Something for the Weekend, Sir? Want a new driveway? No problem, mate. Fix your garage door? Sorted. Oh, what, you want the the garage door to open on to the driveway? Oh no no no no, no can do, pal, that’s not done, they is sep’rate. Tell you what, though, I got a mate who could build you a shortcut so you can get the car from the drive to the garage through the back garden.
Just as with cowboy builders, the history of commercial IT projects is stained with the cracked concrete and paint splatters of botched jobs.
Over the years, I have come across corporate print servers that route your print jobs around the globe and back again before reluctantly spewing the data to the laser five feet away from your own desk.
I have worked on document systems that were so inefficient in their network handling that the developers told us to stop saving our files so often.
I suffered one day at a place where the network nazi in charge had been persuaded by something he read in a computer magazine that he should put so many restrictions on server access that no-one could see anyone else’s folder space – at all.
He had even locked off the possibility of users running back and forth with USB sticks, so the long-suffering staff were forced to upload files to colleagues in the same room via FTP.
Naturally, it’s not possible that anyone in their right mind would deliberately design a system this way, so it makes you wonder how such situations come about.
My theory is that it is partly a problem arising from the challenges involved in interfacing disparate systems that have been developed and rolled out over time in an uncoordinated fashion. And it is partly due to IT bullshitters.
You can spot the IT bullshitter a mile off, as easily as spotting a tinker who tuts disapprovingly and theatrically shakes his head as he stands at your front gate, looking up at your chimney.
Unfortunately, the Powers That Be in most organisations can’t see through his sheen of respectability to notice his split shoes, his frayed cap and the court orders sticking out of his torn coat pocket.
The first time I encountered the IT bullshitter was in the heady pre-dot-com-crash days when newspaper, magazine and book publishers still believed that computer technology would be enormously beneficial to them rather than the utterly devastating fucking nightmare that it turned out to be.
These carpetbaggers would walk in off the street, buy some time with the managing director, talk utter bollocks while pointing at a flipchart and convince him or her that the future lay in XML.
OK, I could go along with this if it wasn’t for the fact that the IT bullshitter hadn’t the faintest idea of how to use XML in a workflow from end to end. All they knew was some bollocks they’d seen about it in that fortnight’s issue of MacUser, and God help me, I’d written those articles myself.
After the first couple of occasions, I learned to recognise the warning signs. As I’d walk into a building, some geezer in a double-breasted suit, pink silk tie and greased-back hair would flounce out with a shit-eating grin on his face.
This meant he’d just had a bullshit meeting with the bullshit bosses and persuaded them to pay him vast bullshit consultancy rates to talk bullshit about bullshit. The moment I reached the office, the publisher would open his door and announce that, from now on, everything would be “done by XML”.