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5/9/2002
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Business Technology: He's Just Been Fakin' It

Here's a quote from someone who allegedly knows what he's talking about: "Corporate IT people get so hung up on justifying their budgets that they make narrow, silly decisions that don't serve their clients, the company's employees. If the IT crew can relax and have some fun, everyone will get more out of computers." Everybody got that lesson? Let's have another:

"A more traditional approach would have been to hire an outside IT director, who probably would have arrived at the school with lots of preconceived ideas about how technology should or should not be used. It's a classic issue--whether a technologist or a user should manage the technology--and I think a good argument can be made for letting the users rule." Imagine that: hiring someone who, before taking the job, actually has ideas!

OK, I know the suspense is killing you: These gems come to us courtesy of Stewart Alsop, venture capitalist and Fortune magazine columnist, from the May 13 issue. It's ironic, or perhaps just ridiculous, that his column, which appears in each issue, is called "Stewart Alsop on Infotech" because the majority of his analyses of the world of "infotech" deal with his obsession with PDAs or cell phones or PDAs with cell phones or MP3 players that wish they were cell phones/PDAs/nose-hair trimmers all in one. In fact, in a recent column whose arrogance actually made me read more attentively out of disbelief, Stewart was giddy about a new music player (I think it was the Apple iPod) that's so small that when he's on airplanes, he gets a big kick out of surreptitiously continuing to listen to it even after the attendants tell everyone to turn off such gadgets. Stewart, you lunatic, you!

Through the blur of unnoticed seasons, in an effort without parallel, 1.6 million tons of material from the collapse of the World Trade Center have been dismantled, examined, and carted off to be examined again. That fire-spitting, hellish mound -- crushed concrete and scorched metal and body parts--has been reduced, one truckload at a time, to a few piles on a bedrock-bottomed pit.... The matter is so immense that people come to it from different points in the circle of grief and awe. There are those for whom the obliteration of the Borders bookstore symbolizes vulnerability and the loss of a way of life. And those who cannot forget leaving the site with the muck of death still on their clothes and taking the subway two stops to another world, another city. And, of course, there are those who lost loved ones: some who come to the site faithfully, some who never come, some whose inability to articulate feelings about the recovery's end can say so much.

-- Dan Barry, from The New York Times, May 3

(More at http://www.nytimes.com
/2002/05/03/
nyregion/03SITE.html
)


Maybe the guy is just too zany and fun-loving for Neanderthals like me. Another pearl of wisdom he offers in his May 13 piece: Stewart describes an application at the prep school he used to attend--that, by the way, is the point of the whole column, headlined "The Preppie Tech Handbook," how his prep school's computer policies and philosophies should be the model for IT departments. This program helps "a teacher keep an eye on the right students. The picture of the teacher is labeled YOU?, and the picture of the student is labeled THIS KID? That may not sound like much, but I defy you to come up with an amusing touch from one of your corporate programs."

Now, I'll admit to being boring and stuffy--I just can't let my guard down enough to be like Stewart and naughtily, gigglingly violate safety rules on airplanes, and I just can't get my priorities straight and expect IT applications to be knee-slappers like the one above. But I was at least sensate enough to wonder about Stewart's decision to highlight as a mark of excellence a piece of software used in a private school with 365 students that helps teachers know who the troublemakers are. My guess is most people would kinda figure the teachers would know who those kids are, even without the software. But Stewart seems too tickled with its hipness to be bothered with such mundane and unfun details. (Private note to Stewart: Put your money where your mouth is and invest in a dot-com that expands on that "amusing touch.")

I could go on and on, but poking fun at that column takes shooting fish in a barrel to a new high (or low). The larger point is the supposed credibility and knowledge of a guy who (1) is supposed to know how the world of business technology works because he invests in companies whose customers are these old-fashioned, narrow-minded IT fuddy-duddies whom he regards with such distaste, and (2) writes a column each issue for a respected business magazine. If he wants to remember his prep school with great fondness, that's fine--but that stuff aside, his misguided and totally uninformed column does a great disservice to not only the business-technology managers it maligns but also their employers, particularly the unfortunate ones who read this slop and mistakenly believe it represents something even approximating the truth.

Stewart, consider yourself called on this one, buddy. It's one thing to know nothing about a significant sector of the U.S. economy; it's quite another to pretend you do. Do your readers a favor: Confine your columns to toys and gadgets, your "infotech," because based on this column, you don't have a clue about business technology.

Bob Evans
Editor-in-Chief
bevans@cmp.com

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