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1/4/2013
11:42 AM
Imre Kabai
Imre Kabai
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Reading This Column Will Cost You 0.4 Micromort

It pays to assess risk properly in making IT and other big decisions. Here's what not to do.

5. Vendor hype. Most IT vendors are ethical and partner with their customers. And then there are those that just want to make a quick buck. What better way to make a profit than to emphasize some risks and provide convenient solutions? They have read Daniel Kahneman's book.

6. The Dark Side. The bad guys are innovating too. They have business models and sophisticated toolkits, and they've learned to be patient and persistent. They use technologies like GPU clusters and botnets. They form networks to ride Kleiber's quarter-power law of innovation.

7. Volume. As volume (data, I/Ops, Gb, Flop, etc.) grows, formerly solid technologies turn vulnerable. Infrequent drive failures aren't so unlikely in 100-petabyte-scale storage. Large distributed systems introduced such concepts as Brewer's theorem.

8. Intuition does not work. It would feel reasonable to multiply the likelihood of an event with the impact and invest a somewhat smaller amount to avoid the consequences. But this approach does not work when the event is extremely unlikely and the impact is extremely costly. Many IT disaster scenarios fall into this category.

9. Risk management in silos. It's much easier to focus on individual applications or systems instead of looking at the integrated business process crisscrossing the silos. By addressing the risks in the silos, the truly valuable business process is still at risk. Efforts to do business-impact analysis turn into system-impact analysis.

10. Over-engineering. Although this doesn't sound like a big deal, over-engineered technical solutions are bad. The extra capital and operational expense matters most when it's about marketplace survival.

11. Compliance confidence. Achieving compliance feels and looks good, but it doesn't mean that the risks have been addressed at the appropriate levels. Cybersecurity is a good example -- it's easy to create an IT solution that's perfectly safe while completely unusable.

12. Emerging technologies. Progress is disruptive in both a positive and negative way. Emerging technologies open doors to new possibilities and close others. And they also introduce new risks. One example is big data analytics: When combined, pieces of low-risk information may turn sensitive.

A smart person always delivers the problem to the boss with suggestions. After bringing you the list of risk-related anti-patterns, my suggestion to you is to listen to Goethe. And I hope the 0.4 micromort you expended reading this column was worth it.

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JasmineMcTigue
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JasmineMcTigue,
User Rank: Strategist
2/14/2013 | 7:10:37 PM
re: Reading This Column Will Cost You 0.4 Micromort
You've spoken at length about the assumptions we make and the weaknesses in our own cognitive processes that lead to bad business decisions. But what's the take away here? In your example about enterprise software, you were able to achieve a business consensus by using metrics to substantiate a case. But often, despite our best efforts toward objective analysis, the real issue is goal alignment with regards to business stakeholders. Even by doing our best to make an objective, timely, and well informed analysis free of blindspots, consensus is not always so easy to achieve. The cognexus institute has a great paper on this: http://cognexus.org/wpf/wicked...

Nonetheless, your column serves to highlight the difficult challenges and endemic dangers of the modern IT landscape.

Excellent read.

Jasmine McTigue
IW Contributor
Andrew Hornback
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Andrew Hornback,
User Rank: Apprentice
1/8/2013 | 12:55:24 AM
re: Reading This Column Will Cost You 0.4 Micromort
Try having your only documentation in source code... in a foreign language. I still have the occasional nightmare about that. Sprichst du Deutsch? Keine... en Kode.
moarsauce123
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moarsauce123,
User Rank: Ninja
1/7/2013 | 11:57:38 PM
re: Reading This Column Will Cost You 0.4 Micromort
I agree, but this is contrary to common Agile belief where absolutely nothing gets documented because the Agile gurus insist that source code is enough documentation. Good luck wading through 100,000 lines of code when people yell at you when the system comes back up!
Andrew Hornback
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Andrew Hornback,
User Rank: Apprentice
1/7/2013 | 3:33:48 AM
re: Reading This Column Will Cost You 0.4 Micromort
There's one Worst Practice that I would add... Biological-based Documentation. If all of the information used to build an infrastructure or maintain and operate it is locked up in the brain cells of a limited number of team members (some of whom have departed the organization), a low-impact issue with one system could cause systemic failures in the infrastructure. If it isn't documented when it's done - it's lost.

Andrew Hornback
InformationWeek Contributor
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