Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Is This The End of the IT Department? Answer: no.

T'other day (about 10 days ago at time of writing) I saw what I consider to be a bloody ridiculous article from a "noo meedja" company. The article in question, entitled "Is this the end of the IT department?", is yet another rehash of something which I think I first saw as an article in about 1997.

Today's articles are very similar, and the one I saw might as well have been called "a manifesto for using the cloud" or "why google docs wins every single time" or "I don't give a monkeys about intellectual property rights or proprietary information, so why should you?" There's a couple of good arguments in there if we were still stuck in 2002, but as with all these articles they are buried under the raft of assumptions that many short-sighted beancounters in businesses make when they discover that IT is a cost sink and the only way they can reduce that sink is to outsource.

I love this particular line, though (which is new, and crops up more and more in recent articles pf this nature):

Today you can get just about all the services that previously required local expertise from a web site somewhere.

Yep. Because the only things people need in an office are basic - as in, ultra-basic - spreadsheets, a WP and email. Maybe a presentation package if you need to get the venture capitalists on board. Of course that's the case, because who needs to do anything else? There's nothing else you can do with computers in the body corporate, surely?

Rubbish IT can be very expensive, because you pay first for a shoddy service and they you pay more for a decent service to patch up the holes your first service made. Good IT can be comparatively cheap, because you pay once. Would you feel happy contracting out an enterprise service to the lowest bidder? Sure, if they have proper method statements and procedures, a signing-off list and an audit trail, but nobody who is cheap does any of those things. Should the contractors have access to confidential data, or the customer list? I can think of at least two scenarios where someone would bid deliberately low just to get the contract and access to business data, and the crucial thing about data is that once it is in the wild it is impossible to get it back again.

Admittedly: these articles are inevitably very US-centric and of course there's no such thing as the DPA or RIPA in the States (that demands quite so much), and 20-people offices generally don't have the requirement for storage that a defence contractor has. But... when someone says "I need better stats than google spreadsheet can give me" the whole cloud concept goes out of the window. When the person on the next desk installs Inkscape to design a logo for the company, what's the backup strategy? The CIO - although, in a non-IT shop, what's the point in having a CIO? - could need to run a database, and if they're sensible they're running it on a server instead of in Access on a shared directory. Although you'd need an IT guy to rig up the shares, because if you do it wrong then Guinevere on the front desk will inevitably discover that Alice earns 40 times more than she does, and that Barney spends his entire work day playing Farmville. Let's not talk about what Chris gets up to, but Guin, or Fred, or Eva, or even poor old Hector, pushing the janitor bucket along will inevitably find out all kinds of stuff they really shouldn't if you don't have a guy in the server room keeping an eye on stuff.

From an EU perspective the whole idea of cloud computing should give everybody with commercially sensitive or proprietary data the wiggins, but I've gone on about that at length beforehand to anybody who foolishly asks me about this over a pint. In the old job I regularly had to go to academic staff and kick them with pointy shoes whenever they started talking about Mobile Me or Dropbox, because their data inevitably contains stuff that could be useful to competetors, foreign governments, marketing managers, nigerian crown princes or script kiddies in Xinghao. The point is that no matter what you may think your data is useful for, someone else will find it useful for something else.

But I've given up that argument now; there's only so much I can care about and whilst I appreciate there may not be a requirement for a bunch of guys to show Guin how to use a word processor any more (although there almost certainly is), having a decent IT department is ultimately a cost effective concept, simply in terms of the vast swathes of knowledge and metaknowledge about all the different aspects of IT they will have. And they're usually too busy to find out who has spent the day playing Farmville or discovering just how far Rule 34 extends. But tell that to the beancounters? Nah. They have to pay the rent, and they have to pay the electricity and rates and taxes. IT is a simple thing to shed because all it does is - on paper - cost money. But the value-added is worth so much more.

Meh, what do I know. I've only been doing this for 15 years.

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