IT today - technical, social and organizational aspects

The 6th IBM day at the Computer Science and Media faculty at HDM Stuttgart brought four interesting talks by managing consultants or senior architects of IBM Global Business Services. Looking back at the talks I noticed that IT has never before been so complex with respect to the technical, social and organizational environment where it is applied. I blame this on the the fact that IT has never before been so ubiquitous, mission critical and penetrating the lives of people at work and at home. And IT consultants are certainly at the front of this development as the bringers of good or bad news to people.

The technical side of IT and therefore also of computer science shows its limitations rather drastically: The introduction of new projects fails due to outright rejection by employees (or silent abuse). Companies miss critical adjustments of their infrastructure. Some oscillate helplessly between outsourcing and insourcing of their IT. Companies want to install install more social software and have to learn that many departments are not using the services at all.

The IT specialists might even have some suspicions about the reason for failures: social or organizational conflicts. But they lack the psychological or social know-how to tackle these problems. Many specialists working in IT have never been educated in the areas they are working now. But recently more and more seem to recognize the deficiencies and start to learn from psychologists or sociologists. The first and second talk on change management and realistic architectures are a good example for this trend.

IT related problems show the same social qualities as other - admittedly more critical - phenomenons like global warming, the oil crisis and perhaps the current financial crisis as well: nobody wants to deal with them voluntarily. Sometimes everybody seems to wait for everybody else - an effect which gets reinforced by knowing about the others (see Shirky, Here comes Everybody). A good example for this is IPV6 - the necessary, unavoidable and at the same time largely ignored new base of the internet.

IT today seems to have two heads: one head talks about the possibilities of new digital and mobile technologies. Iphone, mp3-players and other gadgets are materialized evidence of this side of IT. The other head is talking total control via IT supported processess. The world as a complex program, made possible by the unmatched planning and control powers of IT. But who controls those powers and their consequences? ITIL - the IT Infrastructure Library is a set of best practices for running a large IT infrastructure - is an excellent example on how deeply IT penetrates our business life today and the positive and negative consequences.

I'd like to structure this article as follows:

Change Management - social manipulation or necessary risk management strategy?
Enterprise Architecture - between theory and tons of constraints
IPV6 - preaching the gospel like global warming, oil crisis and ecological disaster
ITIL - Maxwells daemon for the enterprise?