% fortune -ae paul murphy

An interesting exchange on politics and IT

Here's a comment on last Saturday's blog by "dedmonst":

OT: squaring your political & technology views...


slightly OT, but something that's been bothering me...

Please pull me up if I'm being presumptive here, cos I confess to only dipping in to your blogs and comments occasionally, but I had you down as a republican - which I would have assumed (yes I know ass-u-me) put you in the bracket of beleiving that "the market will find a way" - i.e. let the market operate freely and the best operating mechanisms etc etc. will float to the top.

However when you talk technology you are constantly telling us "the market has got it dead wrong". Your so called "data processing" folks, MS windows, what you call "ghosted virtualization" make up a vast and ever growing part of the market...

So how do you square these views? Or what assumption about you do I have wrong?

I wrote a quick response, ran an errand, and came back to replace the first response with this one:

This circle not square - (earlier response deleted - this is v.002)

The essential difference between people on the left versus the right of the political spectrum is that leftists want to tell others what to do and rightists don't. Thus Pelosi's health bill has jail sentences for those who don't buy into her health insurance ideas while Palin thinks you should make your own decisions.

Put this in the IT context and what you have is a bunch of people on one side in IT who think they should tell the business what to do, and others, like me, who think the business users should make their own IT decisions.

Thus they demand central processing with central control, I argue for central processing on cost, security and reliability grounds with decentralized control for business productivity reasons. They want to tell users what to do and how to do it, I want them to figure out what they need to do and then do it.

But how can I see "the market" as wrong given the DP/Wintel majority in place and still defend people's right to choose? Easy, I see most people as misled, by themselves and others, on most IT issues. DP had a fifty year headstart, the advantage of a position in finance, and the benefit of the high school nerd vs party people differentiation that keeps senior people from questioning them - and, most of all, ensures that few ever figure out that data processing and computing are different things.

So I tell people to smarten up - saying that the people who comprise the market can and should correct their mistakes. That's a right wing perspective and approach. Most DP/Wintel people, in contrast, say its settled science and the user should shut up and pay - that's a classic left wing position.

So, bottom line, no conflict.. :)

I thought this exchange worth repetition here because it strikes at the heart of a conflict most IT managers feel nearly every day: we're paid to provide services to users but they generally appreciate neither the service nor our skills, most don't understand what we do, many make demands that seem unreasonable, and a few demonstrate increasing irresponsibility with every action - so why not tell ourselves we know more about how tech should be used than they do and use our organizational leverage to insulate ourselves from them?

My answer is that the only really effective way to address this conflict is to remove it - and that you do that organizationally by either making IT the business or by turning IT people into business people: giving them the power to affect IT change but posting them in user groups and making them report to user management.

This is ultimately why I like Sun and Sun Rays - not because I love the company or the technology, but because this combination enables me to have a very small operations group responsible only for keeping the lights on, the machines running, and the IT bills paid while my sysadmins work in user areas to make that central system do whatever their local users want. You need the right people in the trenches, you need to empower your sysadmins far beyond what seems responsible in other organizational forms, and you need a very light but steady hand at the helm - but the end result is that your people cross train themselves, you get very close to 100% reliability on systems that change in some detail virtually every day, help desk and related PC costs disappear, and the productivity killing user/IT differentiation characteristic of most large organizations just quietly fades away to leave your IT people with better jobs and the business with an electronic nervous system that works.

Paul Murphy wrote and published The Unix Guide to Defenestration. Murphy is a 25-year veteran of the I.T. consulting industry, specializing in Unix and Unix-related management issues.