Thursday, August 06, 2009

IT needs more "social engineers" and fewer technologists?


Tom Austin, of Gartner in an article by Kermit Pattison in Fast Company (link), argues that information technology is going to have to focus more on people interactions and less on techie-stuff for its own sake in the future. The link is here. The web page offers an old video interview with Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg (then 21) as a bonus: he says that he was too lazy to put Internet access in his studio apartment two blocks from his office (but all you need is wireless).

Jason Hiner summarizes all of this in a video on the Tech Republic blog today (the eye-catching “does IT need more social scientists and fewer technologists?” here. (The video link in the TR email this morning went "dead wire": I found the video with a search.)

Hiner summarizes the three parts of IT (sort of like the eight parts of the Elizabethean theater that you have to know for English lit tests): operations/infrastructure; solutions/project management; end users. Most application programmers work in the second area.

Systems development philosophy thirty years ago talked about “computer procedures” and “manual procedures”, the latter of which were developed by “methods people” (now called "business analysts") with scripted structured English. (Bryce Associates said that any subsystem had to include at least one manual procedure.)

End users have been manipulated by GUI systems, with access to legacy data through “direct connect” or, often enough, through legacy replication cycles that update information daily. But in some cases end user departments want more control of their own processing (at least “workflow management”). Back in the mid 1990s, some users at one company wanted to reproduce the entire mainframe billing and collection environment for a salary deduction system on PC’s with DOS applications (in the days before Windows 95) and Microfocus COBOL, and relatively loose security, in the grand scheme of things. It is in the area of securing processes and data that “people skills” seem so important, as attitudes vary and evolve so much.

Is what Austin calls a "social scientist" really a business analyst?

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