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

Not My Problem.

There is a time-honoured tradition here in Vanuatu, requiring that nobody get too fussed over anything. It requires as well that one think twice about the inevitable repercussions before taking ownership of anything. Whether it’s for an item or an idea, a report or a plan, taking responsibility is nearly always a liability.

There are good reasons for all this, to be sure. The only way for a group to survive in a small village – on an island, to boot – is to get along. Learning to keep one’s head down, even when silence comes at a price, ensures harmony. Being quick to forgive weakness and slow to confront ineptitude has become one of the hallmarks of Vanuatu society.

But this is the single biggest impediment facing IT service delivery in Vanuatu today.

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

Let me be frank: Vanuatu is, in most ways, a backwater when it comes to technology. There’s no point sugar-coating it. We’re limited by numerous factors, some of them environmental and institutional, but the biggest problem we face is one of perception and imagination.

One of the most difficult aspects of high tech is that it’s intangible and therefore difficult to visualise. It’s everywhere around us, but when you ask the average person to explain what it does or how it works, they’d just give you a perplexed look and move on. We see the icons on the screen, and we know that with the proper incantation they can be made to do certain tasks, but we never really see it working.

A car motor may be incomprehensible to most, but at least it’s visible. We can watch the fan belt spinning and the drive train turning, we can hear if the engine coughs or sputters, we can see the exhaust and tell at a glance if something’s wrong.

Things aren’t quite so clear in high tech. Sure, it’s easy to see when the computer slows down, or when a sheet of paper gets stuck halfway through the printer. But consider this: most of us aren’t even aware that we’re interacting with high technology almost all of the time. We don’t think about the radio, the cash register, the DVD player, the bank machine or the mobile phone as different heads on a ratchet set. But that’s effectively what they are: interchangeable cogs in the same notional machine.

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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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