IT’s human energy crisis

Word association time: When I say “IT energy,” what do you think of? After everything that’s been written in the past couple of years about green IT and the amount of electricity that’s needed to power data centers, you probably think first about the cost of our profligate energy consumption.

That’s a worthy concern, but I propose that the phrase “IT energy” should make you think instead about something even more important: the vital human energy level of IT leaders, managers and workers. An essential question for all IT leaders to ponder is whether their IT organization is exothermic (that is, one that releases positive energy) or endothermic (one that sucks energy out of the enterprise). Research being conducted at the IT Leadership Academy and the CIO Solutions Gallery at the Fisher College of Business at Ohio State University indicates that many — indeed, most — North American and European companies are facing a major human energy crisis in IT.

Many of the IT people I meet are exhausted. Head count is decreasing, and workload is increasing. User expectations and regulatory requirements are expanding exponentially. A study analyzed the impact of multitasking and determined that most digitally aware people now work a 43 hours a day (that’s not a typo; it’s serious multitasking). It is very understandable that IT people are tired. And tired is not a good thing in the hyperaccelerated world we are heading into.

If we do not do something, the IT fatigue factor will get worse. An emerging trend is for world-class organizations to benchmark IT not against line-of-sight competitors in the same vertical market, but against “best imaginable” practitioners. The IT performance bar is being raised.
The question is, will IT have the energy to respond?

Best-selling author Malcolm Gladwell recently took a look at successful people in all disciplines. He concluded, “If you look closely at CEOs — the people at the very upper echelons of corporations — the thing that is most striking about them is their physical stamina. At the end of the day, it is that quality, perhaps more than anything else, that is separating them from us.”

Re-energizing IT
Next-generation CIOs will have to manage and increase the human energy levels of their teams. Just as we meter devices to determine their energy consumption, so too will IT leaders meter the people, processes and technology sets deployed in the enterprise to determine impact on IT energy level.

Job 1 is to take advantage of the economic downturn and remove from the enterprise energy vampires — people who are always negative. Every organization has them. One way energy vampires suck the energy out of others is that they are so negative, more positive people expend energy trying not to spend time with them.

Job 2, on the process side, is to rationalize IT finances. A major energy sink and morale-buster in many IT organizations is the lack of a decent IT accounting system. World-class IT accounting is very exothermic. Knowing your costs and the value that IT generates for the business releases all kinds of positive energy. William Miller, the controller at Nationwide Services Co., has created a second-to-none IT accounting system. Diane Bryant and her team at Intel annually publish a report of the value that IT delivers.

And Charlie Feld, former CIO at Frito-Lay, Delta Airlines and Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad and author of Blind Spot: A Leader’s Guide to IT-Enabled Business Transformation, sees another problem. He believes that IT has become dangerously overspecialized. Having to work through multiple noncommunicating silos of IT expertise consumes a lot of energy.

And excessive energy consumption is as detrimental in the IT department as it is in the data center.

Thornton May is the author of The New Know: Innovation Powered by Analytics and executive director of the IT Leadership Academy at Florida State College at Jacksonville.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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