Goodbye ICT, you’re already dead


Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair

There was a ruckus earlier between me and ICT.

There was an “engagement exercise” where they came to my floor on a specific day and time, for us to “see how they work” and for them to give us “tips and tricks” and to talk about any “issues“.



I have one, only one. Why when I come to work is the ICT at work much MUCH worse than what I bought myself for probably cheaper at home? Why do I have better hardware and software (FREE!) in my trouser pocket? The thing I hold in my palm right now as I type this.

It started off amicably enough. I broached the subject with “why do we have a version of Internet Explorer that is 10 years old, and is the worst browser in the modern era?”. He laughed. Then “Why do we have the worst email client that nobody in their personal life uses?” and so on.

And for every “why” there was a reason why this was an entirely unreasonable request and once he had explained “why” I SHOULD see how lucky we are to have anything at all.

So I mention how Word freezes regularly telling me (and loads of other people too, it happens to everyone) that “Changes have been made that affect the global template,” and did I want to save these changes? The response was so , “well that happens when you open up word documents from outside the council. Do you open up word docs from unknown places?” see how “outside the council” is conflated with a security threat? How a policy document from an other branch of central government is actually a threat to ICT security and I am GAMBLING WITH PEOPLES LIVES? Rather than what it really is, a flaw that predictably disrupts the user from doing their job.


You should too

I announce to him that I am beginning to outsource my ICT needs to much better providers.  I have not put anything out to tender, I am flagrantly breaching the usual procurement processes. I’m just doing it. And it isn’t costing the Council a penny.

I use Google docs for documents that I am working on alone.

I use the fantastically beautiful for planning work.

I use my phone for loads of tasks that my block of a PC can’t do, or the software in it won’t do.

When announced, the response is of course that I AM GAMBLING WITH PEOPLE’S LIVES.

THIS IS A POTENTIAL BREACH OF ICT SECURITY! I ask why, because he does not know what is on these documents, and I do. He says ITS A RISK. That only software that has been “100% tested” is allowed. Since I cannot vouch for Google docs, or their phone the Nexus 4, those disreputable Google fly-by-nights, I AM GAMBLING WITH PEOPLE’S LIVES.

I ask “but there’s nothing that is 100% safe. The email client and internet browser we use is notorious for being buggy and hackable.”.  This has no truck.

I say “can you see WHY I would do these things? Because the ICT we have here doesn’t serve my needs? That it is ICT who have created this situation where people have to do workarounds?

I say the computers are old, they literally creak. I can hear a colleagues whining and wheezing from about 12 feet away.

He explains how they buy the kit in bulk, at the “VERY BEST PRICES” with large ICT vendors to ensure value for money. But this takes years. Is this why I have old out of date rubbish?


I cite a colleague with a need for a faster computer as he was doing GIS mapping work.

He had been waiting months for ICT to buy and fit a small graphics card. He could have gone out at lunchtime and bought one for half the cost and fitted it himself in ten minutes.

The ICT man says if he had he would have been sacked.

I said I was glad I only am an office drone who only needs word processing and carried out light spreadsheet dutries, I couldn’t imagine how dreadful it would be being tied to a social care IT system or a Housing Benefits system that stopped me doing my job and made customers lives worse. He said it wasn’t “as simple as that”.

I explained how I use anything OTHER than Word whenever I can, moving onto Google docs wherever possible. Raised eyebrows, I’m clearly bonkers, despite NOBODY ON EARTH having a good thing to say about Word. No matter how thoroughly it’s been tested. This testing seems to be something that must benefit the ICT industry because it sure doesn’t benefit me if this crud gets through.

Well actually if YOU were to ask any of the big providers to integrate their systems with Google docs I think youd  find theyd tell you where to go”. Well use a small provider then! The big ones are clearly rubbish!

There are always reasons why something can’t be done. I’m not interested in why. I only care that it isn’t.

Any encounter with corporate services dismays me. These are the rules, this is how it works, etc. No idea that it could be different, and despite touting the word “customer”, they know best.

What is the thinking? Manage and control costs. You can’t trust people. Consistency rules. Experts in one area know better than the users in another. All that thinking slows you down and stops you from doing your job. If you were a social worker, it could be serious. As a drone it’s just annoying.

I’ve began to leave corporate ICT services wherever I can to free and better online services. I’m no ICT expert, but I know what works for me and what doesn’t. Am I the first in my organisation? Surely not, and I bet there’s similar in other organisations. ICT services are already dead, they just haven’t been buried yet.
All it takes is a new chief executive who questions why they get a better service from the phone in their pocket than the ICT service that costs millions.

I have a message for you, ICT.
You’re not in the ICT business you joined. You’re competing against the best in the world now and you’re losing.
You have an advantage that you’re squandering. You are based on site with your customers, and you’re ignoring them. Give it long enough and they’ll be ignoring you right back.

About a third of the people who follow this blog or the twitter feed seem to be ICT people.

I’m grateful and constantly surprised that any one does, but given my regular diatribes about the vileness of ICT services and projects, I wonder what they think?

Tell me in the comments please.

This entry was posted in command and control, inspection, public sector, thinking and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

38 Responses to Goodbye ICT, you’re already dead

  1. stymaster says:

    Hmm. I understand your frustration, but understand your ICT bloke’s situation too. I’m a sysadmin. That means I look after a business network of a fair size.

    It’s actually quite hard. With limited time, limited staff, and limited budgets, it can be hard just to keep stuff going, secureish, and backed up without causing chaos. You can be forced to retain old applications (maybe eve old OSs) because bespoke software (which is where a lot of that big budget goes) is tied in to them- bespoke software that the business needs. There’s training problems- you sound like a competent user, but that’s not universal, and the everyday queries to deal with. The rules are there for good reasons, though it doesn’t feel like it. If you use ICTs servers, then they make sure it’s backed up and secure, and won’t introduce an incompatible file format- where Google can essentially, say “screw you” at any point.

    Look at it from a project point of view, look at the risks and gotchas.

    To be honest, it does sound like it’s badly in need of an overhaul though. IE6 is unusable, these days, for a start.


    • ThinkPurpose says:

      Thanks for the comment!

      But I don’t care! I don’t care how hard it is. Rethink, redesign and redo. No external customer deserves excuses, only the services they need. Same goes for internal. We need to work together on this.
      To be clear, this is not a problem I have with individuals. This is a management thinking problem. But I fear, like Deming says, survival isn’t necessary, so why change the big assumptions underlying the management of the work when you can have tougher procurement policies or more wide ranging ICT strategies. Easier.
      Again, thanks for the comment!


      • stymaster says:

        You’re right, of course. It’s a managment problem, and it should work. You have a job to do, you need the tools, but please spare a thought for your poor IT staff, who are probably suffering too. Like the blog, BTW.


        • ThinkPurpose says:

          The conversation was certainly getting testy. Afterwards I was thinking how I would have answered if I were in his shoes. I don’t believe the excuses and explanations that my lot give out. And I hope I don’t do it. I’m open about how I don’t think we’re doing a good job, not because of incompetence, but because we’re trying to do the wrong thing. So it doesn’t matter how well we do it. I think a policy officers saving grace is that we have no power. Unlike HR, Finance, ICT and legal. So the worst we can be is harmless.


  2. Tim Burton says:

    IT departments should consider their users as customers, and that they’re there to help them achieve the business goals via their roles.

    However far to many places the IT dept consider the whole thing their ‘domain’ and that ‘users’ are merely guests and should play by the house rules.


    • stymaster says:

      People *should* play by the rules. However, the rules should be right :-). Too many people in IT use the rules as a stick to beat users with. I’m not a fan of the C word- or at least that one. I’d prefer “colleagues”. The aim should be to define good rules and practices to enable the business to do it’s job, rather than conflict.


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  4. ThinkPurpose says:

    OR, how do me and ICT work together to solve the outside customers problems?
    either way, it is about more than either of us.


  5. dancarins says:

    I totally feel your pain. Today a university professor emailed me to ask to talk about our work. He suggested a Skype chat to avoid the need to waste time, money and carbon travelling. I asked our ICT people if we have Skype (as you need to sign in blood and create a rock solid business case to take to some committee in three months’ time to possibly even download anything) for a online meeting next week.

    They scratched their heads, conferred amongst one another as ICT people do, before saying “can’t you do it on your own laptop?”.

    I stared blankly at them before telling the professor “I’ll just come to your office”.


  6. ThinkPurpose says:

    You should have asked them for a partial refund on whatever it is your part of the organisation pays them.
    It appears that the ICT is changing faster than ICT services, so can it only get WORSE? Terrible thought that you’d have to lower your expectations even further in the future when you come to work.


  7. All true. But it’s not just corporate ICT services. The same malaise seems to affects all corporate services – HR, Facilities, Admin, Finance – just about everywhere. I’m convinced there’s something deeper going on. Something connected with e.g. “Broken Windows” Theory, amongst other things.

    The fact that (senior) management tolerates this malaise and allows it to continue is one of the (many) reasons I just quit my recent job. Organisations in which the folks responsible for the “fabric” of the organisation don’t care to do anything about it will, I predict, increasingly struggle to attract and retain people who care. Just one more factor detracting from employee engagement.

    And I share the feelings of concern for, and of solidarity with, the *people* in these failing service silos. Their lives must be every bit as miserable as the lives of their long-suffering “customers”.

    Where’s the joy?

    I have to conclude that senior management does not see the violence inherent in the system, and in their indifference. Or, put another way, they themselves have some unmet needs which they choose to get met in ways which detract from the wider joy of everyone else (and themselves too, most likely).

    – Bob


    • ThinkPurpose says:

      Absolutely does affect all corporate services. I’m having to try and move social media use along in the council. This pushes the buttons of legal, ICT , corporate communications, HR and audit so PREDICTABLY because it cedes control of communication. They can’t stand it. So much fear. And the desperate need for certainty is mind boggling. Someone said at a meeting that social media would only be allowed if you could demonstrate”100% control” of what would be said/typed! Even with a gun pointed at the back of someones head you can’t get 100% control. But that’s what they want and seem to fear having less than it. Well, theyve made a rod for their own back there haven’t they. If an individual in their own life needed 100% control to function, they’d be a strong candidate for a mental illness. It’s not healthy because it’s not possible.
      Think of Bill Gates typing things in a garage in California in the 70s. Was it control and fear that drove him, or the possibilities? One approach is closed and leads nowhere, the other is open and leads somewhere.


  8. David says:

    It is indeed true that users doing their own thing creates a security risk, but so does managing IT so cack-handedly (in the name of security as well as for other “reasons”) that users are driven to find alternative solutions. (And as you point out the approved stuff is often frighteningly old and insecure anyway.)

    But it does not have to be thus:

    As you point out, the right question is “How do me and ICT work together to solve the outside customers problems?”

    And part of this will be about security – because whilst the outside customer wants their immediate problem solved, they don’t want you to create new problems in the process (e.g. compromising their systems by the introduction of malware, giving criminals access to their sensitive information, etc.).

    The key is, as Angela Sasse puts it: “Designing usable Security that works with and for, rather than against, users and their organisations.”


    • ThinkPurpose says:

      I have a linen shirt, lovely it is. So i never wore it as it was too nice to wear. Today I am wearing it as i realised it was pointless being nice in the wardrobe when it could be nice on my torso instead, and get a bit more creased and worn and have a shorter but a more useful life.
      i see this same sort of response in people who keep plastic covers over their furniture. To keep it nice. Except now they have a horrid set of plastic covered furniture. Or keeping a set of plates “for best”, i.e. for never.
      I was given a feedback form to fill in for yesterdays engagement exercise. I filled it in rather foolishly. I don’t want them coming back explaining even more certainly exactly why I’m wrong and they’re right. I don’t care what they have to say, I don’t care what their problems are. I just want a system that works.


  9. Charles Beauregard says:

    You’re lucky you can use Google Docs. It’s blocked by security filters at my place.


    • ThinkPurpose says:

      Yes! I know I am. I am in fact lucky that i have Chrome as a browser too. Most of us have these thin client devices, but some lucky few have normal PCs so extras can be put on. I got the right person by accident to put it on. Subsequently others around me who I recommended get it, had their requests refused. It’s random.


  10. Dave Snowden says:

    One of your best ever blogs. I remember exactly the same in my IBM days. Overall I think you could take 40% of the cost of most IT Departments by stopping them managing things that they should not be managing. Not only that people would be more secure as they would have to take more responsibility for their own client side environments. The more who rebel the better. Then we see the NHS using IE6 with WIndows 2000 hitting productivity and ensuring a huge waste of resource that could be better used on health.

    I think it’s an entrained pattern of fear, a failure to be prepared to take responsibility which accidentally is violent, but the effect is the same.


  11. Martin says:

    ok, I’ll bite.
    I lead IT strategy in a council. And I’m trying to change the IT department because, as you say, the purpose it was created for is dead. I agree with the commenter above that all corporate services have this problem because “corporate” and “service” represent two fundamentally different business models.
    “corporate” – the body of the organisation; strategy, governance, compliance, risk management, commissioning, top-level KPIs
    “services” – customer-centric, nimble, no job too small, no job too much trouble.
    These things are not only not the same, they are opposed.

    An IT service treats it’s users as customers. It has customer journey maps, compiles lists of customer jobs to be done, bends itself to help people at every turn.
    A corporate IT function, on the other hand, is an investor in those parts of the business that will provide a return for the corporate centre. It’s a totally different focus. New line of business system? Compile the business case. Compare and prioritise with other areas of the organisation wanting their own investments in change. Make IT an investment portfolio management function.

    In my experience IT departments try to do both things and end up failing because the two things are fundamentally incompatible.

    The solution is to find ways to split the two functions, for example by instituting a commissioner/provider split. That sort of approach is something we are exploring at the moment. If that doesn’t work, well – I’ll retrain. That’s life.


    • ThinkPurpose says:

      Interesting distinction between the two ways of looking at ICT.
      It’s the “corporate” description that worries me. You listed the usual stuff anyone would expect to see in a corporate piece of work, KPIs, compliance etc. And I just think it’s a load of bollocks. Having worked in these areas (not ICT, but was external performance management officer for that area) i found that they’re just a paper trail leading nowhere.


  12. Vasco Duarte says:

    I think that ICT services should outsource their services to the users themselves. After all, if you put a few curious people together they’ll figure out what to do.
    Once the users figure out what they want to use, the ICT just needs to maintain it!

    And before you say it can’t be done: It has been done. A LARGE company asked (regularly) its employees which applications they *actually* used for their work. After the results were tallied the top 2 (yes! two!) were officially supported by ICT services in the company.

    NOt that hard, and made the users very happy (at least a majority, of course, you can’t please everyone). Next time you go to the ICT guy he should say “sorry mate, the majority has spoken. Try convincing people around you to change and wait for next years review” 😉


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  14. Mark says:

    There’s no need for the users or business to put up with poor ICT today. The business now has the option of buying the best ICT locally or in the World from the Government’s CloudStore,

    This problem of poor ICT is recognised by Central Government and their is a strategy to deliver better solutions based on user needs.

    G-Cloud CoudStore is supporting this change,

    There’s nothing stopping the business going to the CloudStore and buying world class ICT services. It’s legal, secure, complies with EU/Government procurement practices.

    Ask you ICT peeps, why they are not using the CloudStore.


  15. Rob says:

    I enjoyed reading this post – I think you’ve articulated a frustration which a lot of people feel (not just in government). In defence of IT as a profession (not necessarily your org as I don’t know them), we’re not all ignorant of the need to get shot of some of the things that tie people up in knots. Local Government as a whole has a reputation for fusty bureaucracy which it doesn’t deserve. Likewise IT people aren’t all stuck in 1998… I’ve just joined my team and I’ve been thoroughly impressed with their ambition to do different. We now need to put that into action…

    I agree with the points ‘stymaster’ raises. If I can persuade you to feel some of our pain, some of the challenges IT need to deal with often include:

    – a legacy of underinvestment: my observation is that IT budgets are often seen as ‘back office’ and ‘easy’ savings. Ignoring the fact that frontline teams usually rely on IT.

    – security is often treated as being IT’s problem: ignoring the fact that breaches are usually down to paper, faxes and foolishness. This results in a ‘lock it all down’ approach with the unintended effect of driving people to be less secure as it’s the only way they can get stuff done. Changing this is key, and requires a fundamental shift in relationships and responsibility.

    – legacy cludge: it takes a lot of money and effort (not just from IT) to replace an outdated line of business system, so we are left trying to run a platform which is trapped in the 2000s and fundamentally unsuited to the modern world. In my last place we only managed to scrap IE6 last winter – which, as you say, is daft.

    – and even in the really easy areas (blocking Skype and social media? really??), the policy is usually decided by the organisation and IT just implements it. IT needs to be part of the campaign for change, but can’t do it on its own.

    So, I’d completely agree that people need much more flexible and modern tools so that they can work productively, but I’d encourage you to think about how you can help your IT folk get the organisational shift to make that possible. They may well be dyed in the wool Luddites (in which case you definitely have issues!), but equally they might just be trapped by outdated thinking across the organisation as a whole. It needs a coalition of minds to shift that.


  16. Dead dinosaur says:

    One of the purposes of the IT Service is to help its customer do their job. Another purpose is to help the business safely and securely use and store the data that its customers trust the business with.

    I would argue there has never been a greater need for an IT Service that understand this to help the business and customers navigate this minefield. Leaving customers to their own devices is not the answer. Whilst Google Docs is great and my make your job easier are your customers happy with Google data mining your Google Docs for advertising purposes? Do customers read the small print in the end user agreements they naively sign up to has they work around their company’s ancient unfit for purpose IT systems?

    Yes these modern technologies need embracing to remove barriers but in a way that guarantees the sovereignty of the data you process through them.

    Yes many IT Services has lost their way and need reshaping. They need to remove barriers so people can do their jobs better but they also have to balance this navigating businesses through the risks associated with data leakage, data privacy, intellectual property and cyber attack.

    I totally agree they need to stay local and get alongside their customers to see the problems through their customer eyes.

    There are many people who work in IT departments who forget they exist to serve the customer but that is the problem you need to solve. Telling them they are dinosaurs and dead and that you don’t care is not a solution to the problem.


    • ThinkPurpose says:

      I’m just speaking for me when I say I use Google docs. And as I’m a policy officer, I’m not in sniffing distance of customers. The sort of thing I do in my work is so abstracted from particular customers that I could post it on here, and sometime do!
      That kanban post I did a few months ago was something I did for work, and will be using again in next few weeks.


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  18. Lloyd says:

    I would suggest a way forward might be to inform your manager that your it systems are preventing you from working and that it affects your colleagues too. If your management is any good at all they should escalate this and policy should get changed.


    • ThinkPurpose says:

      This would be a rational approach to explanation. Problem is, rational explanations only work when the same mind-set or underlying mental model is shared.
      When the same mental model is shared, then rational explanations work as there are shared values and concepts. eg what is “good” to a vegatarian is not necessarily “good” to a meat-eater. There can be no rational explanation of why eating a steak is good or bad that could convince either to change their mental model. The model lies beneath it, and the rational argument rages on top, informed by it but not touching it.
      so when it comes to this subject what “seems obvious” to me is not necessarily what “seems obvious” to someone else


  19. Charles Beauregard says:

    On a similar subject, this is definitely worth a watch:


  20. Nik says:

    A good post, as ever, and good comments, too.

    And let’s understand where the malaise is and where it isn’t.

    The malaise is not with the poor soul who was lucky enough to be sent to you on the “engagement exercise” (lovely phrase; I wonder how many “non-engagement exercises” take place). He will just be defending his team; he didn’t decide to keep IE6, or sign the contract with the provider, etc. The problem is with senior managers who aren’t obliged or interested in seeing what excellence looks like when compared to other organisations, or compared to (updated) common sense.

    The malaise is in ICT and (as @flowchainsensei points out) in HR, Finance, etc. It’s also potentially beyond corporate services and really in any part of the organisation that’s got anywhere near large. You will no doubt be familiar John Seddon’s examples of housing associations and financial sales teams who wasted untold time and money focusing on the wrong things. They are not corporate services; they are what their organisations are about, but they still failed to miss their purpose.

    I hope by bringing your pain to your forum we have provided some group therapy. And I think we in your therapy group have welcomed helping you. The real solution, though, is to address the cause of the pain itself.


  21. James says:

    In my experience, ICT is a mish-mash of conflicting policies, as Martin articulated very well above, and finding the right balance there is important. Keep in mind that my last position was in a small IT team that built a lot of policy according to the whim of the manager, rather than committee as I expect GOV to function.

    So, in my last role, we (the ICT team) were often complimented by ‘how much better we were than other companies [they\d] worked for’. We tried to run the latest software, I don’t know if they email client you were using was that big one from Microsoft, but if it was our corporate culture wanted it. Why? Yes, the email part of it is all broken – its a headache for email marketing because it likes to render everything differently. But the groupware functionality (shared calendar) is a hard application to replace, and when you add Sharepoint integration bonuses it starts to become mighty convenient because you can start handing off ICT work to other departments to look after.

    We would normally install just about any software we could legally license, but only if the user could provide a good case for why it was necessary. More often than not there was a good reason, and the application benefited others so it was added to the standard images.

    But then you have a lot of reasons that, if all users could ‘do what they wanted’, would end up with an absolute process disaster. Lets example that all users want to bring their own phone, or install winamp and start streaming music via ICT’s network. ICT is managing a limited data trunk which may be shared between multiple sites. So Bob in warehousing saps all the bandwidth out of the line and nobody can send or receive emails. Awesome! For this to really work, ICT would probably need to set up QoS on a separate network which all personal devices accessed.

    Or, lets consider Ted uses Google Docs, Mary uses Excel because she needs to run a Macro to pick up multiple other XLS documents or maybe reference an SQL server for data, and now she somehow has to combine that with the output from a Google Docs app that may or may not return a compatible file. “Thanks, Ted! All the Exchange emails are currently backing up at the moment and now I have to recreate Mary’s work flow!”. Sure, Ted probably didn’t realize he was breaking Mary’s workflow by changing editor, because he didn’t understand Mary’s workflow…. but had he asked, someone in ICT probably could have told him.

    Lets use one last example of why, while you DO make very good points about why ICT breaks user workflow, I think you would be silly to let everyone manage themselves – data consistency. I need to be able to backup and provide consistent ability to recover and manage super-large sets of data that I probably don’t completely understand. I have to control a bunch of access credentials to prevent the data from being inexplicably locked up without a key. I need to be able to do things as simple as restore hyperlinks to browsers so that assets can be found on the network, so you’d better believe I need to know which browser folder I need to back up.

    But its true, corporate users are made to put up with some really rubbish software (for which free/better alternatives do exist… although sometimes their license will stipulate that business entities have to pay licensing costs). There is often a good reason IT don’t want to embrace it though. Either its too new, or too difficult to control. When you have thousands of users, it helps if you can manage them all from just a few applications. My philosophy has always been to provide users with the best of the best whenever I can, and to make the IT work for everyone….. but it could be that some IT guys are simply jerks….


  22. Semlk says:

    I’m pretty sure this was meant as a joke article, you sound like one of my kids at home, why cant I look at youtube daddy I’m only looking at Moshi Monsters stuff.


    • ThinkPurpose says:

      You’re wrong.
      I’m guessing you came here from when it made an appearance on an IT Sub-Reddit. They LOATHED it, it was brilliant. The self involved and arrogant posturing. They made my case for me.


      • Semlk says:

        You guessed wrong, I don’t read Reddit, but my reply was a bit pathetic I admit, I don’t normally reply to things like this, I do work in IT though, and am constantly worried about getting the sack or in the shit for something another person has done, I’ve got a family to support and its making me quite anxious to be honest, your article seemed quite callous towards people who are just trying to make a living. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t. If the IT guy got into trouble for something you did, would you hold your hand up and admit it was your fault?


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