Berners-Lee’s Definition of Digital Divide – Beg to Differ

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It is strange to see how far removed researchers and inventors can be from corporate reality.

Tim Berners-Lee, the father of Internet, says that all school students should be given some hands-on experience of programming. (Click here to read article “Programming ability is the new digital divide: Berners-Lee”). He cannot be more far from reality when he goes on to say that lack of programming knowledge leaves users at the mercy of corporations.

I am not against giving hands-on experience of programming to students, but to say that users are at the mercy of corporations because of lack of programming knowledge is far from true.

Any one who has implemented IT systems will vouch that the cause of IT failures (and the infamous ERP failures) in corporate world is not lack of programming knowledge, but lack of what I call Computer Awareness among the senior managers who are involved in the implementations or use of IT solutions. This includes managers, Heads of departments and CEOs.

Tim says, “…this approach will promote a view of the computer as a machine that can be made to do anything its owner wants rather than a domestic appliance “like a fridge”, performing certain fixed tasks.” Any CIO will tell you that the problem is not of under-expectation, but over expectation. Need is to tune down the expectations of managers to realistic levels. With the common belief that computer is a super machine, the expectations are sky high resulting in disappointment, frustrations and friction when the results are not so instant and, most often, not so miraculous.

The real need in order to reduce the amount of ERP failure (which researchers say is anywhere between 70% to 80%) is for functional managers, functional heads and CEOs who can intelligently interact with consultants, with realistic expectation, with an understanding of the human, behavioral and change management demands of IT. It is a common misconception among managers that they need to know technology. While working on any project, a manager needs to manage people and manage change. While working on an IT project like ERP implementation, a manager on the contrary has to unlearn about computers and not really learn.

The real digital divide then is between IT and non IT. Another divide is between managers who understand this change management aspect or people aspect of technology and those who just do not understand. They look at every IT problem as a technical problem. There are others who know that there is much more to IT implementations than technology.

Some of my previous posts which discuss the human and behavioral aspect of IT in greater details:
Need for IT Awareness amongst CEOs and Senior Professionals
Behavioral IT – The People Aspects of IT-Driven Change
The Best and Worst CEO for Computerization
How and why IT fails
More Relevant Posts..

IT Needs a Facelift – Building Brand IT

I agree with the author of the post CIO Brand Value when he says that a CIO needs to build a brand for himself and his department in his organization. But before a CIO can build his “Brand CIO”, there is a need for the IT industry to build “BRAND IT”.

The CIO’s task in brand building is doubly tough as the general impression about IT and IT folks is, unfortunately, not so great. Comments like “IT folks do not understand business”, “They are in their own world”, “IT Folks don’t listen, they think they are always right”, etc. etc. are not uncommon.

In this backdrop, I believe that there is a need to first build a “BRAND IT”. By “Brand IT” I mean a brand for the IT departments and the IT folks in general, an image building in the eyes of all senior and top managers. Such an effort will ultimately help each CIO build a brand in his company. The CIO needs help because s/he starts off with a handicap – against the high expectations of the managers from a technology which is overrated. My article “In the Wonderland of Information Technology” contributes in a small way to correct this perception. Forums like CIO Associations, Computer Society, etc need to take it up as a cause. This needs to become a movement.

I will narrate a small story to illustrate this need for a facelift for IT.

A manager once took me into confidence and said, “I know you are different (he was being nice to me), but why are all IT folks so possessive about the solutions they offer? If you suggest to them changes and improvements in the system, they get angry instead of accepting them readily in the interest of their customers. They get angry because their big fat ego cannot tolerate a criticism of their solution.” He therefore felt that the IT folks were not open to suggestion.

This, I would say is not a one-off manager. Most managers carry this impression about IT folks.

I said, “You may be right when you say that the IT folks get angry when you ask for changes. But they get angry not because of their fat ego, not because they think their solution was the best, nor do they get offended by your criticism. They get angry because they think that you did not have the time for them when they came for the requirements study. You could not give any inputs then, and now when they have built a castle on top of the requirements given by some x-y-z folks in your department, you have all the bright ideas to suggest changes even before stepping into the castle.”

If you analyze this story, the mistaken belief of the manager about the IT folks has roots in his ignorance of basic rules-of-the-game of an IT project. He did not appreciate a simple fact that IT projects followed fixed stages like scope definition, freezing of specs, sign off, design, configuration or development and implementation of the first version, and that all his bright new ideas had to, therefore, wait till the next version. Added to this is an ignorance of the fact that it is not so easy to change the software. If it really was a castle which was built for him, he would know that he cannot ask for modifications in the room layouts and move the pillars left and right because it is obvious in the physical world. But in the virtual digital world, there is a mistaken subconscious belief that, with the magic box called computer, changes can be made left and right.

These appear to be trivial things, sometimes difficult to identify, but very important for the users and managers to know. Now what would you call this lack of awareness? There is certainly a need to educate managers, HODs and CEOs if we want Brand IT to improve and IT folks to succeed. And I believe there are some very simple facts to know and some things to unlearn for the managers. The problem is that they are not so obvious. CIOs need to, in their own interest, identify these not-so-obvious causes of confusion and educate their customers.

Need for IT Awareness amongst CEOs and Senior Professionals


In the long industrial history of mankind, functions like Finance, HR, production and Marketing always existed. IT function is new which has come into existence not in the industrial age but the information age. No wonder, IT is an area where there is maximum ignorance amongst the top management. Man will evolve to understand this new function as the dust of the information revolution settles.

My readers may think I am being arrogant – posing as if IT folks know everything and others don’t know anything. That is not my intention. Yes I do not know the finer points about other functions like Finance, HR, Production, Marketing. CEOs and senior managers too may be equally ignorant of all other functions – you may argue. So why am I complaining about IT alone?

There is a difference. The senior management may not know about finance, HR, Production, marketing, etc. But the good thing is that they know that they do not know about these fields. They also know what they do not know about them. Further, they know that there are other experts who know more than what they themselves do and are therefore willing to use the expertise of the experts.

In case of IT, particularly with respect to Software, the senior management does not know what they do not know and need to know. They certainly know that they do not know software and programming, but there is much more to Software Management (particularly in managing software within corporates) which they can and should know as it is not technology. What is worse is that they do not know that they do not know something which they can know.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2
 
Let me explain what CEOs and non IT Managers do not know and which they can easily know.Most managers think IT management is all technology. What they do not know is that software head not only has technology skills (Fig. 1), but also has people/change management and process skills. So whereas the CEOs will readily consult the IT guy for technological advise, they may not know that they can also use their change management and process management skills.
 
On the other hand, most managers are quick to admit that they do not know technology (“I am not a technology guy, you see”). With this they may also absolve themselves of all their responsibility of automation. Technology is just 5% of what they need to know if they are part of an automation project (Fig. 2). What they need to know and can easily know is the management of change and the psychology of change brought about by automation. User Managers should know the process of software development and the limitations thereof. If they can learn this and be fully involved in the automation process, there is no reason why a software project should fail.

There are several change management issues, people dynamics and process issues related to Software management that senior management can easily know. But unfortunately, in the field of software, ignorance is rampant because it is thought of as only a technical field – whereas there is a lot more to it than technology. What is worse is that several CEOs do not even know that such expertise is available to use. They are not aware of even the need to use this expertise, because for them, automation is a technology exercise.

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