Embrace limited chaos

Is it mere coincidence, or does the economy flourish in direct proportion to IT losing control over information technology?

ManagementSpeak: You’ve blown it out of proportion.

Translation: You're right, and I’m sorry you noticed.

-- This week’s anonymous source noticed and had the good sense to share the experience.

Thirty years of the US economy at a glance: 1973 -- it blows up. 1983 -- it finally starts to improve. 1989 -- downturn. 1992 -- it picks up again until 2000, when it dot-bombs.

Here’s another view. In the early 1980s, personal computers invaded American business in defiance of centralised IT. In the early 1990s, central IT gained control of the PC again. Sometime around 1993, business discovered the internet and for a while it seemed that everyone in the company was coding HTML except central IT. It took a while for IT to catch up, but finally, in the late 1990s, IT slowly gained a measure of control over e-commerce.

Look at the dates. Is it mere coincidence, or does the economy flourish in direct proportion to IT losing control over information technology?

I introduced the Value Prevention Society (VPS) this year to spotlight a pernicious attitude prevalent in IT circles these days: “We won’t do it for you, and we won’t let you do it for yourself.”

It’s the pure version of centralised IT control. Most of the correspondence I’ve received on the subject has been critical of my Productive Flexibility policy. Not one proponent of total PC lockdown offered an alternative, though, leading to the unavoidable conclusion that VPS members prefer pencil and paper to the use of information technology not sanctioned by the IT organisation.

Is that really a position you want to take in public?

Not that utter chaos is especially desirable. Working from a well-designed and managed architecture provides too many advantages to the enterprise. So how should IT gain control over complete chaos?

Answer: View limited chaos as your friend. In particular, look for patterns. If lots of sales reps have installed contact management software on their laptops, the company is ready and perhaps overdue for a CRM-centred sales force automation system. If lots of users have installed software for faxing direct from PCs, install a fax server and make it even more convenient and useful. Do you see a lot of shadow systems that use data rekeyed from standard reports into Access or Excel? Run, don’t walk, to the BI (business intelligence) store and buy a BI tool for them to use instead.

Encourage and support end user innovation. By participating, you’ll gain an inexpensive, highly reliable way to discover many of the lowest-risk, highest-impact opportunities in the business. It’s your best course of action.

Especially since the alternative is to wreck the entire US economy.

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

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