IS Guerrilla

By the time you read this, even the most paranoid of our IT brethren will have had to sheepishly admit that they probably won’t have an immediate need for the portable generator and 400 pounds of freeze-dried rations sitting in their basements, that civilization as we know it isn’t going to end due to a two digit programming oversight.

Before anything else, it should be noted that there’s a lot to admire in the people and organizations who took prudent Y2K precautions, the kind of people and organizations who are generally well-prepared in any case.

And curses to those who second guessed the work and expense associated with Y2K remediation – if there was ever a more perfect example of damned if you do, damned if you don’t, I don’t know what it is.

But all that being said, the most extreme Y2K doomsdayers among us, like all extremists, are looking pretty foolish. History shows that extremists in general end up looking pretty dumb.

Unfortunately, our business has an unpleasant tendency to attract extremists of all stripes, whether they’re Y2K survivalists or selected Web wienies who claim that the Internet will solve every computing problem our industry ever had. We’d do well to remember one of the key limitations of extremists in general: they tend to see only a single solution to a wide variety of problems. Like the spreadsheet masters of the past who could make their software do some amazing and frightening things (“Who needs a relational database on a secure server when I’ve got Lotus 1-2-3?”) we’re dealing with the same extremist logic: if your only tool is a hammer, every problem that comes your way must be a nail.

We’ve seen this kind of thinking before: the unquestionable power of third generation languages (“I can make this system do anything – what exactly is the problem again?”), the well-advertised dominance of graphic user interfaces, the unquestioned development speed increases attributed to CASE tools, the natural superiority of object-oriented programming languages, and (God help me if I have to read another fawning article on the subject) the inevitability of Java as a replacement for everything we’ve known to date.

Now we’re seeing the same kind of arrogance and attitude of inevitability within the legion of Internet technology advocates. I’ve got no problem with the assertion that the Web is a different and profoundly powerful technology. In fact, some say that the extent to which we’ve seen the economy grow without firing up underlying inflationary pressures is almost entirely due to advances in technology that have fuelled productivity gains in the economy.

Think, for instance, about how Web search tools have helped make it a buyers market for many products and services – how much easier could it possibly be to comparison shop for the lowest price and therefore keep downward pressure on prices? Still, I’m suspicious of any one trick pony high-tech advocates.

All the good stuff aside, we in IT (and our clients and partners) are in danger of being deluged by the whackos who believe that every problem there’s ever been in the world can be solved using Web technology.

Powerful it is, maybe even more powerful than anything we’ve ever seen in IT before, but a silver bullet it ain’t.

Rather, we should look to the people in our community who say “here’s what the Web can do, and here’s what it can’t do”.

Stock valuations aside, it’s yet to be proved that there’s room for everyone with a wild idea and a Web site to make money. Do we really believe that Web extremists and their ideas will be the undisputed saviours of the IT world?

As the sign at the old Chevron station a few miles outside of Santa Fe says: “In God we trust – all others pay cash.”

Hanley is an IS professional living in Calgary. He can be reached at