by John Edwards

Popular IT advice every CIO should ignore

Oct 25, 2021
IT LeadershipIT Strategy

Everybody has an opinion. The problem is, some opinions simply aren't worth listening to.

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Credit: Getty Images

Advice is cheap. But unfortunately, many IT leaders end up paying a hefty price for listening to recommendations that turn out to be misleading, self-serving, or simply dead wrong.

Most bad IT advice is dispensed innocently. That’s because a misleading suggestion, like a lie, tends to become accepted truth when it’s repeated often enough by enough people.

Are you tired of hearing tips that when applied to real-world situations turn out to be inaccurate, illogical, or simply dead wrong? Then you’ll want to watch out for the following seven popular examples of “helpful” IT advice that should always be ignored.

Offshoring development is always cheaper

What makes this advice potentially destructive is that it places an emphasis on cost versus benefit. “CIOs should be thinking about how to be a center of benefit instead of a cost center,” says Ed Mullin, vice president and CIO of IT and business management consulting firm Think Systems.

New ideas and faster, improved tech solutions are the sparks that drive business growth and give enterprises a competitive edge. “In an era when most developers are working remotely, it might seem like a rational idea to replace more expensive local talent with cheaper offshore developers, but at what cost in industrial knowledge being lost and [reduced] efficiency in developing company-specific solutions?” Mullin asks.

A better approach to application development cost versus value is to focus on helping existing teams to work smarter and faster. Then, if all factors have been considered and offshoring still seems like a logical option, test the approach cautiously in stages. “Try offshoring a few less important projects/applications and test the waters,” Mullin suggests. “You may want to consider a hybrid approach where your experts are local and your more tactical talent is remote or offshore.”

A new technology’s value can only be realized by diving in

Adopting a new system when its commercial value or business impact is not yet fully understood can be dangerous. A new technology may promise to accelerate productivity or differentiate your business from its competitors, but the risks must be acknowledged beforehand, warns Justin Donato, vice president of IT at automation/workflow management software provider Nintex.

CIOs need to resist the temptation to dive headlong into a promising new technology. “Technical leaders and their engineering teams want to try and prove-out new technologies; it’s part of what makes them passionate about IT,” Donato says. “The CIO must play an active role in navigating IT from idea generation to value-driven strategic implementations.”

Without a strong business case defining the project’s final goals, as well as its development timeframe and understanding what success will ultimately look like, it’s very easy for an initiative to unravel. “Budget overruns, missed business opportunities, and reputational damage are all part of what makes these [new, untried] projects so risky,” Donato explains.

Whenever there is any doubt, there is no doubt

When Robert De Niro uttered those words in the 1998 action film Ronin, they sounded wise and insightful. Beware, however, if a colleague tells you something similar.

“Whenever there is any doubt, there is no doubt” means you should rely on your instincts. “In other words, if something doesn’t feel quite right, then there’s a problem,” explains Nati Aviv, head of DevOps and IT at network security technology company Perimeter 81. “But in the real world of IT, this simply isn’t true.”

If you see a symptom indicating a potential problem, such as a customer complaint or a performance alert, consider that there may be an issue, but don’t assume the worst. “Don’t leap to any conclusions before you know all of the facts,” Aviv urges. “Investigate before you escalate; it could be a false positive or a glitch.” What’s most important is not inadvertently hurting the IT team’s reputation or wearing out other parties whose assistance may be needed at some future point to help solve a real issue. “Treating every suspicion like a crisis causes undue pressure on your team,” he says.

Integrated suites always offer superior usability and value

While an integrated suite, a collection tools or services bundled together under a single brand, might appear logical, convenient, and attractively priced, it may not live up to its promise. “Your IT team will only need to deal with one provider instead of many, but what if this suite of tools doesn’t meet expectations or is merely on-par for performance when you’re trying to meet or exceed your digital transformation goals?” asks Nishant Patel, CTO of content management system provider Contentstack.

When an organization locks itself into a suite, there’s also little room left to explore possibly superior alternatives. “The all-in-one approach prohibits organizations from adopting new or better solutions that become available on the market,” Patel observes. “Businesses should expect that digital needs will expand, and flexibility and agility will be at the core of delivering results.”

Patel suggests looking for an architecture that can support a wide range of “best of breed” services. “You tailor your choice in applications or services to best suit your specific needs,” he says, noting that there’s a wide array of vendors prepared to address specific enterprise needs. “Going with this microservices approach also means that you can plug in and, if it doesn’t work out, you can easily replace the service,” he advises. “There’s no need to be married to a legacy system.”

Let results speak for themselves

Results can’t talk. Successful initiatives, however, are frequently boosted by internal advocates and evangelists. Such supporters play a crucial role in project development.

“Otherwise, technologists risk being seen only as a tactical machine and not as an influencer of strategic direction,” says Ginna Rahaauge, CIO at communications infrastructure services provider Zayo. Storytelling, Raahauge explains, provides an opportunity to connect the dots between strategic decisions and the outcomes that are most meaningful for the customer or stakeholder, driving relevancy and trust.

Internal technologists mostly focus on creating solutions and then shift their attention to the next challenging project or issue. “Historically, they’re not comfortable marketing or telling the story behind the results,” Raahauge observes. Finally, letting results speak for themselves risks ignoring the significant contributions of CIOs and their teams, particularly in times of fast paced or massive transformation.

Investing in new technology is a great way to generate huge benefits

CIOs are frequently advised, often by vendors, that adopting the latest hot enterprise technology is certain to generate massive benefits. The truth, however, is that any significant innovation will only prove successful after the IT leader works closely with business counterparts to align enterprise and IT interests and needs.

“Any initiative created in a silo is a recipe for disaster,” says Sunil Kanchi, CIO at digital transformation support provider UST.

Kanchi suggests examining how the new technology’s promised business benefits will mesh with existing process improvement and re-engineering initiatives. “A holistic business approach to technology systems implementation … will usher in the desired benefits and successful implementation,” he says.

Technical debt will lead only to IT headaches

Technical debt occurs when a development team is asked to accelerate a project’s completion and delivery. In essence, it’s the result of prioritizing speed over code quality. Technical debt is similar to financial debt in that it must eventually be repaid. Paying down technical debt typically requires dedicating staff to solve compatibility problems, security gaps, performance issues, and the various other headaches that occur when developers work at breakneck speed.

This all sounds pretty bad, yet Snir Yarom, CTO at online coding test service provider Codility, maintains that technical debt, like financial debt, can be a good thing when managed intelligently. Yarom believes that dedicating 20% to 30% of IT’s engineering capacity on a continuous basis toward improving technology and reducing technical debt results, in the majority of cases, in a high positive ROI. “It allows the entire tech organization to move faster — a meaningful competitive advantage for all tech companies,” he states.

An organization that can regularly produce reliable and high-quality software stands to improve its profitability, productivity, and market share while enhancing overall organizational performance, Yarom says. “Ensuring that your engineering teams operate at their maximum velocity at all times is not a matter of preference, but a matter of business continuity,” he concludes.

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