A balance of centralisation

A paradox of our industry is that although the IT community includes a disproportionate number of libertarian thinkers, most turn into communists during work hours.

ManagementSpeak: What a novel concept. We should review this at corporate.

Translation #1: I don't have a clue what you are talking about.

Translation #2: Maybe someone at corporate will understand this.

Translation #3: Someone at corporate?

-- IS Survivalist Bill Oxley introduces the new, improved, multilevel ManagementSpeak!

A paradox of our industry is that although the IT community includes a disproportionate number of libertarian thinkers, most turn into communists during work hours.

Yes, I'm talking to you, you communist liberal socialist propeller-head!

I've offended you. Let me take back the most offensive epithet. You aren't really a liberal. Is that better?

What was the primary practical difference between the world's failed communist economies and its successful capitalist ones? The communist bloc nations managed their economies centrally, whereas capitalist nations decentralised theirs. Most IT organisations look more like communism than capitalism. See for yourself:

  • IT has a fixed budget, which its leaders allocate. Sometimes they form a steering committee (politburo) to share the responsibility. It's central planning.

  • If the central planners don't understand the value of a request, the request has no value and is rejected. IT's government decides what has value, not consumers.

  • IT is the sole supplier. Demand is satisfied through central production or not at all. IT's government owns the means of production.
Even our desire for industry standards has a communist overtone. Our need for compatibility vastly outweighs any desire to choose from a variety of suppliers. In IT, real choice in the marketplace is a bad thing.

That sure looks a lot like communism to me.

Here's one final bit of evidence. Economists will tell you that the law of supply and demand operated in communist economies just as it does in capitalist ones, but with one difference: capitalism balances supply and demand by adjusting price. When demand exceeds supply, prices rise. Centrally planned economies fix both supply and price through central planning. So when demand exceeds supply, the result is a shortage.

That's an exact description of many corporations: the internal demand for information technology generally exceeds the supply. The result is excessive use of low-tech or patchwork solutions.

That’s why you should encourage end user computing, not suppress it. Before you write to tell me I've obviously never managed a real IT organisation ... I have, and I understand the realities. I'm not advocating the complete chaos of a fully decentralised IT economy inside your company. Companies need to balance the standards-based infrastructure and concentration of resources central IT delivers with the ability to recognise and satisfy the local, small-scale opportunities that end user computing provides.

But then, I don't advocate a fully unplanned economy for my country, either. Neither do you, I imagine -- do you really think we can do without Alan Greenspan?

Lewis is president of IT Catalysts. Send letters for publication in Computerworld to Computerworld Letters.

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