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17 March 2009


By Andrew Clifford

In the present economic climate, we need to focus on the fundamentals of IT, and root out IT projects that are just for show.

I am very attached to using the right words, and I don't like to use new words without good reason. But a couple of weeks ago I was having lunch with a friend and we were discussing overambitious IT. He used the term "blingware", and it seems such an accurate word that I wanted to share it more widely.

"Bling" (or "bling-bling") is a word for flashy, ostentatious, elaborate and sometimes gaudy jewellery. It has quickly spread from rap and hip-hop into the mainstream, and somewhere along the way, in some circles at least, has taken a more negative meaning.

So, what would I define as "blingware"? Blingware is flashy IT. It's purpose is to impress. It may be disproportionately expensive, and it may have little real value. The sellers and users of blingware don't realise just how silly it can look.

We have all seen blingware on a small scale. The manager who insists on the latest, fastest laptop, even though they only do a few spreadsheets.

Blingware is much more dangerous on a large scale - what we could call "enterprise blingware". These are the major packages that organisations adopt so that they can be seen to be with-it, so that the CIO can impress his colleagues and his peers, and so that the organisation can boast about it in their annual report. I have seen plenty of this type of project fail, and very few succeed.

In the present economic climate, IT must get its act together. It must show that it can deliver real value. We need to root out blingware.

The key to avoiding blingware is to stick to the fundamentals of IT. IT isn't about being flash; it's about being efficient. IT is meant to be dull. We should be suspicious of anything that is too exciting. We should be suspicious where there is great enthusiasm for the project, but little idea of the solution.

We should always know how a new piece of IT will help people do their jobs. IT itself only ever does three things: it automates the storage, processing and communication of information. If we do not understand how these capabilities support people in their work, then we should be suspicious.

We need to be insistent on good business cases. Often we insist on good business cases for small projects, but the really big projects get special treatment. Words like "imperative", "must-have" and "strategic" all imply blingware. Real value can always be articulated simply.

Lastly, we can descope. A lot of projects start off well, but are then drowned by extra features and unrealistic expectations. We need to cut back, not add more.

In the present economic climate, there is less pressure to implement blingware. But the disciplines that avoid blingware are even more important. We need to stick to the fundamentals of IT, understand precisely how and where IT will help, and have a strong business case. By searching hard for blingware, we can make a much better case for even the most mundane investments.

Next: Virtualization primer 1: benefits


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