The Gordian Knot. It’s a popular metaphor for a problem that becomes intractable – at least if you try to solve it in traditional ways; and it’s also a great metaphor for many companies’ IT departments.
The IT equivalent of the Gordian Knot goes something like this: there is a point in time where it really makes economic and technology sense to change something. But they won’t, because of human nature. The current way of doing things is too comfortable, personal fiefdoms are too entrenched, no one wants to approach the C-level about it. Or whatever. Then by the time they have to change, the costs or consequences are much worse.
This concept has a lot of history. For example, in World War II the German war machine met its match in part because Turing and the British cracked their codes. Now, pay attention: the Germans had more advanced technology. They could have replaced their Enigma Machine with the more advanced SG-41. But by the time they seriously considered it, thousands of messages per month had already been cracked, and the cost of deploying the new approach to all of their endpoints was far too high.
The Challenger space shuttle disaster in 1986 is another example. Several of its engineers knew that its O-rings would fail at low temperatures. So why didn’t the decision makers admit the potential for failure out loud and abort the launch? Perhaps a tribal fear we have of a truth so powerful it would fragment the group, that made it easier to stay silent rather than risk jeopardizing the mission of NASA.
We see the same thing in our world of IT consulting. We can see clearly what could be improved and how clients will benefit (often substantially) but IT departments don’t like being told their baby is ugly. Mainly because change is hard and there is often resistance when we suggest there might be a better way. Even worse is when they suggest that we just don’t understand their business model. The piece de resistance is when they refuse to pull back the curtain at all. Their excuse is that they systems are a special little snowflake and that by revealing their “process” the sky will fall.
All this denial and resistance wraps and turns IT problems into our proverbial Gordian Knot and it is astonishing how often the CEO and the board are completely unaware of it’s creation or existence. They are most times pacified by the euphemistic terms like “security through obscurity,” or “state of the art” followed with some technical jargon. Both phrases are equally dangerous to a company’s bottom line and yet they will continue to ignore their self-made Gordian Knot and even mask it from the board or CEO. Sadly, often it isn’t a matter of costs or resources: it is a matter of people simply not being ready to accept, implement, or face change.
It is human nature for IT departments to want to maintain control.
So we understand the white lies that develop, with the best of intentions, in order to protect the sanctity of their tribal group. After years of headlong crashes into this human nature, we have discovered only one way to fix a Gordian Knot: have a full and transparent assessment by an independent source. This cost-versus-benefit and risk-versus-urgency analysis needs to be thorough and concise.
From this 3rd party assessment, a IT strategic roadmap can be developed and implemented to identify and untangle this Gordian Knot. Conversely, the absolutely worst thing for companies and IT Departments to do is ignore it. I’ve seen it happen too many times. And unfortunately your bottom line will pay the price.