Heads of Ministries and Agencies Must Be Held Responsible for the Failures or Successes of IT Departments

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If we blame the President for everything wrong that happens in Liberia, then why can’t we blame them [heads of government institutions] for not paying attention to IT Departments?” -Anonymous IT professional.

Methinks many organizations’ Information Technology or IT departments (in Liberia) simply exist because they are “REQUIRED” to exist, but not necessarily to support the goals of those organizations.  Because of this, many IT departments tend to be ineffective, inefficient, unproductive, dysfunctional, marginalized or dormant. In most cases, what you find in these IT departments are an army of unproductive IT staff (with big titles), lacking the required skills and qualifications, and an amalgam of obsolete computers or prohibitively expensive servers that are totally under-utilized.   

Even worse, in some organizations, the head lacks total confidence in the abilities of his/her staff to the extent that he/she ends up inviting a relative or friend to perform basic tasks at the office; tasks that the IT Department should be performing. This is wrong! If you do not have confidence in your IT department, then you are better off revamping, restructuring or reshuffling it to a more productive and efficient department. Conversely, how would you feel if the President of Liberia who hired you had no confidence in your ability? How would you feel if your employer “covertly” brings in someone else to perform a task that you should perform or conspicuously have you marginalized? Trust me, it’s not a good feeling! (Note that this article is by no means an attempt to question the leadership ability of anyone but rather, an attempt to awaken heads of organizations to an issue that their own staff remains hesitant to discuss.)

Moreover, many organizations have websites that are either obsolete, have nothing substantial to offer or simply below standards; and the heads do not even know. Now, mind you, a website is supposed to be a one-stop shop (globally) for garnering information about the organization. And then, there’s the issue of conducting official government business using @yahoo or @gmail email accounts. Something seriously is wrong here, don’t you think?

The total lack of interest in the IT Department is ubiquitous in Liberia and this can be attributed to many factors: the head does not care or lacks knowledge of IT’s impact on the organization; budgetary allotment does not favor the IT department; the IT department lacks the skills to perform, and so on. I have visited organizations where all of the factors mentioned exist. The most recent experience involved budgetary allotment. Money that was allotted to the IT department was used to purchase scratch cards for staff. Now, no one knows whether the use of the scratch cards is being monitored; whether they are being used for official or personal business. But I can assure you if we investigate further we will discover that those scratch cards are used mostly for personal calls, which deny the organization of much needed automated processes and IT resources that could enable efficiency and productivity.

If you want to know how much IT is valued in organizations in Liberia, ask the heads of those organizations any of the following questions: What business processes have you automated or redesigned since you took over? What is your organization’s IT Platform? What is your Technology Refresh Plan? What is your organization’s IT equipment disposal policy? Is your infrastructure standardized? Does your organization have an IT Policy? Does your organization have a disaster recovery plan? What do you do to build the capacity of your IT staff? Do you invite consultants and experts to come in and train your staff or assess your systems (and no, I don’t mean spending thousands on folks from outside Liberia who have no clue about what’s going on here.)? Chances are the head of that organization might call in the IT person to respond to these questions.  In this case, you will find out that the person that you are referred to may not even have the answers to these questions and if he/she does, I reckon the answer would be in the negative. Why, because the head of that organization has never bothered to inquire about what goes on in the IT department.

Before I move further, let me provide insight on some of the questions I asked above. When we talk about IT Platform we often refer to the operating system (Windows, Linux or Mac) that run applications within your organization. A Technology Refresh Plan refers to the adoption of newer technology to meet changing needs or to mitigate the risk of obsolescence of existing technology. The term “technology refresh” is more widely used when enterprises replace one-third to one-quarter of their IT assets (desktops, laptops and other end-user computing devices and servers) every three to five years.  

An Equipment Disposal Plan or Policy refers to the organizations approach towards removing and sanitizing in a proper and safe way, all obsolete equipment including all computers and digital storage devices. A Disaster Recovery Plan is a documented process or set of procedures to recover and protect a business IT infrastructure in the event of a disaster. A Business Process Redesign (BPR) is the analysis and redesign of workflow within an organization. These are just a few things we need to familiarize ourselves with in order to ensure that IT supports organizational goals. 

Now that I have provided insight on some of the questions proffered above, what can we do to ensure that IT departments are more efficient, productive and effective?  First we to understand and embrace the fact that IT provides the inputs and infrastructure that allow the primary and strategic activities to take place in any organization. IT improves the efficiency of these activities and allows the core competence to take place. Hence, we must find the right skills for the IT department and then set and communicate goals and expectations with them. We must provide the tools and infrastructure that can promote collaboration, productivity and efficiency for the IT department. This is because they are only as effective as the resources and systems they use daily.

We must hold regular meetings with the IT Director/Manager/CIO/CTO or the entire IT department to create a medium that allows the staff to remain cognizant of the organization’s goals, mission and vision. We must also refrain from scaring, intimidating, politicizing, or micromanaging the IT department. We must create development opportunities for the IT staff. Bring in trainers; send them out for training locally and internationally if you can afford it. Promote them when it is appropriate. But more importantly, provide both positive and negative real-time feedback as often as possible. Immediately and publicly recognize your IT staff for their accomplishments. Conversely, address issues or areas that need improvement privately, responsibly, and immediately.

It’s time we give the Liberian people what they deserve and what they pay taxes for. It is time for organizations to have AUTOMATED HUMAN RESOURCE MANAGEMENT SYSTEMS. It’s time for WEBSITES to be FUNCTIONAL, DYNAMIC, informative and up-to-date. It is time for ACCOUNTING SYSTEMS to be automated. Organizational heads need to focus on their IT department; let them get the required training. Get external consultants to assess and evaluate your IT department and infrastructure and make recommendations.  IT departments on the other hand need to be innovative, do some self-learning and give their bosses reasons why they should invest in them. Aim for a 21st century approach to doing business and divorce yourself from the status quo.

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