Decking the halls with boughs of paradigms

‘Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the shop

data kept on moving, because business doesn’t stop.

IT Santa was still at it, wrapping up his shift,

one user left – he had to give one more gift.

IT Santa was tired. He had been up most of the previous night, untangling a batch of Cobol spaghetti. The computer-aided manufacturing system had gone down, and the misbegotten pipsqueaks in the Electronic Load Fulfilment department had complained loud and long.

Grumbling, IT Santa reached into his bowl of Skor bars for a little pick-me-up when, mid-munch, he was brought back to the here and now by a timid “Ahem” to his side.

Turning his head, he saw a small blond woman he vaguely recognized. She was a systems admin, he thought. Cindy something-or-other.

“Um, hello,” he said, trying on a smile. “Cindy…umm?”

“Luwho,” she replied, looking up at him.

“Well, Cindy,” he said, smiling again and patting his knee, “what can the Department get you for Christmas?”

Settling herself on one red upholstered knee, Cindy was suddenly unsure how to begin.

“Let me guess, let me guess,” IT Santa summoned a little enthusiasm. “You’d like your own T1, right? Or how about a Pentium III? I bet you’d work a lot faster with a Pentium III 733.”

IT Santa hadn’t checked in with Intel for more than 24 hours, and his offer of a PIII 733 was woefully out of date: Intel had since released two faster processors. But in the event, it didn’t matter.

“Well, actually,” Cindy said, “speed is the problem, but…”

“I knew it,” IT Santa interrupted, relaxing into familiar territory. “Techies always want bigger, better and faster. No problem, a new PC we can probably handle. It’s sure to improve the bottom line, eh?”

“No, probably not,” Cindy stated.

“What?” IT Santa said, his attention sharpening again.

“I don’t want more speed. Less, actually.”

“Umm, uhhh,” IT Santa said, buying time to think.

Cindy jumped in. “Look, one day I was talking to Rudy, and…”

“Uh, sorry,” said IT Santa, for whom categories had always been important. “Would that be Rudy in Accounting or Help Desk Rudy?”

Cindy looked a little sad. “Help Desk Rudy.”

Ahhh, Help Desk Rudy. Drinks a lot. Red nose. “Go ahead, kid.”

“Well, see, we were talking about the systems here, and about how everything changes all the time. One new implementation just gets going and then management reads a study that says some new thingamajig with low TCO will deliver QoS and good ROI, and off we go on another bottom-line hunt.”

“Ummmm,” mumbled IT Santa, drifting away. He loved acronyms.

After a decent pause, Cindy said “Ahem” again, and the big guy’s eyes swivelled back to her face.

“So what’s wrong with ROI?” he asked. “You can’t get better than ROI.”

“Sure, but every system offers some return, or we wouldn’t have installed the thing in the first place. And we don’t use stuff long enough to determine its value. Jeezum Crow, we don’t even use some of it long enough to learn how to use it.”

“Hey, don’t say Jeezum Crow in front of IT Santa,” the red guy said, but Cindy barely noticed.

“And it’s not just internal projects. Our coders were working on DCOM when Microsoft changed it to COM+ and on HTML when everyone starting on about XML. And after reams of JVM and JDK releases, we have J2EE.”

Inwardly pleased by the acronym storm, IT Santa said, “Yeah, what’s your point. That’s innovation, that’s progress.”

“Progress!” Cindy hopped to the floor. “Progress to where? We can’t catch our breath long enough to do anything with the current paradigm shift before the whole damn thing shifts again. We’re so busy leveraging solutions provided by one partnership that the next three industry-leading innovations whiz by without our noticing.

“It’s nuts, and it’s only getting worse. We’re burning people out, spending millions, and getting nowhere.” Cindy took a deep breath and, turning to leave, added, “So, for Christmas, I’d like it all to slow down.”

Later, sliding along the highway towards home, IT Santa reflected on what little Cindy Luwho had said. She may have a point. Maybe we should slow the rate of change, get value and not just innovation. That would, of course, require a radical change to the entire industry, a complete rejigging of how value is determined.

A lot of work. Oh well, he thought, I hope she likes her new PC.