Every now and then something sets me off about the computer industry and reminds me how screwed up it is. This past week I heard three expressions bandied about which have been around for a number of years and frankly, I had hoped they had died off.
The first one is "Information Management" which may sound innocent enough but reflects the naivety of the industry. The name itself suggests control over how information is disseminated and who is allowed to access it. Such control is common under dictatorships such as Hitler, Stalin, and Communist states. These regimes want to tightly control information in order to keep their people in the dark. After all, information is power.
The reality though is the people using this expression really mean "Data Management" or the management of all the resources needed to produce information. Actually, a more appropriate title would be, "Information Resource Management." Either way, the expression "Information Management" reveals a complete misinterpretation of what "information" is, which is "the understanding or insight gained from the processing and/or analysis of data" (PRIDE). Information is a perishable commodity, it is consumed by humans to make decisions and take actions. On the other hand, "data" is the raw material needed to produce information. By itself it is meaningless; only when we put it into a specific context with other data elements does it become information. We collect and store "data." we do not store "information." It is a subtle but important distinction.
Next, I cringe when I hear the expression "Computer System." There are three fundamental characteristics of any system: it is a grouping of two or more components which are held together through some common and cohesive bond; it operates routinely, and; it has a purpose. For example, an irrigation system is used to distribute water to plant life; a television microwave system bounces a communications signal around the country to consumers, and; an "information system" produces information for people to use in conducting business. In other words, "computer system" is a complete misnomer; what they really mean to say is an "information system" implemented with computer assistance. Understand this, you can also implement "information systems" using manual procedures or other equipment. A computer is but one device to implement such systems.
The final term that draws my wrath is "agile" as derived from "agile programming" which is a technique for writing software whereby users are interviewed, software is written quickly, then the programmers iterate through this process until the customer is satisfied. In most instances, there is no documentation associated with "agile programming" which complicates maintenance of the program, as well as modifying/improving it later on.
In reality, the concept of "agile programming" is not new and has been used over the years under a variety of names. My favorite is "QAD" - "Quick And Dirty." Interestingly, the proponents of "agile programming" encourage the use of these concepts for other things, such as project management (which would be a huge mistake in my opinion).
All of this is indicative of the sloppy thinking in the computer industry. Although people in this field may mean well, until such time as we define and standardize our terminology, nobody is going to take us seriously.
Keep the Faith!
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Tim Bryce is a writer and the Managing Director of M. Bryce & Associates (MBA) of Palm Harbor, Florida and has over 30 years of experience in the management consulting field. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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