The Mad Rush to Dot-Com May Slow

In some way or another the vast majority of the catastrophic failures that occur with any system can be attributed to pilot error. In essence, that means somebody simply didn't know about some element of a procedure or just simply chose to ignore that procedure in the interest of saving time. Unfortunately, there are two trends that are conspiring to make these kinds of errors even more common in the future than they are today. The first of those trends is the constant race against time in the technology industry today, driven by the whole dot-com company phenomenon.

Motivated by a fear that somebody else might beat them to market and thereby gain a lasting competitive advantage, executives at dot-com companies are pressing their IT organizations to deliver new systems and upgrades to existing systems at unprecedented rates.

And this need to win in the time-to-market race includes a nasty side effect in that it encourages people working on IT projects to take shortcuts.

Sometimes those shortcuts can pay off, but more often than not they tend to lead an IT organization to ignore all the principles of change management that have been developed over the past 20 years.

And as any old IT hand will tell you, it's only a question of time before some new system upgrade causes a major system outage -- unless a set series of procedures is followed to make sure the system is stable before it goes live.

Time and again we've seen a lack of IT procedures lead to the temporary collapse of a Web site, angering users, who tend not to come back, and causing the stock value of a company to fall precipitously.

Looking back at such incidents, it becomes clear now that an ounce of prevention in the form of change management procedures applied to these projects is worth a pound of cure.

Alas, the second major trend of the day is going to exacerbate this situation even further.

The art of change management was one of those disciplines that was created during the mainframe era, so the people who are well versed in this school of thought tend to be a minority of the people in IT.

In fact, with more and more people moving directly into major IT positions right out of college, a lot of folks are learning about change management the hard way: in the school of hard knocks.

The good news is that change management procedures and other arcane IT disciplines are about to become major requirements for doing business.

As we move into the next generation of e-business, many technology investors have come to understand that the technology really has become the business.

As a result, these investors are now mandating thorough examinations of the IT infrastructure at potential investment companies.

Moreover, insurance companies such as Lloyds of London are getting into the act by offering insurance policies that guarantee coverage for lost data resulting from a breach of security or technology failure.

As you can imagine, these policies are not offered unless Lloyds is pretty sure that it won't have to pay out because of a company's ineptitude.

What this means is that we are coming to the end of the Wild West days of the Web revolution.

Companies are going to have to find ways of getting the equivalent of a Good Housekeeping Seal of approval before they can get financing.

That will mean that the IT skills of the people running a company that is a prospective investment will come under heavy scrutiny by investors and insurers.

After all, just about anybody can build a couple of Web servers to start a business.

The secret of the skill lies in scaling that technology and business across hundreds of servers running 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

And indeed that skill level is in very short supply.

Michael Vizard is editor in chief at InfoWorld. Contact him at michael_vizard@infoworld.com.

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