Posted by: Jack Santos
As a general rule, IT is not very unionized, although there are exceptions. I have been lucky in my career - as a software developer (25 years ago) I never had to cross a picket line, or participate in a job action. As an IT manager and CIO (over the past 10 years), I rarely had to take into account union actions (the exception being the collateral damage from nurses unions and hospital service employees). The relationship between company management and unionization has always been a curious one for me, and one with which I have had ambiguous feelings.
At a recent party, I fell into a conversation with an older, retired gentleman. He was engaging, and had a fair amount of knowledge about technology and the telecommunications industry - which we talked about. The conversation migrated to one about the future of the country (vis a vis the healthcare bill recently passed), and how the US is bankrupt if you take into account unfunded liabilities - such as pensions and retiree benefits. This fellow thought that the day of reckoning is near, and that the level of funding for many pension plans - state, federal, and at some Fortune 500 companies - was a crime.
In the same breath, as a retiree he acknowledged that he was a recipient of the largess of the past 50 years - for which he feels fortunate. But this is where the conversation took an interesting turn. When I asked him what he did for work, he fessed up: he was the most senior union representative for the telecommunications workers union, and was singly responsible for negotiating those pension benefits - for which he was proud.
Talk about cognitive dissonance! How, I asked, did he sync up his life's work with his assessment of where we are today? His response was hostile: the senior executives across the table caved and because of that are fully responsible for the current issues. His job was to work the best deal possible, even if he knew that it could lead to the demise of the company, much less the country. The big picture was not his concern. If company CEOs, such as at Verizon, had stood their ground and done their job, we wouldn't be where we are today -- on the verge of financial chaos. The blame, he said, lies at management's feet.
My role at Gartner does not involve corporate management - but my mindset and training as a CIO has always been to consider the big picture, to avoid black and white thinking, and to value collaboration. Burton's Executive Advisory Program raises the level of discourse in IT above pure technology decision-making, and address the short and long-term implications; and to make IT decisions in a business context for IT practitioners, as well as senior management teams. Chris Howard does this by talking about "Post Modern IT"; Mike Rollings addresses the need to move away from black and white thinking in Enterprise Architecture; Michael Disabato looks at ITIL and makes the case against ITIL as a pure cookbook approach to IT services.
This union leader's perspective has been adjusted to avoid what would certainly be a crisis for his self-esteem, his value of his life's work, and his legacy. As he spoke, I saw the struggle in his eyes, words, actions. Company executives that were across the table hold some degree of accountability, too - but the real shame in what has transpired over the past 50 years has been our collective inability to rise above individual self-interest. This, like the real estate bubble and CDOs were in the recent "Great Recession", is the foundation for the next major financial crisis.
In IT, the lessons are similar - a focus on individual technologies and architectures alone without context is just preparation for long-term failure. IT practitioners and IT leaders alike need guidance and perspective.
That's what I do.