Over the past three years I’ve consulted at a large financial institution, a well-recognized university and a major publisher. I’ve worn various hats but my roles have typically put me pretty close to the embedded technology groups within them. These groups are typically clearly segmented and are viewed as internal services arms of their respective companies.
Looking back, I can’t help but notice some really bothersome patterns that the tech groups in the various organizations had in common.
For one, they perceived technology as an end in itself. Rather than taking approaches that could solve problems quickly and easily, they often made technical decisions that were simply wrong for the task at hand. The rest of the company couldn’t say a word because, well, they don’t know enough about technology. Unless you know cars, you aren’t going to argue with your mechanic about the validity of his conclusions. You simply trust him (or find another mechanic).
And so, these companies trust their technology groups to make the right decisions to fit their needs. Instead, these groups often bake factors into their decision-making that are irrelevant and often unhealthy for the organization as a whole. They either take on technology because (a) they’ve already invested in it professionally (i.e. they’re well trained) or (b) they think a particular technology is “cool.” It is exasperating to see heavy-lifting, costly technologies applied to some of the most basic corporate needs.
Far more telling than the strategic decisions these groups make is the absolutely chronic aversion to risk that technology groups suffer from. In these large organizations, you will commonly run into outlandish timeframes, endless disclaimers and an absence from any desire to “step up” and proactively seek out efficiencies and productivity gains for their users. The larger the company, the more ominous the perceived risk. Instead of appreciating the mandate handed to them, tech groups collapse into a territorial mindset. Their corporate survival – the battles for budget dollars and head counts – take precedent over the reason they exist in the first place. The result: your company is taken hostage.
In light of the outsourcing explosion that American tech workers need to contend with, I think this is cause for concern. There are some very bright and very hungry people out there that would love to replace the typically stagnant American technology group. The outsourcing of routine and mundane tasks should be embraced by American tech workers. It should be perceived as a “freeing up” for Americans to do what we’re known for: innovate. Instead, there’s a groundswell of anger towards companies that outsource. This anger comes from an unhealthy place in my opinion. Tech workers in the U.S. need to be less concerned about outsourcing and more concerned with reinventing themselves as indispensable players in technology.
I’m well aware that my experiences are far from a representative sample of what is happening in corporate America. Nevertheless, I can’t help but notice the trend. Personally, there are few things that give more satisfaction than solving a pressing business need with a simple and elegant technical solution. In the end, it is about making the customer happy. Rather than being occupied about defending their territory – whether against internal encroachments or outsourcing – the American tech worker needs to stay focused on the customer. If the customer is happy, the territory will take care of itself.