Your shout: How to turn round a demotivated IT team

More responses to Robin Laidlaw, who advocated sacking the worst-performing 25% of your staff to revitalise the IT department (Computer Weekly, 11 May)


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How to turn round a demotivated IT team

More responses to Robin Laidlaw, who advocated sacking the worst-performing 25% of your staff to revitalise the IT department (Computer Weekly, 11 May)

I hope nobody takes Robin Laidlaw's swashbuckling advice in Strategy Clinic seriously. I can see the "redundancies will continue until morale improves" notices already.

However, Laidlaw does have a point. Einstein reputedly said that he never met anyone so stupid he could not learn something from them. I believe that there is no such thing as a bad worker; only a person in the wrong job.

Within a team I have always allowed people to select their own jobs based on the idea that a volunteer is worth 10 pressed employees. Sometimes this will result in a change in the structure of the whole project, but this is probably a good thing.

Anyone who does not fit is then usually only too pleased to find a home on another project. Such a transfer is without any disgrace. The costs, difficulties and unpleasantness of more formal action are completely avoided.

A well-led team will often find innovative ways of solving the problems and the approach can be so productive that only very few new recruits will be required. The team is happy, the management is happy and the customer is happy.

I once lost 40% of a team using this method but (following many missed deadlines) the next deadline was met. For those who remember Brook's law - adding manpower to a late software project makes it later - I offer my own corollary: letting people leave a late software project can make it sooner.

David Parkinson

Robin Laidlaw's solution to an unhappy IT team is the worst piece of management advice I have heard for years. Ignoring the fact that the new IT director will spend the next nine months embroiled in employment tribunals, dragging the company's name through the papers and that it would probably result in getting a P45 quicker than punching the chief executive, it demonstrates a complete lack of understanding about morale and performance.

If morale is low, that is the fault of the leader of the organisation, not the staff. It is the leader who sets the direction, controls the workload and decides on the processes, methods and tools that will be used.

It is the leader who decides on the workplace environment and sets pay and rewards to motivate staff and, most importantly, it is the leader who decides on the type of atmosphere in which their staff work.

The oppressive rule by threat environment that Laidlaw seems so intent on creating will never result in a productive workforce, but merely one that hides its inefficiencies and relies on his micro-management to uncover improvements. "Heads down, pretend we're working", will become the motto.

Robin Wilson

Gaining access to public services websites

In response to Antony Savvas' article, which reported on Stockport Council's new website, which can be accessed using speech for visually-impaired users, keyboard-only navigation or via digital TV or Wap (Computer Weekly, 11 May)

I was interested in Antony Savvas' article about Stockport's new speech-enabled website, and particularly struck by council e-services head Andrew Kirkham's comment that this provided access "for all users".

I would be more sympathetic to that claim and the positive tone of the article if the software were not Windows-only; if the pages could gain at least two stars from access testing organisation Bobby; and if the pages were valid HTML, as according to the World Wide Web Consortium's validator.

DR de Lacey

Command over NHS IT is not controlling costs

Your report "Contract problems hit £1bn London NHS plan" (Computer Weekly, 25 May) is just one more manifestation of the difficulties which plague costly public computing projects.

These problems stem from the "command and control" culture which dominates relationships between politicians and civil servants, and on down the implementation chain to the business providers in building projects and public sector computer projects. It is an awful but reformable culture.

In February 2004 at the select committee of the Department of Works and Pensions into public sector computing contracts, chairman Archy Kirkwood at question 276 in the oral evidence stated, "Political timetables for computing projects are all about general election dates. Nothing else matters."

Earlier the committee had heard how difficult it was for the provider industry to deliver on cost and time unless the specification was complete. To start work early before "concept viability" had been properly established by independent assessment was to ignore the very high risk that the end-users might reject the project in the final phase of implementation, leaving high costs and no added value.

With some "buffer time" put in as a mandatory initial phase, chronic waste would be avoided. Other jurisdictions have already rejected "command and control" and replaced it.

In the world of contemporary British computing there is the prospect of waste of possibly as much as £12bn with the present project for setting up a national electronic database for NHS patient records, initially funded at £2.3bn. No account has yet been taken of the huge costs of migration and data loading for this flagship project.

The big question is when will we see moves to reform the existing command and control culture, which plunges a wide range of public sector projects into chaos? Unfortunately, the quality of business leadership in a democracy is difficult to reform.

Robert Erskine

Charity work can swell the skills on your CV

In Next Move, (Computer Weekly, 11 May) Tracey Abbott mentioned volunteering as a means to get experience on your CV.

I thoroughly recommend it. The majority of job adverts ask for experience and a newcomer to the profession has difficulty getting the first job that will start their career. There are many opportunities to gain valuable experience and put something into the community.

I have looked at work with IT4Communities, which has been set up specifically to connect skilled IT people to charities desperate for assistance in some aspect of IT.

Its website features organisations from all over the country and the opportunities to gain practical, CV-swelling, experience is second to none. There is no pressure to volunteer - I was registered on the site for almost a year before I found the "perfect" opportunity.

I also recommend this route for people whose CVs tend to pigeonhole them into diminishing job sectors. This is a route to show that you can do more than your current employer requires and also that you have spare capacity to devote to a new employer's projects.

Charles Peirce, systems engineer

XBRL will modernise financial reporting

I read with interest Beatrice Rogers' opinion on reporting standards in the financial sector (Computer Weekly, 25 May). There is a real opportunity for compliance to become a business facilitator for financial organisations.

Introducing XBRL as the sector-wide standard for reporting heightens the business benefits by removing much of the duplication and manual effort currently undertaken to meet reporting requirements. This streamlined method of reporting will enable financial organisations to be more efficient and accurate and, in the long term, lower operating costs.

Understanding XBRL will be a challenge for IT departments, but implementation need not be a costly or complex exercise. IT directors must also ensure they are prepared to meet their new responsibilities for submitting electronic reports.

It is about time that the vital task of reporting moves into the 21st century and the emergence of this new standard will help deliver this.

Ann Hosford, business development manager, financial services, Fujitsu Services

Confusion on chip and Pin rules delays take-up

Chip and Pin may be a vital component in the fight against fraud, but if UK banks do not speed up the accreditation process, the January 2005 deadline will not be met, leaving retailers liable for fraud.

Only a handful of retailers have achieved Acquirer Acceptance Testing (AAT) in the past six months. Banks seem to have been taken by surprise by the level of resource required to achieve AAT, which in part explains the backlog. However, there are other problems.

There is clear inconsistency in the interpretation of chip and Pin rules, not just between banks but also between testers within a bank. This inconsistency, combined with the fact that the rules are still evolving and new technology requirements are being created, means that software suppliers are faced with the constant process of upgrading or tailoring software systems to achieve accreditation.

The complexity of the chip and Pin accreditation process simply adds weight to the resistance by mid-range retailers with traditionally low levels of fraud who are finding chip and Pin implementation costs hard to swallow. Yet without widespread high street adoption, the value of chip and Pin in reducing fraud will be significantly reduced.

All retailers have to work together with their software suppliers to leverage bank relationships to increase testing resources and get commitment to a faster, flexible accreditation process. If this is not achieved the credibility of chip and Pin will be undermined before it is even implemented.

Doug Hargrove, managing director, Anker Systems UK

Lessons on Chinook for computing in aviation

Following your coverage of the Chinook controversy (Computer Weekly, 1 June) to mark the 10th anniversary of the crash, I would like to add some comments.

Since writing my report for the Tapper family, I have seen a newspaper claim that the senior reviewing officer took the line that "computers don't fly aircraft into high ground, pilots do", even before the board had completed its deliberations.

If this is true it would of course explain why the technical and maintenance issues were never followed up, or even properly analysed, and it also shows that at least one senior RAF officer may have a lot to learn about developments - both then and now - in the aviation world's application of computer technology (civil and military) and the increasing and sometimes total dependence on computers in the airworthiness chain. However, it does nicely allow the RAF to cover its tracks for the decision to continue operating the Chinook Mk2 with all of its problems.

I suggest that computers can cause accidents either directly or indirectly through all the normal range of RAF and civil accident categories ranging from human error, such as programming, system architecture and system mishandling through to maintenance errors and technical defects such as the integrity of aircraft wiring. In particular, this applies to the analogue signals where the integrity monitoring available on the digital bus may be more difficult to achieve, and is every bit as important as the CPU in terms of calculating and transmitting the right answer.

I would also suggest that there will even be a measure of natural operating hazards in the analogue-to-digital and digital-to-analogue conversion between analogue sensors and mechanical devices - not least because one of the analogue devices is the pilot or other aircrew member.

If we look to the future when military aircraft missions may become effectively managed and possibly even flown by external sensors in the network-centric warfare environment, the role of computers and the correct validation and verification of their software is going to be even more central to the safe and successful completion of military missions.

I still think that a plausible scenario for ZD576 is that at the point when the pilots changed the waypoint and started to make the turn (and the vibration levels increased) the latent wiring fault, that we are fairly certain from the analysis of the maintenance documentation was present on the aircraft, caused an engine run-away.

By the time the crew could get the aircraft and engine back under control, and by now in cloud and with no terrain references, they might have had nowhere to go but to try to get over the Mull, which tragically, they clearly failed to do.

I understand from the comments of former RAF test pilot Robert Burke before the House of Lords select committee that such a scenario would fit the latest Boeing simulations.

It is possible of course that the pilots never got the engine under full control before entering cloud, losing all terrain references and hitting high ground, and hence did not have anywhere to go. In this scenario the pilots would have tried everything they could to avoid the accident and would have been "heroes" in the tabloid press - not grossly negligent.

Like the reviewing officers I do not know what caused this crash, and I am certainly not suggesting there was gross negligence on the engineering or maintenance side. However, I believe that there was a significant measure of negligence in the board's processes by their failure to even look at such scenarios.

These scenarios, in my view, have just as many if not more facts to support them as that of the decision on the part of the pilots to over-fly the Mull.

John Blakeley, air commodore, RAF, retired

Asset management can help monitor licences

Why is it that large, respectable, even model companies, are still being caught out by software licensing issues? Chase Credit Systems found itself facing a £163,000 fine for illegal software use and the Business Software Alliance and the Federation Against Software Theft have a seemingly unending list of targets to pursue.

Companies which ignore software compliance can easily fall foul of the law, but can also risk disrupting business, damaging their reputation and wasting up to a third of their IT budget on over-payment of licences, and support and maintenance contracts.

These risks are unnecessary; automated asset management systems that are not over-specified can deliver a return on investment within a single audit.

Glenn Stephens, executive vice-president, business development, Centennial

Webmail could become an online swag bag

As Google, Yahoo and Lycos engage in open battle to win the hearts and minds of Webmail subscribers, businesses may end up as innocent casualties.

As storage capacity soars to 1Gbyte and beyond, information thieves are eyeing up online e-mail accounts as virtually bottomless electronic swag bags.

E-mail is already the method of choice for information thieves - 53.1% of business professionals who have stolen corporate intellectual property have done so using a personal e-mail account. And with vastly increased Webmail storage limits, it is becoming even easier for disgruntled employees and those leaving the company to steal documents and larger files including entire databases.

Businesses must therefore urgently review internet usage policies, ensure incident handling procedures are in place and consider making it corporate policy that all suspected cases of intellectual property theft will be investigated by computer forensic experts. Knowing data detectives will be on their trail would be a strong deterrent.

Chris Watson, senior forensic investigator, ibas

Quality data gives a clean customer record

I read with interest Ed Wrazen's article (Computer Weekly, 18 May) on the affect of dirty data on the success or failure of customer relationship management projects.

Data quality is a vital aspect of CRM projects and Wrazen is correct in saying that data needs to be approached on a strategic rather than tactical level.

Too many organisations look at data cleansing as a one-time exercise when in reality it is a constant process. One way of ensuring it is constantly updated is to ensure that every interaction is an opportunity to verify, correct, or add information.

By allowing customers to update their own information you can also improve data quality with little ongoing investment. Constantly verified and updated data will ensure that successful CRM projects provide an accurate view of the customer.

Mark Baker, CRM product marketing, EMEA, PeopleSoft

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