Friday, May 06, 2011

Spending money intelligently

#entarch @MartinHowitt writes "I'm fed up of being told that our IT systems suck. Want better ones? Spend some blinking money. That is all."

@dougnewdick replies "To get better IT you need to spend money, but it doesn't follow that if you spend money you will get better IT."

Obviously just scattering money at random only solves one problem - the problem of having too much money. (When I started in IT, there were some sectors that were hugely profitable and spent vast amounts on IT: although many people imagined that the IT contributed to the profits, the reverse explanation was just as plausible. Correlation is not causality.)

I sympathize with Martin's plea to spend more money, as there is sometimes a tendency to assume that change can be achieved simply by getting people to work harder or smarter, without any investment whatsoever. I suspect that his outburst may have been a response to something like this.

But where is the blinking money going to go? It isn't obvious that the only way to get better IT is to spend money on IT. For example you might possibly get better IT if you spend a bit of money on fresh fruit and fish oil supplements for your IT managers, if that makes them more alert and responsive in negotiations with your IT suppliers, or more empathetc when dealing with staff problems. Or or therapy to help remove unconscious decision-making biases, as @MartinHowitt suggests. I guess many IT architects would say that kind of spending was "out of scope" -- but then what is the scope of IT spending? Surely not just hardware and software?

Which raises an important question for enterprise architecture -- how do we work out the likely consequences of spending money on all kinds of stuff? Shouldn't we be able to compare the benefits of fish oil with the benefits of snake oil?

Good point, says @dougnewdick. "Without proper studies all we can use is experience. But we can ensure investment is connected to desired outcomes."

When I asked what specific aspect of enterprise architecture practice helps to ensures connection of investment to desired outcomes, @fickles replied "All of it - otherwise what's the point?"

I'm sure most enterprise architects would agree with Fred that one of the primary tasks of enterprise architecture is to pay attention to the alignment of effort and outcomes. However, I wonder how many enterprise architects would be willing to take such a broad sociotechnical and humanistic view of this alignment (from snake oil to fish oil), and I wonder what techniques are available to support those who are.

See also discussion of Fish Oil on the POSIWID blog.

1 comment:

Martin said...

Thanks for blogging about this Richard.
My outburst was a result of a difficult (but ultimately successful) meeting with some clients who initially failed to see the link between their levels of investment in IT and the quality of their systems. There was an assumption that "our IT is rubbish because it's just that way" and no recognition that 3 years of shrinking IT budgets might have anything to do with the problem.

I would only observe that we don't have good ways of measuring the business (or other) value arising from IT projects, or enterprise architecture in general, and these values are very much a matter of perspective - we might spend money on personal development as an enterprise architecture project and realise more value than spending on technology.

While I personally wouldn't consider such spending out of scope for an enterprise architecture initiative, unless it was presented VERY carefully I would be considered to be stepping on others' toes if I proposed it.