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Rotten Code it can always work better - but at least it should work

Oh, how we lament the lack of savvy users in the IT industry!

Everyone who has been in IT for a while has a story about users, bad users, dumb users, arrogant users, users with bad smells, and users who sleep through meetings and drool on their keyboard. We’ve all heard about the user who used the CD tray as a cup holder and the call to tech support about why the unplugged computer wouldn’t work.

And yeah, there are some users that probably shouldn’t even be allowed to touch a computer. There are people that shouldn’t be allowed to drive either, but idiots still race up and down the highway everyday.

Every time a new methodology or concept comes out in IT, such as SOA, there is talk of ‘aligning’ with the business side, and of ‘educating’ the business user. Those of us who don’t work for technology companies know that if the methodology comes from IT, it usually only matters to IT. Why would the business care about SOA?

Before you shoot your hand up, remember the business only cares about one goal: making a profit. Although we know that SOA can make businesses more flexible, and possibly more profitable, we would be in denial if we didn’t admit that SOA could be implemented successfully without any immediately visible monetary benefit. Sure, we could say that IT being able to maintain the various applications and swapping them out can save man-hours, but again, unless your business views IT as a profit center, it’s not going to show up on the annual report. Most large non-technical companies are too worried about managing defects and overtime in the manufacturing plant, or increase in percentage of same-store sales to worry about whether IT’s new process saved one hundred man hours – all the business cares about is that when IT said something would be done, it got done. It doesn’t matter how.

I’ve been in meetings where IT people talked about how we could get the business people ‘on board’ with a new SDLC or deployment. But in reality, the few business users we have that ‘get’ IT are few and far between, and they didn’t need any special training or coaxing from us to get there. Those users had something special, in that they made an effort, on their own, to learn enough about IT to ‘get’ IT. And even those users probably don’t care about IT.

The last time I heard someone mouthing off about business users who don’t understand IT, it was a programmer who had just come from a requirements meeting with the sales department. He complained that the business users didn’t even understand why we used read-only data to populate their data marts for reporting.

I asked, “how much do you know about our sales process?”

“What’s to know? You sell our product to the stores. You get your commission check. That’s it,” my colleague retorted.

“Really?” I asked, “What about the velocity of the products? Are the sales reps in charge of recording that? What about balance of share? Do our sales reps manage or report on that for the independent retailers? And how do either of those get reported for contract sales?”

My coworker looked at me like I’d asked him to swallow a giraffe.

“What? I don’t know any of that. What are you talking about?” He was defensive.

My point was that he was griping about the sales department business users being willfully ignorant, but he didn’t have any more knowledge of the sales world than they had of the IT world. I can only imagine how ticked he’d have been if he’d happened to overhear the sales reps later, talking about him:

“I met with this IT guy earlier. I just don’t know about him. He didn’t even know that we record our delivery distance based on the manufacturing plant, not on the sales location. Can you believe that?”

Or even better, what about when the sales force implements a new ‘coffee talk program’ for clients, where each month the top clients get invited to have breakfast with the sales force. Does IT even care? No. All we care about is that the sales reps have found another way to deliver.

My overall point here is that we in IT have got to stop pointing fingers at the business users and whining that they aren’t savvy enough. It would be great if they all were, sure. The ones that already ‘get it’ are a dream to work with. But most aren’t and will never be. So we have to step up and learn more about their business. While we might not get more business users to educate themselves about IT, we’ll get past the us-versus-them mentality – eventually – and become far more valuable to the business.

I could equate it to hiring a roofing contractor or plumber or mechanic, or anything you don’t have time to do or don’t know how to do. Anyone who has hired a contractor who left a job half-finished will attest that it’s better to pay more for someone who always just gets the job done, on time and on budget. If I hire a roofer, do I care that the roofer just found a new hammer that results in 20% less mashed thumbs than before? No. I just care that the roof was put on correctly, in the time stated and for the money quoted.

Posted on Wednesday, April 18, 2007 12:03 PM | Back to top


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