Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Eventually we may make it back to the early nineties (Part 2 of the 70s post)

In 1995 IBM bought Lotus for $3.5 billion. Cash.

Read that again.

Sure, Lotus 1-2-3 was still around and still (if I recall correctly) the market leader. Office95 total killed that. But it was not Lotus's most famous software package that IBM wanted. They wanted Lotus Notes. And they paid $3.5 billion (cash money) for the pleasure.

IBM Lotus Notes is still around today and very well respected. And used by some very big companies. But I really don't think it had the impact it should have. I think the reason is that Microsoft Exchange adapted more quickly to what companies wanted.

But, didn't need.

The thing is that IT has (unfortunately) positioned itself both as a strategic tool and a grudge expense. (It is also an operational tool..hmm..maybe we'll come back to this point... but I want to focus on strategic).

What the above means is that companies have salivated at the idea of using technology to beat their competitors. And it is very quick for something to go from stategic (read: competitive advantage) to operational (read:everyone is doing it). So companies push projects out quickly. If you are a leader you want to be that way as soon as possible..if you are catching up - the same. You also want to do it as cheaply as possible, obviously.

So the poor IT department has to roll out projects as quickly as possible, as cheaply as possible. And probably with very little planning or training.

So, with the choice between a proper system for managing staff using workflow, perfectly designed job descriptions and properly though out business processes that all just works or a quickly cobbled mail system with a nice directory system and calendar - what would be the choice of most IT decision makers. Yep, the cheaper and quicker.

Now, don't get me wrong - I don't know enough about Lotus Notes to promote it as a perfect system, nor do I know enough about Exchange to put it down. Thats not my point here. And, in fact, I bet that a good system where Exchange is used as part of a well organised workflow solution would probably be better than a badly created Notes implementation.

My point is - we have now, through the mistakes of the past come to a point where it can happen that a business is not sure what information it has, (perhaps even) what machines it has and what people it has. There are ways to track all of these but the computer systems were never designed for that.

In the heady, do anything days gone by companies from small to big did things like this:
  • A server comes to end of life and is removed from the network. But, a project that is way over budget needs a not-so-powerful server so the old server is used. Maybe the server was an HR server (inside and fairly safe) and is now a webserver (open to the world). Because its a mission to re-install the OS, the box is left as is and just has a webserver added to it. Your HR information is now at risk and because there was no formal installation or project - the new server is a ghost server, only noticed if/when it goes down.
  • The mail server administrator moves into a new job but his mail server access is not taken away. He now has access to all the mails on the server.
  • Even worse - he leaves the company and his account is not removed.
  • The CEO's personal assistant who has access to all his files downloads a valentines day card that is actually a trojan. It is able to install itself because she has Administrative rights to her PC.
Etc.

If processes had been in place long ago this would not be an issue. Now, you have 10000 user accounts, no paperwork. Who of those is still employed and has all the access (and only the access) they need. If you start a clean-up now - you will piss everyone off, from the top, all the way down. Woops...due to IT's need to impress ages ago and business's need for speed you are the bad guy.

But it will happen. With (more) money, time and tears.

Slowly companies will realise what problems they have and how insecure they are. Or someone out there will show them. And they will put the procedures in place, the technology will follow and the organisation will be turned into a perfect workflow oriented organisation.

And there will be some ROI as people's jobs are down quicker, smoother and with less paperwork. Private information of 3rd parties will be in secure databases. Databases will be backed up and the information will not leak out through discontinued servers and stolen laptops.

And it will all be good.

And then we will have caught up to the vision that IBM had in the early nineties when they paid paid $3.5 billion cash for Lotus - a company that know who it is and what it is doing with IT systems that know the same.
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