Minding their own business

Business expertise isn’t just for businesses anymore. That means few of us can go very long without being hectored by someone armed with an MBA. Struggling to make ends meet at your household? Simple — run it like a business. Are you a government official trying to balance the books? Then you really ought to be looking at General Electric or Procter & Gamble for your answers, because the boardroom boys and girls have long since figured it all out.

And, of course, if you’re an IT professional, the current fashion says you should be thinking all business, all the time. The reason for that, we’re told, is because you have a tendency to be hovelled up in the data centre. You look at technology as an end unto itself, separate from the company that it serves. Everyone will tell you that’s no way to build a career — to do that, you have to be useful in more ways than one. And that means talking stocks and balance sheets.

There’s merit to that argument, and it’s true that IT workers looking to advance their careers beyond the server room really ought to have a good grounding in what the organization’s customers want. But this “think business” concept can really be oversold.

This month we learned that a computer system was built in Ontario — upgrading systems that governed welfare payments — that couldn’t calculate increases in benefits. It will cost as much as $20 million to retrofit the system to be able to make those increases. The absurdity of it goes without saying. The incident reflects poorly on the IT industry — and that’s too bad, because as one IT manager quipped, the notion that such a feature should have been added at the very beginning is a “no brainer.”

What we do know is Accenture said it was told by government officials not to add the rate increase feature. We can only speculate as to why, but I say that no IT person made the call.

Why? Because the discipline of working in IT almost by default weeds out anyone who isn’t detail-oriented. It has little time for those who cut corners, if only because the results, though instantaneous, can have a detrimental impact.

Even when mistakes are made, IT people are adept at finding new solutions or workarounds. In short, you think on your feet.

So for once, I’d like to see a group of CEOs called into a boardroom to hear a lecture from a systems administrator or back office developer. Because only good things could happen if businesspeople learned to think more like a techie.

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