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Half of all you need to know about IT (in five minutes)

Arguing the benefits to a business of understanding the content and flow of information which it uses above concerns about technology.

Article by:      IT Form Developer.
Audience:      Non technical/Management.

There's an old joke about liking both types of music: 'Country and Western'. In a similarly vein I like to think of Information Technology as 'Information and Technology' and my advice is to: forget the Technology, focus on the Information.

Unfortunately people always seem to fixate on the Technology. I suppose they feel that 'tech is whizzy' or they get a sweat on if they feel 'not quite up with it'. People will still say: "I'm getting a computer." "Oh really what for." "I don't know I just feel that I ought to have one." Would you ever hear someone say the same thing about - a nail gun or an electronic depilatory kit?

If the technology is causing you anxiety then the way around this is to treat it as a black box. For example: The fridge. You put things in. They come out cold or the fridge gets dumped. I don't need know how my fridge works. It's a black box. I think there's a pump in there doing something or other, but for me it could just as well be a team of miniature Eskimos hard at it. So if you're scratching your head about the Technology then relax, just think about it as another black box. Simple.

Information, the poor relation in all this, easily gets forgotten but is actually much more interesting to consider. IT exists to provide you with information: to fetch it, manipulate it, make more of it, store it and transmit it. IT 'is to' data, as fridge 'is to' cold. Don't be bamboozled by the Technology, what it is important to focus on is the actual outcome, which for IT is the quality of information. And while quality of information is hard to quantify we all know what it is.

For example - imagine you're running a charity and I approach you with two lists, one containing ten thousand random contacts, another containing the names of the ten people who donated the most money to charity in the previous year. Take your pick.

So lets have another think about all that. Technology is unfathomably complex but has now been put in a little black box. Information, on the other hand, is easy to understand and use! I mean it will be obvious to you in your own business; Why you collect a particular piece of data, or save it. When it should be updated, and by whom etc.

You are also best placed to trace out how that information moves through your organization - and it's easy to do your own analysis. You'll need a napkin. You start by mapping out broad areas and then work progressively in each area as you require the detail. It's an art not a science. The aim is to get an understanding of the flow of information within in your organization (rather than make a comprehensive catalogue of it.)

You don't need to make a big deal out of this. You just need to get yourself in a position to be able to answer the questions:

  • Why exactly do I own this particular set of information.
  • How can I use this set of information to my benefit. It's not hard.

Why should you care about the answers? Remember that you are paying for the information; and as we have seen, what IT does is manipulate that data for you; and IT is expensive.

The Information is the key. Once you can see your own information and know 'what your data is and what it does' you can then decide what Technology you actually need. Importantly it puts you in the position of being able to pull your IT in to line so that it can be focused upon your business goals, and maybe even start helping to make you money.

The same knowledge will give you a measure of how well your IT is performing for you. You'll be able to decide if a) your IT staff really are doing great work for you or b) your IT is just an expensive mirage. Perhaps I am giving the game away here but techies love 'high tech', they could do it for hours. Meanwhile I approach managers about their IT and am told "Oh our IT department deals with that." My feeling is that some people are so bedazzled by the Technology that they feel it seems peevish to interrupt the boffins in IT and ask "So erm how is all this jiggerypokery supposed to contribute to our bottom line exactly?"

A few years ago I was asked if I had any ICT skills. "What's ICT" I asked impishly. I am not that keen on IT jargon. I learnt that Information and Technology had begat, and that Communication had appeared on the scene. I think the inclusion of Communication was intended as a nod to telephone technology. However the C always appears to remind me that times have changed, that Communication is the new big thing.

In the nineties people were happy to sit all day at a PC mashing away at the keyboard. Back in the day the PC had enough power to run a multinational business but in practice was used to assist in administrative tasks. They collected information and stored it on the PC. You still have situations where skilled staff spend a lot of time needlessly doing administration and use the computer to help them do the paperwork rather than letting the computer do it for them.

We're in a different age now. Systems don't just run automatically, they also hold hands with one another. They communicate with each other. The capacity to shunt Information around has taken a quantum leap while the Technology continues to get even more complex, even more scary!

Still don't worry. At the end of the day nothing has changed. IT is still about - the Information which you are using and how that Information assists you in achieving your business goals. So what the new technology has arrived, we've put it in a black box. The real challenge is to be more inventive, more ambitious, and more outward looking in the ways in which you are prepared to use that Information to move the business forward.

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