Here are the new year resolutions I never kept as an IT manager, which is why I am poorer than Bill Gates; not the chairman of ICI; and an impoverished academic working for Business Computer World.
Don't rely on your technical knowledge
This is quite a welcome resolution. I mean, with all this turmoil in the market, who can keep up? And the users, bless them - it's getting more and more difficult to persuade them that they really know nothing.
The comfortable security of knowing more than anyone else about the company's IT system is disappearing fast. But it would be fatal to admit ignorance.
Remarks such as 'but what's the business interest in all this?' leave a strong impression that you have mastered all the conflicting technical arguments to the point that they are just simple alternatives in achieving the business strategies you discuss with the chief executive every day.
Don't expect anything to work
More IT careers have foundered on pioneering technology than on anything else. This is because nothing works like it claims in sales presentations.
Most new ideas don't work at all, or not without rewriting most of the legacy code. Front-ending, face lifting, a futures project - these are all useful ways to satisfy any need to be breaking technology frontiers, without disturbing that reliable old legacy technology too much.
Don't expect users to like you
I used to be the data processing manager at Coronet Wallpapers. Why I was fired is still a mystery to me. Strange thing was, I had become unpopular even though I was delivering corporate benefits. People would ask me what those benefits were. It was at a meeting of the order-processing department.
I had produced a cast-iron case for buying the computer, based on cutting staff. The department manager asked me who we should get rid of. I looked around the crowded room. Perhaps I shouldn't have been so specific.
Do learn the key business issues
I had an assistant in those days, called Albert Gherkin. He was the obligatory 'internal recruit' in my otherwise star-studded system development team.
Albert's astonishing rise in the management hierarchy of Coronet Wallpapers is what this story is all about.
We had exhausted our budget on a greedy mainframe, so Albert volunteered to decorate our new office himself. A few days later I arrived to find him covered in wallpaper. It was difficult to see whether or not the paper was 'Hot Gum Boot', the pattern we had chosen, because both sides were covered in a lumpy, white, flour paste, which oozed slowly back into the paste bucket that Albert was conveniently standing in. 'We cannot claim to live in a true democracy,' said Albert, 'while wallpapering skills remain in the hands of a privileged minority.'
Do learn the chief executive's views on these issues
It seems he'd got it in one. Every so often, the managing director would put his head round the door of the computer room. But he never asked for me. I was quite pleased, because I had plenty to do without suffering his interruptions. But he and Albert seemed to get on quite well. They swapped paint and wallpaper stories. Albert mentioned his views on a DIY utopia. The MD was in raptures. 'Ready-pasted wallpaper, non-drip paint, mix-and-match colours, that's the way we've got to go,' he said. I was furious. Anyone could see that once we started supplying direct to the public, instead of wholesalers, we would collapse under the weight of thousands of small orders instead of the few, very large orders I'd designed the system to cope with.
Do consider sharing the responsibility for business results
After I was fired, they gave Albert my job. Okay, since I'd solved all the technical problems it had become a non-job - just the right position for him. But two years later, an amazing thing happened. Albert was made joint MD. Apparently, he'd outsourced all the IT functions (that made sense, he'd never understood what was going on), and suggested a network where customers and suppliers sorted out the production, stocking and ordering situation themselves. This meant Albert and the MD were the only people left at head office.
I accused him of machiavellian plotting when we next met. 'You must have had these DIY and networking ideas while I was still there. Why didn't you tell me,' I said. Albert Gherkin always takes ages to reply. 'He who hesitates gets longer in bed,' he said, eventually. I've often wondered why I took an instant dislike to him. I suppose it saved time.
(Kit Grindley is Price Waterhouse professor of systems automation at the London School of Economics.)
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