Top of the Pops

Top of the Pops

When I was around seven years old an older - and supposedly wiser - friend gave me some advice on eating Popsicles. She told me that if I bit the top off the Popsicle it wouldn't melt as fast. (I think this friend grew up to be Martha Stewart.) Of course it wasn't true, but I was young and naive enough to believe in the wisdom of my elders and so for a while always bit the top off my Popsicle. (It hurt like hell, too. Perhaps, now that I think about it, maybe my friend grew up to be Madam Lash.) The day finally came when for some reason or another I didn't bite the top of my Popsicle, and sure enough it didn't melt any faster than before.

The point here is that you can start doing something, continue to do it for some time even though it causes you pain, then abruptly stop doing it AND IT MAKES NOT ONE IOTA OF DIFFERENCE in the scheme of things. (Hmmm, that pretty much describes my first marriage.) That's something everyone involved in IT should be thinking about these days because there's not much spending on IT at the moment and sooner or later someone, somewhere is gonna think IT MAKES NOT ONE IOTA OF DIFFERENCE in the scheme of things.

For a while now, the press (that's me), the pundits, the IT vendors all keep carping on what I've come to think of as the unholy trinity of IT spending, Y2K, GST and the boom/bust New Economy. In the US you'd substitute 9-11 for the GST, but it's still an unholy threesome. These events triangulated into The Perfect Storm and the SS IT Budget sunk to the bottom faster than a Mariah Carey movie (well, almost as fast). That's what everybody points to. That's all anyone in the industry talks about. But we'd better get past it and think about what's happening: it doesn't seem to have had any impact. Sure there are plenty of news stories about companies on the edge or going under, but Enron didn't happen because the IT department forgot to upgrade the ERP package. OneTel didn't crash and burn because Jodee wouldn't use e-mail. Worldcom isn't in a pickle because its CIO opted not to install Windows XP.

I have this vision of a mahogany-panelled, Tiffany-lit library at an executive club, a gaggle of high-street CEOs are sitting in their leather wing-chairs, reading The Fin, sipping XO and puffing on Cubans. It's the new financial year.

One of them says to another: "Richard, did Acme spend more on IT last year?"

Richard: "No, in fact, we spent less and IT MADE NOT ONE IOTA OF DIFFERENCE in the scheme of things. Business is good, profits are up and shareholders are happy." (Richard is probably CEO of a bank.)Suddenly, there's a rustling of newspapers and a chorus of accord. "We found the same thing." "Exactly." "Very much the same with us." "Absolutely." (This from an advertising agency CEO.) And you know, unless a lot of us start making it clear to our CEOs just what IT does contribute even during these low-fat budgets, we may learn the lesson of the Popsicle. You can bite the top off first or you can skip it. But in either case, it still sucks.

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