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H1-B Visa Discussion Misses The Real Issue

The H-1B Visa row misses the real issue of unneeded and risky IT projects.

The Information Technology industry thrives by selling large projects with poor success rates. Many H-1B Visa holders staff these $50 million to $500 million projects for global consulting and outsourcing firms.

I fix broken IT projects. When a CEO, CFO or CIO calls me into a crisis, the client may not be able to check its inventory, close its books, run its registers, access its patient records or pay its employees. The organization may be paralyzed.

Somehow, IT seduces normally prudent executives to become zealous “paradigm buyers,” chasing overhyped benefits of large integrated systems oft described by three letter acronyms. ERP or Enterprise Resource Planning consolidates a company's business information. EHR or Electronic Health Records organize patient data. While software providers like SAP, Oracle, Epic and eClinicalWorks earn a portion of the money spent on large projects, the big money often goes to the IT service providers that sponsor the H-1B visas including Infosys, Cognizant, Tata Consultancy Services, Wipro and Accenture (all referenced in a February 27, 2017, WSJ article).

Sound theory supports these IT investments, yet the reality can be tragic. Gartner, IBM and McKinsey report abysmal large IT project failure rates. Nike, Hershey’s, Waste Management, Select Comfort, University of Arizona Health Network, Girard Medical Center, Athens Regional Health System, the US Navy and the IRS are a few of the inglorious many that have written off massive dollars in broken IT projects. Failures can scar an organization or even put it out of business. Remember HealthCare.gov or FoxMeyer Drug?

In 2017, every organization starting acronym projects already has IT systems that it will need to replace. Paradigm buyers often ignore the awesome complexity and voluminous number of decisions that must be made when re-computerizing. That accounting system from 1998 may not be optimal and everyone hates it, but it works. Converting it to the latest and greatest 2017 system requires a team to confront challenges that stir up confusion and conflict. When executives realize this post-purchase, they often check out, leaving the decisions to be made by consultants. The bleeding begins.

Successful IT projects are possible, but only with wartime leadership, deep subject matter expertise and a willingness to tackle the hardest decisions first. The reality is a CEO may see only one of these projects in his tenure and has no opportunity to learn by doing until he is hip deep in blood. Two losing outcomes often occur. First, a project soldiers on for months or years, long after it should have been cancelled or, a bastardization occurs, in which the modern system's benefits are squandered and the new system merely mimics the outdated processes of the antiquated system it replaced. Seasoned leaders know that projects smartly avoided are projects won.

There is an additional problem. Complexity promotes both organizational and societal risk. Our massively interconnected supply-chains and financial systems are more vulnerable than ever to a domino-style IT capability blackout that could imperil our national security and living standards. We are all more susceptible to error and terror.

I have been fortunate to work with qualified H-1B Visa holders who were simply doing their jobs: staffing IT projects bought by clients who didn’t understand what they were getting into.

Jon Bellman is the founder of Reality Check LLC and the author of Escaping Delete — A CEO in the Black Hole