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A few weeks back, I suggested that the role of IT professional is one of diplomat between the boxes and the business. I have this picture in my head of urgent communiqués and hushed conversations, exotic locales (like the board room) and different world views all colliding in the middle of tense situations that could boil over into real conflict at any moment. As with any cross-culture experience, patience and a great deal of flexibility is the order of the day.
And theres the rub. One of the parties to this on-going international crisis is not known for either flexibility or patience, and Im not talking about the business folks. Built into the very DNA of the technology professional is an aversion to the unexpected and consequently, an extreme magnification of small difference. Not exactly the definition of flexible. Mix in a radical compression of the passing of time and youve got a recipe for misunderstanding.
We all know that the digital world is built up from the bits and the bytes, long flowing strands of 1s and 0s combining and recombining in a flash to create
well, what? Data? Information? Meaning? A new reality? Not exactly. At least I hope not. Dont get me wrong. Im very grateful to the boxes and the wonders they have wrought. I owe my livelihood for the last twenty-five years to all that.
None-the-less, its hard not to notice that all that 0-ing and 1-ing of the real world is clipping off bits and pieces of reality that Id rather not lose. Im not trying to restart that old and rather boring argument about the brittleness of digital sound or some such. Take a moment and look at the sleeve of your shirt or blouse. Focus on a patch of a single color. Im guessing that because of variations in the light source and folds and wrinkles in the cloth (yeah, I hate to iron, too), that patch of color has many variations of the same color. Im not talking 256 bit color nor the full richness of the Pantone scale. Im talking seamless transformation, not being able to tell when it was this color then that color, because there is no dividing line. Its all one thing, the color of your shirt. Though there are obvious differences, we know that color is one thing. Digitizing it all, and then replicating some few archetypes endlessly at lightening like speed is just not the same thing. Perhaps a trivial difference for the haberdashery, but is it still trivial as we disassemble the identities of our customers or employees into a finite set of bits and bytes and then reassemble that identity elsewhere without real connection to the original?
O.k O.k., I havent gone soft in the head (or at least not any softer). On the one hand youve got the boxes that construct models of the world using those long flowing strands of bits and bytes. No matter how many gigabytes we throw together at whatever nano-second rate, its still a finite number. Thats not like the reality of doing business on a day-to-day basis where there are an infinite number of decisions, judgments and pure intuition required to successfully navigate a given day. On a good day, the accounting systems do a pretty good job of representing the ebb and flow of cash through our businesses. On a bad day, either through malice or just a lack of understanding, the picture painted by the accounting systems begins to vary from the reality of bank balances, stock portfolios, and credit ratings. Its the difference between a high quality streaming video of your daughters wedding and sitting in the front row as she says I do.
At one of my clients, the folks in the field complain about those people in the home office who just do what the computers tell them to and the complete lack of sensitivity to local realities or concerns. Conversations with the home office staff reveal a frustration with a flood of data which only partially reflects the real information they need to make informed decisions and forces them to rely on computer driven reports and analysis. The IT folks talk about users that cant describe how they make decisions or what information is critical. This state of affairs is a combination of users not knowing (see Malcom Gladwells latest, Blink), and the IT folks not being able to hear or represent. It all boils down to your satisfaction with computer systems being directly correlated to how well you understand the fundamentals of your organization. In a bit of recursive irony that proves the universe has a sense of humor, as IT becomes more embedded in our businesses, one of those fundamentals may be the IT or at least how its used.
So before you begin editing out bits and pieces of reality to model your business reality with the bits and bytes, its important to have an accurate understanding of whats critical in that daily business grind and whats not. Its not something youll get from an MBA or a reference manual. As any old hand in the foreign service will tell you, theres no substitute for time spent in country. And thats true whether your passport reads IT or Business.
Byron Glick is a principal at Prairie Star Consulting, LLC of Madison Wis. Prairie Star specializes in managing the organizational impacts of technology. He can be contacted via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org
or via telephone at 608/345-3958.
The opinions expressed herein or statements made in the above column are solely those of the author, & do not necessarily reflect the views of Wisconsin Technology Network, LLC. (WTN). WTN, LLC accepts no legal liability or responsibility for any claims made or opinions expressed herein.