CIO 008 Is I.T. "Rocket Science" - Really?? Created by James on 6/13/2013 3:47:48 PM
Recently I was chatting to a friend who is also a director of one of my clients, he commented that to him Information Technology was "Rocket Science".
This statement ties in with the factor that most frequently gives rise to I.T. investment failure, what I term "mythology" -- the tendency of people to ascribe human or super-human characteristics to computers.
As touched on in the last issue it is vital that business executives break through the veil of mythology to take firm hold of the practical reality of what computers really are -- electronic abacus's that add huge volumes of 0's and 1's and switch circuits.
This reality recognizes that I.T. can be used to create innovative new business solutions that support competitive performance, differentiation and new business opportunities. But, 70% of I.T. investments fail outright, including investments running to hundreds of millions of dollars in large well known corporations.
I.T. mythology accounts for 30% of these failures. Thinking of the technology as "Rocket Science" is one more trap for business executives who can increasingly expect to be called to account for I.T. investment failures -- versus understanding the headlines of the essence of the technology.
The truth about computer based solutions is that they represent the composite result of the collective knowledge and experience and, sometimes, creative genius of people just like you and I.
In order to remove the mystique and establish a pragmatic view of I.T. there are a number of principles to grasp:
1. Computers are binary adding machines. By assembling small units of binary pattern in combination with a wide diversity of electronic circuitry that performs specific functions, it is possible to create all that we encounter today on computers.
2. Databases are like warehouses, they are large stores of information which can be well laid out and effectively packed and unpacked, or they can be disorderly with misplaced information scattered about. Like warehouses, without meticulous management and effective training of operators, the order of the database will deteriorate over time.
3. Automation software products, like spreadsheets and word processors, are like factory machines -- they perform specific repetitive functions rapidly so that people can concentrate on the content of what they are doing without laborious manual effort.
4. Networks function by sending packets just like parcels in the postal system. The entire Internet functions in this way and all that it does is done by sending parcels of data from one address to another. The success of the Internet is 5% technology and 95% psychology.
5. Graphics is a presentation and interpretation aid -- text is the primary source of intelligence conveyed to and from computers. Visualise removing all the text from your Windows desktop and then visualise removing all the graphics. Without the text, most graphics has limited or no standalone value. Consider a graph without axis labels.
6. Validation codes are the primary way that computers gain "intelligent" insight into the business and that "intelligence" is limited by the insight and analysis applied to the creation of the data classification codes. For example, if you want strategic information out of your financial system, the Chart of Accounts must be structured and coded strategically.
7. People and business strategy and the effectiveness of the interface between them and the computer system are what determine the business value delivered.
The bottom line is -- executives do NOT have to understand I.T. in depth to manage it effectively -- they DO need a no nonsense pragmatic view of the required business outcomes managed with the same robust approach that is applied to other large business investments.
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