Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The Priesthood

Since the dawn of IT, there has existed a Priesthood whose role is the care and feeding of information systems and intermediating between systems and users and systems and the general public.

Within the Priesthood there is diversity.
  • There are charlatans that sell totems and indulgences to the needy and gullible.
  • There are priests that work in large organizations where they do everything "by the book," and woe to those users who transgress or do not believe.
  • There are missionaries who go out in the world to ease suffering and preach the gospels.
  • There are high priests that know "everything" and who minister mainly to others in the priesthood.

The Charlatans

The charlatans want us to believe that computers are becoming more accessible, useful and necessary to each of us.
  • Nicholas Negroponte and others imagine that simply by giving a primitive laptop computer to each of the world's poor children, those children will be lifted from poverty and some of the world's most difficult problems will be solved (see http://www.laptopgiving.org).
  • Microsoft, Apple, HP, Intel and others want us to believe that their latest products are not merely expensive and different from their predecessors, they are better. But, is there substance beyond the sizzle?
    • Arguably, Apple has a better track record of substance (iPod, iPhone, et al.) while Microsoft's track record is worse (Vista, Zune, et al.)
    • Dell's latest idea for selling new PCs is to offer them pre-loaded with the movie "Iron Man." That makes them better for wasting time and killing productivity?

The Priests

In most organizations, there are staff groups that are charged with planning, implementing, maintaining, and upgrading information systems. They also are responsible for training and supporting users of the organization's systems.

In many organizations, these staff groups are underpaid, underfunded, and overworked. Rarely do IT staffers have career paths within the organization. Bottom line,
  • Most organizations are not able to attract good people for technical support.
  • Many IT staff personnel are passive aggressive and poorly motivated.
    • Think of Dilbert (comic strip), Office Space (movie), or The Office (TV show).
  • IT often resists innovation.
    • A case in point; wireless networking arrived in many organizations first as ad-hoc, workgroup networks set up by users, in violation of organizational policies.

The Missionaries

These are the technophiles who have good intentions, free time and they know more than you do about whatever it is that confounds you. Everybody knows a missionary, be it a teenager, a certain coworker, a neighbor or a friend-of-a-friend. The problems with missionaries are:
  • They don't always know what they are doing. In fixing one problem they may create another, or they may not fix anything and just create more problems.
  • They are not always there when you need them. They get busy with other things; they go off to college. They don't return your phone calls and emails.

The High Priests

These are the consultants who charge hundreds dollars an hour to develop a liturgical plan for your organization to solve one or more IT problems. These plans ritually celebrate the Best Practices of the High Priests.

Your plan is probably a retelling of The Plan learned by a High Priest long ago. But with each retelling, the truths must be rediscovered and the words reprocessed, which is why it takes so much time and costs so much for your plan.

And God forbid that The Plan should actually work! For then the consultants would gradually disappear from the Earth. Not that The Plan is bad or wrong; there is no evidence one way or the other on this point. Rather, the plans of the High Priests are never implemented, so we will never know.

The Caveat

If it is true, as I believe, that you get the tech support you deserve, then there must be more than the four levels I have described in the Priesthood, for not everyone deserves to be ill served. There must be Saints and Angels for the deserving. Find the deserving to find their Saints and Angels.

These are the qualities of the deserving:
  • Collaborative and trusting. The deserving recognize that information technology is so complex, and it is developing so rapidly that ordinary people cannot keep up with it, even if they wanted to. And the deserving don't want to; they collaborate with and trust their Saints and Angels.
  • Honest and reliable. What goes around, comes around, fostering a virtuous cycle.
  • Wise and understanding. Appreciates wisdom like:
    • An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
    • Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
    • Time is money.
    • The cynic knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.
    • For it is mutual trust, even more than mutual interest that holds human associations together.
I only wish that all my clients were among the deserving. And to the extent that they are not, it follows that I am not among the Saints and Angels. If I could afford to, I would fire those clients who are undeserving. Food for thought... can I afford not to?

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