Friday, March 17, 2006

Situationist Politics and IT ?



In my turbulent and misspent youth I was on occasion very involved in politics and at some point came across the Situationist Movement. It appealed to me as it was radical, difficult to understand, highly intellectual, but at core fairly practical (if fundamentaly misguided). So for somebody like me it was an obvious fit - ie: a person with a big ego and grandious ideas (as an old friend, pretty much described me the other day).

However that was many years ago - and two children and many moves later I came across the Situationists again on the web - and below quote one of the most famous situationist utterings:-

Automation is thus possessed of two opposing perspectives: it deprives the individual of any possibility of adding something personal to automated production, which is a fixation of progress, while at the same time sparing human energies now massively liberated from reproductive and uncreative activities. The value of automation thus depends on projects which transcend it, and which release new human energies at a superior level.

It's translated from French hence the slightly stilted prose - but this so accurately sums up the world of the enterprise and techology we see today. The last sentence is really worth making note of "...The value of automation thus depends on projects which transcend it...".

And yet we all know that this often is simply not the case, the projects do not transcend the tools of automation - technology is brought in to simply replace people, not to release them from their "reproductive and uncreative activities" and to empower them to add value at a superior level.

In some ways it could be argued that this is the biggest failure of IT. We still seem to live in a world that somehow continues to convince itself that new technology will solve old problems, or worse that the technology will be a solution in itself.

Clearly I am biased and have a particular axe to grind. But I despair at the amount of multi million dollar IT projects, that charge ahead with little or no real business analysis or consultation on the potential impact of the project in advance. In fact it is almost unheard of for firms to undertake an impact analysis prior to launching a search for a software vendor and system integrator to deploy yet another 'business application'. No consideration of how to transcend the process of automation - to really use the freed human capital and creativity to drive the business forward to greater highs. Just cost cutting and job reduction.

And the architects these projects remain baffled as to how and why so many of their projects fall short or fail entirely......

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