Global CIO: In The Age Of Facebook, IT Problems Become CIO Nightmares - InformationWeek
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Bob Evans
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Global CIO: In The Age Of Facebook, IT Problems Become CIO Nightmares

For unknown reasons, a vital software application isn't delivering mission-critical information, and the end-customers are screaming mad. And they're airing their complaints very publicly on Facebook.

Pity the CIO of a massive Maryland school district with 22 high schools where, in spite of a $4.1 million "SchoolMax" IT system, 8,000 high-school students arrived last week on opening day but were given either no class schedules or incorrect ones. Parents are outraged and calling for heads to roll, the CEO/superintendent is caught between shame and rage, and the CIO's team has been working around the clock trying to somehow get the system to get the students out of day-long nap sessions in the gym and into classes where they belong.

Oh yes, the students: with nothing but time on their hands, one has set up a Facebook group called "SchoolMax Sucks!" with more than 4,200 members, including 800+ in the past week; another is called "Protest Against SchoolMax" and has more than 265 members; and still another is called "I was stuck in a Gym/Auditorium For da 1st day of school thanks 2 SchoolMax" and has more than 70 members.

Welcome to IT project disasters in the age of Facebook, wherein teenagers transcend the promises of adults by doing more than just talking about visibility and transparency: the teens actually achieve it. In real time. In public. And due to Facebook posts like this one from a Washington Post reporter participating in the "I was stuck" group, the Maryland school-district mess is getting more and more public every day:

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Hi guys, I'm the reporter for The Washington Post covering the SchoolMax scheduling problems this week. If you have any information from your school I would like to hear it. Drop me a note through Facebook or an e-mail at Thanks!

Of course, the core issue here isn't strictly about Facebook or Twitter—although it's hard to know whether to laugh or cry at this tweet from an adult who seems to work in the district: "SchoolMax SchoolMax SchoolMax... I could have built a better system by using carrier pigeons... What a waste!" Rather, the core issue is what it always is: how to safely handle and combine that volatile blend of powerful but complex technology, plus users who'd much rather prefer to stick with the old system they know, plus end-customers who either happily reap the benefits or angrily voice their discontent.

But now in the age of Facebook and Twitter, my oh my do those end-customers have a mighty megaphone with which to amplify their voices:

Ashley Jones wrote at 3:13am They messed up my classes so bad that i may not graduate next year they messed up my credits this should just go back to hand books this makes no since!!!!!!!

Kristen Patterson (Washington, DC) wrote at 11:46pm yesterday I SAT IN MY AUDITORIUM, guidance, library, everywhere! it took six days!

Zach Kapanoske (Laurel High) wrote at 10:00pm on August 28th, 2009 this whole schoolmax thing is crazy. Laurel still has about 100 kids w/o schedules after the first week. This group is getting a lot of publicity from the papers too…

As this story shows, the heat is being turned up on CIOs in every industry because on top of managing complex projects and conceiving sound strategies, CIOs are increasingly being expected to do so under the rigorous public scrutiny that social media such as Twitter and Facebook have made available to tens of millions of people. We can all stiffen our spines and stick our chins up a bit higher and say to hell with all that because it won't change how I go about my job, but that's a lot of nonsense. For CIOs, social media might not change everything, but they sure change a lot of things—and a lot of very important things: responsibility, performance, accountability, communication, expectations, and public perceptions.

So let's take a closer look at what started all this Facebook-angst:

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