24 Nov Is your IT stuck in the MUD?
An IT exec pal of mine has observed that many IT shops get stuck in the MUD these days. MUD is, of course, an acronym. While I have been known to scramble up on a soapbox to rail against acronyms, this one is pretty clever. MUD stands for “machine under desk”.
The problem my friend is pointing out is that almost anybody can start a little computing shop right at their desk without the first concern for reliability, security, connectivity or compatibility. And those little IT directors are never content to stay off the grid for long. Pretty soon, all that variation lays thick on the ground, oozing over any attempts at some kind of company-wide efficiency, effectiveness, or reliability.
Fifty years ago, the few business computers that existed were big enough to have their own rooms or even small buildings. Access and use of the computers was tightly controlled and they were watched over by small herds of technician-programmers that tended to have advanced degrees in obscure theoretical mathematics. Computing resources and expertise were so expensive that only centralized organizations could afford the cost of entry. The Information Technology Department, if there was such a thing, didn’t have to worry about Joe over in accounting having his kid whip up some business critical application on the home computer during high school spring break.
We moved from mainframes to departmental computers but the cost of entry stayed high enough that there weren’t too many dabblers. Most business applications were developed and operated as a series of supplications to the centralized IT department that rigorously controlled the precious computer resources.
Somewhere along the way, that cost-of-entry barrier begin to erode under the weight of Moore’s Law like a sand castle at high tide. There’s plenty of debate as to what exactly Moore said, but the gist of it is that technology capabilities will double every two years while costs will either hold steady or fall.
His original observations were aimed at transistor capabilities, but the idea applies much more broadly. Not only are boxes getting cheaper as capability rises, but the cost of a smart programmer is going down while their capabilities are rising, for example. All that low cost computing power is creating a quagmire of MUD in modern businesses. And the MUD level is rising.
Used to be that machine had to be under the desk because it was so big. Now it’s some cute little laptop over in the corner on top of the desk (CLLOITCOTOTD – now that’s an acronym!). Or that hand-held shuffled in and out of the briefcase, or the phone carried into the car, the train, and the plane, or the MP3 player tucked in a pocket.
What’s worse, is that folks have gotten attached to their various forms of MUD. The centralized computing model was cost effective and reliable, but it wasn’t the most flexible and responsive. People have gotten a taste for local control of their computing and they like it. Just as Moore’s law predicts, the per unit capability is rising and the per unit cost is falling and people are rushing to take advantage.
What the Moore’s Law sound bites don’t trumpet quite so loudly is the reality that when you total up all those per unit costs for an organization the sum is pretty staggering. That total has, time and again, created a certain amount of energy in board rooms and executive suites to get things back under control.
Fortunately for the IT shops at the pointy end of that stick, Moore’s law has worked for network capabilities, monitoring software, and workflow systems as well as the base technology. Using various forms of IT automation to tie together all that distributed computing helps drain some of the MUD out of the enterprise. But the MUD remains, not because of technology limitations, but rather because of organizational, interpersonal, and individual capabilities.
There’s no Moore’s Law for relationships. Every unit of technology capability we add has to be complemented with a set of relationships to support it and take advantage of it. Our relationship capabilities are not doubling every two years and the investments a good relationship requires are not getting any simpler. The challenge for IT shops going forward won’t be to manage the explosion of technology. The challenge will be to manage the explosion of relationships. Until we do, we’ll stay stuck in the MUD.
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.