Monday, 16 May 2005

Suits, cardigans... but what about the users?

The suits versus cardigans debate in the Australian IT industry continues - a couple of weeks ago in the Australian newspaper's IT section Campbell Arnott's CIO , "suit" Craig Garvin, proclaimed that "It is not about whether I am technical or not, it is about whether I have a good team."

Later Aussie retailer, Woolworths, weighs into the debate in Computerworld, where their CIO warns that "If the people are not right, everything will be difficult" and advises us to "Emphasize leadership management skills over technical skills. Great leaders first, great technicians second."

However, it has occured to me that maybe what both the cardigans and the suits should really be worried about is the users. Users have access to an ever growing range of user-driven software tools (from the humble spreadsheet to mobile devices and Web-based social software applications, such as wikis) but they may not always be aware of the information risks associated with them.

For example, as social software tools like wikis evolve up and integrate other functionality such as workflow and complex access control mechanisms, the risk of users introducing a costly design mistake will grow. Just consider the recent history of mistakes with spreadsheets.

What can we do about reducing this risk? IMHO the technicians, suits and users all need to be included in the IT management equation. That way the right information risk controls and know-how can be embedded across the organisation, rather than resting within the domain of the IT department.


  1. Andrew Mitchell1:57 pm

    As another example, I'd point to the problems with (mis)use of Lotus Notes. At one end of the spectrum you have the many ghost databases that someone once created and loved but are now information graveyards. At the other end you have critical business applications developed in Notes that limp along because they exceed the limits of what Notes was designed to do. These are your 'costly design mistakes'.

    However, in the middle there are many user created Notes databases that continue to be used and maintained by the business. In many cases these are extremely valuable and, I would argue, that in order to get these beneifts you need to 'let a thousand flowers bloom'.

    Give users the tools, work with them to explore the limiations, and cultivate a shared pool of knowledge about the sweet spot for each tool.

  2. Yes, I agree Andrew and particularly on your last point. This is exactly the point I made in the case study on Ernst & Young (PDF, 372KB) I wrote for the KM Challenge conference in 2004.

    However, I would perhaps talk about building systems with "bounded instability" (from Ralph Stacey) - space for innovation but with enough control to operate on a day to day basis.

    I've found that with Lotus Notes in particular well designed templates, with room for customisation and improvisation etc, can be a low risk and cost effective way to enable this.


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