From website designers, to systems managers, to coders, what your IT professional is doing for you is seldom transparent and often more costly than initially estimated. Whether in-house or for-hire, he or she could be wasting your time and money.
Technology professionals justify their high salaries based on specific knowledge of how computers work, from hardware to platforms to algorithms. Fair enough. They were hired for a reason. Nevertheless, IT professionals are increasingly looking like the car repairmen of the digital economy. When you seek their services, they are opaque about the time a project will take, and like mechanics their cost estimates always end up being too low, resulting in cost overruns and contract amendments. One reason for this is that IT professionals often build complexity into projects to increase their own value and job security. This complexity can result in unwieldy systems and applications, and is at times entirely unnecessary, when a simpler solution is sufficient for the task at hand.
Whether you manage a small business, a company department or a public agency, be sure to keep an eye on IT. When hiring a subcontractor, always ask for a fixed-cost contract. For in-house staff, ask them to provide a clear explanation of what they are doing, including a justification for why the project is needed and how it works. Then, do a basic cost-benefit analysis comparing the cost of the new feature, product or service, and the benefits it will provide to the company, the customer, or the citizen.
If you decide to go ahead with the project, be sure to follow up regularly with your contract IT professional or in-house IT staff and have them show and explain to you what they have accomplished and plan to accomplish. The more you interact with IT, the more you’ll understand how hardware, software, and the internet work, and it will seem less like magic. Your IT professional will also likely become more accountable, knowing that you have a general understanding of what they are doing, and that they can no longer fool you with obfuscating jargon and acronyms, or circular logic in the line of: that’s what the internet wants, as if it were some sort of omnipotent being, and not a complex web of competing interests, ideologies, business models, and technologies.
Remember, if your IT professional can’t provide a convincing justification for a project other than that what they’re doing is cool or complicated, and/or that the available data make it possible, then skip it, and save some money that can be put to better use.