The IS Guerrilla

So it’s been a hundred columns since we started out. It kinda snuck up on me. In talking to our illustrious editor when I was in Toronto a couple of weeks back, we kicked around ideas for a special column.

We talked about a column on what I’ve learned since I started out. I rejected that idea: there would be an awful lot and too much for a single column, but not nearly enough in the grand scheme of things, I’m embarrassed to admit.

We talked about a retrospective on where I’ve been right in my forecasts and guesses about the future, and where I’ve been wrong. I rejected that idea too: I’m not in a hurry to re-live the errors of my embarrassingly off-the-mark forecasts.

We talked about what’s changed in the IT business since I started writing, and what really hasn’t. Hmm…here’s where we might find some pay dirt.

Thinking about it over the last few weeks, I see the wisdom in what sounds like a cop-out: What’s changed? Everything and nothing.

Everything – I don’t look anything like my picture anymore, but I digress. Everything – since I started writing this type of rant seven or eight or nine years ago we’ve seen the rise and fall (well, maybe not fall, but certainly rationalization) of all sorts of silver-bullet technologies: CASE tools, client/server models, object-oriented analysis and design, outsourcing and then insourcing, the Internet, intranets, Web commerce and application service providers.

All of them come blasting to the forefront of our limited attention, and every vendor re-invents (or more cynically, simply repackages and remarkets) itself as the leader in whatever technology is cool this year? Can you name a single company that didn’t try to position itself as some kind of dot-com/e-commerce leader in the year 2000?

See a pattern here? Every new technology promises to be the solution to all our problems, real and imagined. They all come on like gangbusters: marketers hit the street, and publications and conferences and training courses on “Technology X” spring up as fast as dandelions on a warm summer day in Calgary.

And after the hype fades, when we’ve tested them for a while, we add the best bits to our growing arsenal of tools and techniques, finally recognizing through the fog of a technology hangover what they really can – and as importantly, really can’t – do for us and our clients.

By the way, this understanding of “what really is” and “what really isn’t” goes for our whole industry as well. In fact, the rest of the world, all those non-IT technology types, have suspected it for years, suspected that when it comes right down to it, we’re just another resource group available to help people and organizations achieve their goals. No more, no less.

We’re not a special department, and we need to plan, organize and account for the resources we use just like everyone else does. The work that we do is important, but no more or less important than the work of anyone else. The engineers, the lawyers, the accountants – we all have a role to play. The suspicion that we’re just like everybody else (and should be treated accordingly) has been dawning on our clients for years. They put this suspicion on the back burner for a while during the Internet madness: “Maybe these guys are really different! Are they really the engine of the new economy they claim to be?”

Clearly not.

As unbridled enthusiasm for technology and technologists fades again, a rational view sets in: these guys need to deliver value (e.g. profits – where was that word during 99/2000?) just like everyone else needs to.

The end of IS as we know it? Sure, if we expect to be treated like some super-separate secret clan of technologists that gets everything we want ’cause we understand technology.

Sure we’re special, but no more special than anyone else.

It is now as it’s ever been – if done right it’s not e-commerce, it’s just commerce with some new tools

Everything’s changed, over and over and over, but then nothing’s really changed either.

Nothing – true as it’s ever been, no technology in the world is going to help us if the people stuff isn’t done right. This is the key piece that doesn’t change – relationships, interrelationships, partnerships, personal dynamics, people.

Just as the stock market, on its way up or on its way down, continues to be driven by very people-driven aspects fear, uncertainly and doubt, so we too are driven by people issues.

The fact is we’re still dealing with the same basic physiology and wetware that we’ve had for thousands of years – if they’re offering a newer, faster operating system for the brain, I missed it – so we still end up dealing, more than ever, with the impact of the key non-technology variable – people.

So that’s where I’m going to go in the next hundred columns – where the people are. This publication is fundamentally about technology, but I’m not, and I’m guessing that you aren’t either.

It’s all about context – as our business grows and changes I’ll still be talking about putting technology issues in the context of the people, you and me, who need to make them work.

Let me know if you think I’m going in the right direction.

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