One year ago, Business Computer World was born, and, suddenly, all other worlds became very dull indeed. And on that day, I promised to devote this column to the Kings and the Queens of this new world ? the IT directors who wrestle with its injustices, and seek truth and happiness for all its inhabitants. I made that promise because it seemed to me, a failed data-processing manager from a previous era, that the rules of the game were changing ? and we could all profit from an analysis of the survivors.
Luckily, I had a survivor to hand. Dear Reader, by now you will have met Albert Gherkin many times. my successor at Global Virtuals plc, he took the company from supplying wallpaper to discerning households in the Dewsbury catchment area, to become a multinational trendsetter, pioneering virtual DIY, with millions of customers redecorating the world from their armchairs by pressing coloured buttons on their remote paint sets.
It seems timely to reflect on the exemplary career highlights of our hero.
Year 1: I recruit Albert Gherkin as a trainee programmer. Albert leaves the systems development team for a management vacancy before his programs are subjected to compiler scrutiny, and with his technical reputation secure and untarnished.
Year 2: Unable to understand how computers work, Albert sees I am the world?s expert in that department, and takes shelter as my Assistant. I am sacked, having failed to produce my ?tangibles?, ie measured benefits. Albert gets my job, after convincing the Board that you can?t put pound signs on better information. ?I guess they preferred my intangibles,? he later confided to Business Computer World.
Year 3: Albert is given a list of my managerial shortcomings, which he is to rectify. These include failure to meet system development dates; users dissatisfied with system performance; IT salaries out of line with the rest of the company; computer cost escalation every year; an unpopular ?charge the users? system; and an unmaintainable legacy of programs and systems which prevent the Board bringing the company up to date. The Board suggests that IT should be decentralised to the users, who are eager to avoid paying for the computer centre. Albert side-steps the issue by outsourcing the lot.
Year 4: The outsourcers put the screws on by upping their price and refusing to update any systems. Albert redefines the outsourcers? role as one of ?partnership?. As soon as they see they?re all in it together, the outsourcers propose a corporate IT infrastructure, with remote entry and access, and a standard groupware system enabling the whole company to be outsourced. Albert then proposes to the Board an idea he has had for a corporate IT infrastructure, with remote entry and access, and a standard groupware system enabling the whole company to be outsourced. The Board loves it, and brings him into the inner sanctum as IT Director.
Year 5: Unable to understand how computers work, Albert has plenty of time to think about the business problems his colleagues talk about endlessly in the Board?s dining room. He proposes new products and an IT-based ordering system for the DIY market. He then proposes a very new IT-based system enabling customers to try out ideas on their TV screens. And then he proposes the company goes global and multinational and virtual and franchise-based, and everything that makes lots of money. Albert is made Managing Director.
Kit Grindley is Price Waterhouse professor of systems automation at the London School of Economics.
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