We can all profit by Murphy's law

Opinion

We can all profit by Murphy's law

The notion that there is a golden state of IT management where nothing ever goes wrong is a beguiling one. It always seems that if we can just get over the next hurdle we will finally arrive at perfection.

Of course, Murphy's law demolishes that delusion: if it can go wrong, it will go wrong.

IT directors generally prefer to talk about their eventual success, rather than the crises and problems that had them tearing their hair out along the way. That is a shame because everyone can all learn a huge amount from their own and other people's problems and how they were resolved.

In our feature, three IT directors from very different organisations bite the bullet and share their memories of days when they came face to face with the practical realities of Murphy's law.

More important, they share the steps they took to resolve the immediate problems and the long-term principles they established to prevent any repeat.

Of course, we believe that everything possible should be done to ensure that IT projects meet their objectives on time and on budget, and hopefully offer even greater benefits than originally envisaged. Our ongoing Shaking Up Government IT campaign bears witness to that.

But when IT professionals are confronted by unexpected troubles, it helps to find the positive lessons that offer the opportunity to establish systems and approaches that enable an even more effective future for the IT operation.

And to be ready to share what has been learned with others so that everyone can benefit.

This time it's personal

The wrangling over levels of consultation for the NHS national programme proves once again the repeatedly ignored truism that if you try to ignore the personal or "people" issues of any IT project, you are heading for trouble.

And it doesn't get any more personal than patient data. From an organisational point of view, allowing many different types of personnel to access the same data about patients makes perfect sense. But from the individual patient's point of view, the idea is less appealing. Along with mundane facts about everyday ailments, patient records may contain very personal details about issues such as HIV, addiction problems, and psychiatric and sexual difficulties.

As those who are closest to the patients, doctors are right to insist that their concerns about confidentiality must be addressed before they lend their full weight to the project.

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This was first published in August 2004

 

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