Hitler, for all his manifest evil, had one thing right. He wrote in Mein Kampf:
Some part of even the boldest lie is sure to stick.
It's a truth that politicians
make gleeful use of even today, but not exclusively. Some in the IT industry also make frequent use of this propaganda
technique, which, sadly, paints all of us who work in IT as liars. Now I don't know about you, but as a professional
who has worked in IT for over 15 years — using technology
to enable companies and individuals to do things they'd never before dreamed
of doing — being called a liar
It hurts for the obvious reasons, and it also hurts the bottom line. Corporations, in painting the whole of IT with the "liar" brush, now routinely discount the services on offer. After all, they argue, most of what's being sold is bunk and hype, isn't it? As the shaky global IT recovery of 2004 and 2005 begins to look like business as usual for IT, it's time to put a stop to the lies, and expose who is doing the fibbing. Here are the three biggest whoppers:
- Supporting more than OS A, Suite B, and Platform C will cost us more money. This big lie got its start as a destructive and sad bit of willful illogic, and is now completely out of control. It's so widely accepted that you even see stories written with this theme in the mainstream media. Usually, A = Windows, B = Office, and C = Exchange (WOE), so it's not too hard to trace this one back to the source. Like all big lies, this one has an almost-logical common-sense-sounding ring to it, which goes like this: supporting applications and hardware costs money, so supporting more applications and more hardware will cost more money. Sounds sensible, right? But like those maths class tricks where zero is made to equal one, this lie is also based on an unbalanced equation.
Let's start with the first premise: supporting applications costs money. Surely that's reasonable, right? Wrong. Sure, having people answer the phone and read through support scripts costs money, but there is no difference in the cost of having them read from one script, or one hundred. But, I hear the chorus of WOE diehards, reading from their media support script, if everyone just installs anything they want, they'll mess their PCs up and IT will have to clean up the mess!
Again, kinda true ain't true. What the WOE team (should we call them the WOE-ful?) are trying to convince us to trade off is the added productivity of someone costing the company $100 an hour (any senior exec trying to use the right tool for the right job), against the slightly reduced productivity of someone who costs the company $10 an hour (some phone "support" person) and may, therefore, not be familiar with Firefox, to use one extremely current example. No professional in this industry, if we truly believe that IT enables, should be willing to make that trade, or endorse it in any form. It's a lie.
Installing the particular applications that work for you is such a huge gain in your personal productivity, that it simply outguns any spurious claims of increased efficiency in the IT department doing it the other way. I'll leave as an exercise for the reader the debunking of the idea that software is actually "supported," as in assisting someone to make the most out of what comes installed on their laptop. No one does that, and we should stop pretending that's the service we're supplying from the "help desk" - what an Orwellian name! - and in the process stop lying about support altogether.
- Open source/Proprietary software is cheaper than proprietary/open source software. Both "sides" are guilty of propagating this meme - and both sides are liars. All that has been achieved by putting both sides of this lie into the public space is "sound and fury, signifying nothing." The simplest way to pierce the fug (and the FUD) is to remember the immortal acronym (that should be tatooed backwards to the forehead of every engineer everywhere) TANSTAAFL. Restated, you don't get something for nothing. Choose open source, and you then must hire your own development team to tune your software for your use. Choose proprietary, and you are in essence signing up for a "fractional" yearly ownership plan of Microsoft's, or SAP's development team.
Costs will, as demonstrated time and again in every study NOT sponsored by the liars, be about the same. As I've put it to dozens of management teams across the years "Buy people, or buy licenses, the choice is yours."
- If we don't install a network/move to accounting package X/have a website we'll be bankrupt/left behind/uncool. Well, maybe "uncool" is true, and in that IT is not substantially different from any other technological change in history. The trick is, as it's always been, to move when your business demands it - and not a moment before - and to integrate the "new" with the strengths of your "old" business.
First car company in the world? Daimler. Most profitable as of 2005? Toyota. First popular "personal computer"? Commodore 64. First international airline? PanAm. First high-quality way of recording TV programs? Betamax. History is replete with "firsts" that were beaten by later, smarter, cheaper, more agile market players. So why should our industry be any different? Does your IT product/service allow your client to do what they do more efficiently or effectively, or to do something new that will add value to their business? If not, then stop lying to them and using phony emotional justifers to get your sale. All you're doing is making all future sales harder, for yourself and for all of us.
Three big lies; names named and bluffs called. The great thing about the bursting of the so-called "dotcom" bubble was that it shook things up, and some of the worst liars were shaken right out of the industry. Sadly there are still plenty of liars left, and to make the most of the recovery we need to make sure they never again profit from their old tricks.
Make it a principle of your professionalism to call this stuff when you see it. Don't be antagonistic, just clear and rational. The thing you will most likely be fighting against is an "everybody's doing it" sense that managers get from magazines and the wider media, as I mentioned above. Remarking that the people writing in magazines are generally journalists can help make your point.
Just as the only antidotes to fear, uncertainty, and doubt are courage, information, and clear thinking, the only cure for lies is truth.
For the irony challenged, yes, I AM aware I invoke Godwin's Law in the very first word of this article, it is completely intentional. I am writing about information technology, on the web. A mention of the Nazis is, therefore, required by the relevant regulations.