect way. Sure, there are a few “strategic” projects involving IT that make companies more competitive (like Progressive.com, for instance). But most of the time the work you do falls in one of the two following categories:

Essential and non-essential. Essential means we do it because we have do. For example, we have to keep the billing system running. We have to upgrade our network, add more servers, etc. Doing this doesn’t make the company more competitive, but screwing it up will hurt the company in the market place. In other words, doing an exceptional job at this type of work doesn’t benefit the company any more than doing an average job in terms of competitive advantage. There are other reasons for pursuing excellence, but competitive advantage isn’t one of them.

Non-essential activities are those we do just because we do, like using a special cover sheet on the TPS report. I’m always surprised by the numbers of documents IT workers generate that have no functional use whatsoever. Sadly, a large percantage of corporate IT work falls in this category.

So that’s why corporate IT is the dark side of technology. Our relationship to competitive advantage is so different from our brothers and sisters in technology product companies that the work dynamic is completely different.

And here’s the key to survival: embrace the dark side. Don’t pretend you work for a technology products company. Learn the ways of the dark side, understand the dynamics of corporate IT, and you will be successful.

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1 response so far ↓

  • 1 martin english // May 12, 2006 at 12:24 am

    There’s another variant…

    I work for a well known (in the industry) outsourcer / service provider. None of my friends recognise my employer, but they recognise our customers.

    Yes, my work adds to the bottom line of my employer. In some cases directly so, depending on the type of work and type of contract we have in place.

    However, the actual work itself falls into the essential / non-essential categories of the “Dark Side”.

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