Disaster? What Disaster?

Neil McAllister seems to think we’re on the brink of an abyss. Digital Armageddon is just around the corner, because business’ increasing reliance on pure information makes them liable to meltdown should they sufficiently mismanage it.

But what I’d like to know -and what McAllister conveniently forgets to mention- is: What, exactly, constitutes a ‘True Data Disaster?’

Are we talking about a leak that effectively kills a company’s credibility dead? I don’t think so, because if incompetence or data mismanagement had any kind of real-world relationship with a company’s success, Yahoo!, Amazon, TJX and Heartland Payment Systems and dozens of others would at very least have suffered losses in stock value following their colossally poor management practices.

Are we talking criminal abuse of private information? If that were the case, then Microsoft, Yahoo! and all the nation’s telcos (save Qwest) should be facing imminent demise because of their complicity in the unconstitutional breach of their customers’ privacy in the US Government’s domestic spying programme.

Are we talking straight-up data loss? If so, then Microsoft (hmm, that name keeps coming up) should have taken a dive when they managed quite literally to lose all of Danger Networks’ data.

Or are we talking non-performance and generalised uselessness on a scale that beggars comprehension? If that were the case, then why do large consultancies still manage to win multi-million dollar contracts that suck up centuries of developer time and never actually deliver a thing? Think of the FBI’s famous foray into modernisation, the now-legendary death of the UK’s online medical database and any of a hundred other projects that ended up entirely written off (to the tune of 100s of millions each) without so much as a downward tick in the value of the contracting companies involved.

It seems that in the esoteric world of noughts and ones, belief matters far more than empirical truth, making a true Data Disaster literally inconceivable.

There can’t be a Data Disaster today, because we can’t imagine what one would look like. Likewise, there won’t be a Data Disaster until we become capable of realising that they’re all around us, happening every day.

Reason and Instinct

[Originally published in the Vanuatu Daily Post’s Weekender Edition.]

Public health is a human rights issue. Medical services, though, are ultimately ruled by economics. The tension between the two will never be resolved. It will, however, shape our future in ways that are impossible to measure.

This morning over coffee, I received news that the 15 year old daughter of a friend had passed away. She’d been ill for over a month, but a full diagnosis was never made. All anyone knew was that her head ached terribly.

Within an hour of hearing this, I learned of the untimely death of Ture Kailo, MP for TAFEA Outer Islands.

Ture was well known in Vanuatu. During his tenure as DG of the Ministry of Youth Development and Training, he was a consistent champion of youth issues and a friend to many local NGOs. Many took heart when, after his politically motivated ouster from the Ministry, he announced his candidacy for national office. Everyone I spoke to expressed deep regret at his passing, noting that Vanuatu politics has suffered a real and measurable loss.

Cases like these often define the debate over national health care policy. The loss of prominent individuals like Kailo demonstrate in unambiguous terms just how much we stand to lose when we lose a single life.

But what of my friend’s young daughter? The magnitude of her mother’s loss is of course immeasurable. And who can tell what she might have achieved?

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A Tale of Two Telcos

[This week’s Communications column for the Vanuatu Independent.]

Last week I reported that, in spite of requests for information, neither TVL nor Digicel had responded in time for publication. I’m glad to say that in the days following, both of them contacted me. The way in which they did so was quite interesting to me, so this week I’ll share a few details, mixing them liberally with anecdote and observation of my own.

As with all such gossipy pieces, it’s possible the end result will tell you more about the author than the subjects.

Tanya Menzies, CEO of Digicel Vanuatu, was first to respond. She apologised that she hadn’t answered in the time I requested, but was quick to suggest we meet for coffee and a chat.

The ‘chat’, when it happened, lasted over two hours.
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Walk Like a Dinosaur

Michael Krigsman’s most recent entry in the IT Project Failures blog is an interesting, colourfully-illustrated and upside-down look at the relationship between IT and traditional business.

His question, based on numerous similar postulations, is whether IT is becoming extinct. His answer (you knew it was a rhetorical question, right?) goes like this:

Since the days of punch cards, IT has believed itself to be guardian of precious computing resources against attacks from non-technical barbarians known as “users.” This arrogant attitude, born of once-practical necessity in the era of early data centers, reflects inability to adapt to present-day realities. Such attitudes, combined with recent technological and social changes, are pushing IT to share the fate of long-extinct dinosaurs.

The list of arguments he offers in support of this thesis are all valid to some degree, and all supportive of what he’s positing, but he somehow manages to miss the point that means most to business:

Monolithic, top-down, IT-as-bureaucracy approaches are being subverted by recent changes in technology and services, but so too is business in general.

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