IT sector - comfortably numb

Regional apathy is a major problem for the IT sector, but what's the solution to jolt managers out of apathy, asks Eliot Beer.

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By  Eliot Beer Published  November 12, 2007

Today I read two - apparently unrelated - items that caught my eye from the various e-mails that pass through my inbox. The first, a forward from a colleague, was a link to a survey suggesting most IT managers see music downloading as a threat - but the vast majority do nothing to prevent it on their networks.

The second, a newsletter from AMR Research, offered an anecdotal account of IT managers' approaches to datacentre power consumption. When asked in an informal situation by the editor if they are concerned about high energy costs for datacentres, IT chiefs generally responded with the following comments: "Huh?" "I never see that bill," "Our datacentres are not huge like Google's," and "I have no idea. Please pass the Tabasco."

The AMR newsletter editor predicts that this attitude will change within the next few years - at least for IT managers in areas with high power costs. But what's more interesting to me is the extreme levels of apathy that are apparent from both of these nuggets of information - and how much it chimed with the impression of the Middle East's IT sector.

While apathy among IT managers is a global phenomenon, it is one which is more prevalent in the Middle East than most of the rest of the world. IT professionals in this region are commonly seen dismissing a whole range of IT issues, such as energy consumption, security, disaster recovery and business continuity - and even return on investment - with blasé and overconfident statements that suggest their enterprises are fine, or that the issue is not important.

One recent regional example saw a delegate at an IT symposium state - without apparent irony, or concern - that his consumer-facing organisation kept its customer records on laptops. Other delegates were reported to be unimpressed.

I don't want to overstate this issue - there are many fine, and indeed world-class IT professionals working in the region; but sadly, they seem to be outnumbered by journeymen (and women) who are just marking time with their IT infrastructures. This complacency is a problem - for individual organisations, and for the Middle East as a whole.

There are plenty of reasons for these apathetic attitudes: a lack of money, resources and real responsibility for IT managers probably contributes a lot. The latter especially can be a major disincentive to institute change - having no actual power usually means having no real incentive to succeed.

But the "what I don't know can't hurt me" approach seems to be almost officially condoned by the upper management of organisations in the region, whose rugs must be positively bulging with the inconvenient things swept under them.

Because yes - a lot of this stuff is inconvenient, and expensive and challenging. A well-executed disaster recovery plan is probably one of the most difficult projects an organisation will ever have to implement - but it is also probably the most critical, especially in a region sat on so many physical, political and economic fault lines.

So what's the answer? Well, the obvious one is "stop being apathetic" - this is probably also the least useful. We can also talk about industry education, peer review, contingency planning, external consultancy - but these may have little effect on many organisations.

The pessimistic view would suggest that only a major shock - natural disaster, security breach, economic meltdown - will be sufficient to jolt organisations and their IT managers awake. But hopefully - for all our sakes - there is some less extreme way to enliven IT professionals who have become comfortably numb.

What are your views on regional attitudes to IT issues? Do you think IT professionals do enough to safeguard their organisations? How can the industry improve its response to major IT issues? Write to eliot.beer@itp.com with your views.

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