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24 May 2005

Vote Minimal!

By Andrew Clifford

Like any mature political system, the IT industry under represents minority interests and allows only very limited debate. Unorthodox viewpoints, like those of Minimal IT, are crucial as a counterbalance to force debate and keep our use of IT healthy.

One of the most interesting things about the recent UK general election is that it was so boring. Both of the main parties presented the same policies on the main issues: an emphasis on public-sector services, carefully balanced positive-but-cautious approach to Europe, a mixed message on immigration, and so on. The party slogans - "forward, not back" and "are you thinking what we're thinking" – belie the lack of real choice.

The main parties are fighting for the average voter. They read the same market research. They know what we're thinking, and replay it to us in their manifestos. The lack of choice is inevitable in a mature democracy.

But there are problems with this.

First, it under represents minorities. The very rich, the very poor, asylum seekers, etc, are treated as a political footballs, rather than as a constituency in their own right.

Second, it is self-referencing. The political parties adopt an issue and parade their not-so-very different views on. The public pick this up as an important issue, and tell the pollsters. The pollsters tell the politicians that the public think its important, so they debate it. And so on.

This is why minority parties – the Greens, UK Independence Party, and so on - are so important. Despite their eccentricity, they are invaluable for widening the debate. If they successfully gain public support, the main parties will steal their policies. All of this plays a part in a healthy democracy.

In IT, the major political players – IT suppliers, consultancies and in-house IT departments – have joined forces to become the "Expansive IT" party. Their slogan is "IT is good, more IT is better". Every problem can be addressed with more resources. "Invest" in the IT "services" of project management and architecture. Your business change is safe in our hands.

But in IT, the political landscape isn't healthy. Expansive IT has ruled uncontested for years. Blatant self-interest abounds. The political system has built up such as strong self-referencing orthodoxy that no one dares to differ. Nobody can suggest, for example, that IT should take a back seat in business change, or that IT needs less project management and architecture. And because nobody dares to offer alternatives, the orthodoxy grows stronger and less self-critical.

Minimal IT is a minority political party. It has a radical manifesto, of reducing IT self-interest and cost, and spreading efficiency by applying IT only where IT can add value.

Realistically, I know that Minimal IT will never lead the IT industry. But it represents a minority (or perhaps majority) of businesses who just want to use IT as a simple tool for automation. It offers ideas which the mainstream may adopt, and by so doing move orthodoxy to a better position. But the most important thing about Minimal IT, and others like it, is that it legitimises the debate, which is crucial to keeping our use of IT healthy.

Next: How to keep it simple

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