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18 May 2010

Vote Minimal, again!

By Andrew Clifford

The time is right to adopt a less assertive, more down-to-earth approach to IT.

I must have been writing these newsletters for a long time because, when I looked back through them, I noticed I had written about the previous UK general election in 2005.

Back in 2005, the UK general election was extremely boring. The two main parties had similar manifestos. There was strong support for the ruling party and little hope of the opposition winning.

The 2010 election was very different. There was a real chance of changing the government. Voting was up, so much so that there were almost riots because some polling stations closed before everyone had a chance to vote.

The aftermath of the election has been fascinating. The parties were left with a near-impossible situation, and ended up with a coalition government the like of which has not been seen in generations. Nobody knows how the government will fare, with commentators split between optimists who say that it heralds a new age of politics and naysayers who say it will crash and burn in a few months.

What has this got to do with IT?

Our approach to IT is as much political as it is technical and commercial. Just like politics, circumstances and fashions change in IT.

Five years ago, the overwhelming majority thought that IT should take an assertive role, driving business change by implementing major new systems and getting rid of all the old systems. "IT is good, more IT is better" was the mantra. There was little dissent from this, and I saw Minimal IT as a small contribution to keeping the debate open.

Now everything has changed. Few organisations have the funds or appetite for the major implementations of a few years ago. I have not measured it, but I sense there is a greater openness to different views about IT, especially those that can help organisations weather the current and future financial storms.

Given this changing landscape, there is value in restating the principles that I started with years ago. We need less assertive IT, that focusses on the mundane work of supporting business operations, and is not obsessed with trying to drive business change by imposing new IT solutions. We need to educate our colleagues to reduce demands on IT to those which deliver real value, and avoid expensive, politically-motivated projects. We should constrain IT solutions to work within existing organisational structures, rather than try to use IT to cut across organisational responsibilities. We need to focus much more on the good management of the IT that we already have. We need simple, management-focussed models of IT, rather than complicated enterprise architectures. We need to stress outcomes, rather than obsessing about processes. We need to think about the systems we deliver much more than the projects that we use to deliver them.

I may be a ranting ideologist, but I am unrepentant. Now, more than ever, alternative viewpoints are valuable. Even though they seem eccentric, they are a fertile source of new ideas, which can help the mainstream more effectively navigate the problems and opportunities ahead.

Next: One thousand words is worth a picture


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