Thought for the day: People are the best software

If you want your IT department to excel, put your faith in your people, not the latest piece of technology, says Maldwyn Palmer.

If you want your IT department to excel, put your faith in your people, not the latest piece of technology, says Maldwyn Palmer.

When I first started in the technology field, systems analysts spent most of their time dissuading users from demanding precious resource time on the highly expensive mainframes. Dropping the punched cards or ripping a punch tape could cause chaos.

How far we have come, and I welcome most of it. As I've worked my way up through Cobol, Basic, Pascal, C, C++ and Java, I've always been impressed with the sheer brilliance of software designers. The same can be said for hardware improvements and databases. It is indeed a brave new world, which is limited only by our thoughts.

So why are so many IT people out of work and why are companies putting technology spend on the back burner? Could it be that technology did not deliver its golden promises, or is it no longer the in-thing to be owner of the latest toy?

Companies took a paradigm shift when they changed their computer departments into IT departments. The bearded Unix guru was shifted to make way for the graduate who could design front ends in Windows and did not give a damn about assembler. IT had to prove it could add more profit to the bottom line.

This was the theory but, unfortunately, the senior management - who had seen the latest technology in a magazine - were still making the decisions. To cover their backs they brought in more consultants who had seen the same article. Then came another brainwave - outsourcing.

It's not our core business, went the cry. Get rid of it, let someone else worry about it. The fact that every company had a unique way of doing things and its greatest attribute is its staff was sacrificed to clear the asset ledger. Competence and skill were diluted and lost as the ex-employees drifted away, subject to Tupe.

But there is a way out. Forget the latest technology, it has not delivered the goods. Invest in people, not machines. The enlightened thoughts and perspiration produce the wealth, not the latest version of software.

Companies that claim to improve your profitability if you use their latest gizmo do not offer any proof. Usually it is a sales aid to increase their share value.

Xerox was one of my better early jobs and they took the unusual step of building a design "Parc" where they gave people their head. Pure science produced the laser machine, which made twice the amount of money that the whole complex cost. Xerox also invented virtual reality and object-oriented programming and this was in the 1960s.

Intelligence, creative and lateral thinking are the real drivers of humankind and commerce. Of course, this needs courage from the top and the environment where such brilliance can occur. Some might say that the likes of Microsoft already do this, but I am talking doing so at ordinary department level.

Listen to your staff, and for God's sake do not farm them out to some soulless corporation.

There are many managing directors who think that in an ideal world they would only have two employees and a "Deep Thought" computer to do everything. The second employee would be a secretary who would make coffee and tell the MD what a great person they were.

Unfortunately for us, customer relationship management software brings that spectre closer. Everyone who has their e-mails answered by an expert system will know what I am talking about. The first two things that spring into your head are - "that's not the question I asked", and "how can I cancel whatever it is I have paid out on?"

People like to interact with people - chat lines and text messaging prove that. It may not be face to face but there is still a living entity on the other end. Companies are also about people, both customers and staff. People first, technology second. Brains first, brawn second.

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Maldwyn Palmer
was one of the first people to use the C programming language in the UK. He wrote the original mobile phone texting software for Orange and ran his own consultancy during the dotcom boom. He now writes technical articles and humorous books.

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