June 08, 2010, 1:17 PM — Word association time: When I say "IT energy," what do you think of? After everything that's been written in the past couple of years about green IT and the amount of electricity that's needed to power data centers, you probably think first about the cost of our profligate energy consumption.
That's a worthy concern, but I propose that the phrase "IT energy" should make you think instead about something even more important: the vital human energy level of IT leaders, managers and workers. An essential question for all IT leaders to ponder is whether their IT organization is exothermic (that is, one that releases positive energy) or endothermic (one that sucks energy out of the enterprise). Research being conducted at the IT Leadership Academy and the CIO Solutions Gallery at the Fisher College of Business at Ohio State University indicates that many -- indeed, most -- North American and European companies are facing a major human energy crisis in IT.
Many of the IT people I meet are exhausted. Head count is decreasing, and workload is increasing. User expectations and regulatory requirements are expanding exponentially. A study analyzed the impact of multitasking and determined that most digitally aware people now work a 43 hours a day (that's not a typo; it's serious multitasking). It is very understandable that IT people are tired. And tired is not a good thing in the hyperaccelerated world we are heading into.
If we do not do something, the IT fatigue factor will get worse. An emerging trend is for world-class organizations to benchmark IT not against line-of-sight competitors in the same vertical market, but against "best imaginable" practitioners. The IT performance bar is being raised.
The question is, will IT have the energy to respond?
Best-selling author Malcolm Gladwell recently took a look at successful people in all disciplines. He concluded, "If you look closely at CEOs -- the people at the very upper echelons of corporations -- the thing that is most striking about them is their physical stamina. At the end of the day, it is that quality, perhaps more than anything else, that is separating them from us."