It’s always our fault

Accountants love IT departments. Prior to the advent of IT departments, it was the finance department copping all the flak for being slow and stupid and generally just a necessary but resented encumbrance to the rest of the organisation. Nowadays it's us.

Contrary to popular myth, accountants love IT departments. Why? Well, bad stuff rolls downhill and, prior to the advent of IT departments, it was always the finance department that was at the bottom of the food chain and copping all the flak for being slow and stupid and generally just a necessary but resented encumbrance to the rest of the organisation. Nowadays it’s us.

Take, for example, coverage of the recent government report into the unfortunate killing of Malcolm Beggs by his schizophrenic flatmate Lachlan Jones in 1994. The headline Mental health report fingers IT security, privacy screamed at me out of page 3 of the March 4 Computerworld. Now I haven’t read the actual government report, but a reading of the piece really suggests that the problem doesn’t really sit with IT; it sits with the inability of the government and its respective health authorities to establish clear, consistent policies and codes of practice (that is, actual requirements).

Just like any other organisation, the government and its health services needs to know what it is that it wants before it turns the finger on its IT people and accuses them of not delivering it. And we wonder how INCIS happened? Sigh.

But this sort of carry-on isn’t restricted to the public sector. We see it in every kind of business every day. How often is “the system” (meaning “the computer”) blamed for all kinds of ills? It’s kind of like the way the media (in New Zealand, anyway) reports traffic accidents. It’s always “… the car went out of control and crossed the centreline …" or “ … the truck struck the cyclist …” as though cars and trucks do these things of their own volition. The fact that there was a human being supposedly in control of the situation is somehow ignored.

I can understand why we do this. I mean, why would I accept the blame when I can lay it all on somebody else (particularly if that somebody is a bunch of dumb metal and wires and stuff that can’t argue or get hurt feelings)? The problem is, of course, is that when we do this we never get to examine the real root causes of systemic failures and nothing ends up getting done about them. We can just keep fooling ourselves that computers are dumb. Or we can go looking for the real causes of why systems (not just the computer) fail.

But wait, there’s more …

Another phenomenon that’s caught my attention in recent months is the number of vendors who are refashioning themselves as solution and/or service providers. In the past 12 months I’ve had representatives from some very large suppliers sit across my desk and tell me that they’re no longer just interested in selling me hardware, they want to sell me solutions and services too.

I have a cynical theory (don’t I always?) as to why this is happening. Having squeezed each other so hard that there’s no longer any worthwhile margin in their core business, these guys are looking for new sources of revenue. Now, in theory, I don’t have a major problem with that and on paper it even seems like a good idea.

What, though, do their traditional reseller channels -- most of whom are solution and service providers -- make of this? Not much, I suspect.

Also, as a customer, what am I supposed to make of the way these big hardware vendors are constantly splitting off bits of themselves, merging with others and carrying on? (Two of the vendors I’ve had pitches from in the last year are currently merging and, despite all the assurances, no one can actually tell us what’ll happen.) It doesn’t inspire confidence. Maybe it’s just me, but confidence is the first thing I’m looking for in a solution provider.

Swanson is IT manager at W Stevenson & Sons. Send letters for publication to Computerworld Letters.

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