No place for crisis-style thinking in utility world

As the new century unfolds, it is becoming increasingly clear that IT will be expected to deliver reliable, dependable and cost-effective services. The cowboy/cowgirl mentality is no longer acceptable. Best practice standards are available and cover all aspects of IT. New technologies and new architectures have been developed, supporting the delivery of rock-solid IT utility services.

All that’s good, but there have been problems. For years, the heroes in IT were those stalwart souls who were able to respond to crises whenever and wherever they occurred. The new best practices provide routine responses for all IT concerns. The required transition from a crisis-driven world to one governed by nearly universal routines has not been simple or painless.

Many of the problems that arose are rooted in our nature as human beings. We learn how to respond to problems and challenges. Life teaches us what’s required for success. Once the lessons from life have been learned, it’s very difficult to break out of those learned responses. Yet that is precisely what is required to move from a crisis-driven to a routine-governed environment.

Some people are addicted to the rush that comes with a crisis. If there are not enough natural crises in their world, they will manufacture them. Many of these crisis addicts were found in IT, often in the service delivery unit. They have a built-in resistance to the routines that are at the heart of best practice standards such as ITIL (Information Technology Infrastructure Library).

The transition from crisis to routine can be difficult, but most people appreciate what is required, and understand why it’s necessary. But it’s not good enough for IT to just deliver reliable and cost-effective services. The utility IT services are table-stakes in the IT game. On top of utility service, IT is also required to find creative ways to exploit IT for business advantage.

The IT creative challenge is to use information, its display, and its capture to invent new or modified goods and services. Some of this is inventing new user experiences with the creative use of IT. We are only beginning to wrap our collective head around the challenge that comes with having routine and creative people in the same department.

Dan Pink makes a strong argument in his new book, A Whole New Mind, that there has been a fundamental shift in employment. For most of the 20th century, the analytic skills of the “left hemisphere” were critical to professional success. That’s shifting. Now the creative skills of the “right hemisphere” will be at least as important for professional success.

The steak-and-sizzle analogy applies with some force. IT will be expected to deliver steak in the form of reliable and dependable utility services. But that’s not enough.

This must be accompanied by a sizzle that creatively exploits the utility service to invent new and profitable futures. Apple has shown the way. More and more lifestyle goods and services are playing a similar IT creative game.

How do you appropriately reward and recognize, in one department, both the careful utility workers and the creative inventors of new futures? We have few good answers to that question. Maybe we should think about employing specialized outside organizations to deliver our utility IT services.

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–Fabian is a senior management and systems consultant in Toronto. He can be reached at

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