- By Bruce McConnell
- Jul 17, 2000
The central problem in information technology management has shifted. Runaway
systems development projects have given way to a new central concern — that
of making systems dependable.
The road to success is well-known: understand the mission and goals,
design the system with the users in mind, rely on off-the-shelf technology,
take a modular approach and so forth. Solving the Year 2000 problem was
strong proof that if industry and government chief information officers
follow this road, they can successfully manage large initiatives.
Fixing the Year 2000 bug also ushered in the focus on making systems
dependable. This crops up in a variety of guises, which then compete for
resources and create confusion about priorities. The three most common variations
are often heard as cries to:
* Protect critical infrastructures, including federal computer systems,
* Provide confidentiality, integrity and privacy in electronic transactions.
* Ensure reliability and dependability in application software.
Crisis-mongers fill the air with sound and fury to hype each cause.
Those promoting critical infrastructure protection remind us that the keels
of all the U.S. battleships that won World War II were laid before the Pearl
In the second case, we are warned by cyberspace's brightest legal scholar — Lawrence Lessig, in his book, Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace — that
industry's very design for the network is destined to undermine freedom
As for the third point, we are counseled to rise up against a software
industry that dismisses as "undocumented features" bugs that steal, as coldly
as Jesse James, the productive time of scores of people.
We are at the beginning of what author Lester Thurow calls the third
industrial revolution, one that encompasses IT and its unruly offspring — forces such as biotechnology and globalization. Revolutions are by nature
confusing, contentious and troubling.
Those of us at the helms of craft that ply these turbulent waters must
now adjust our bearings and set a course for the middle way.
The true middle ways are robust "win-wins." They stand above the competing
calls for security, privacy, reliability and free access and create balanced
solutions that serve all interests better. One such solution is U.S. encryption
policy that, in the words of longtime administration critic Rep. Bob Good-latte
(R-Va.), "will protect privacy, promote our national security and allow
U.S. companies to compete with foreign encryption manufacturers."
Like good system designs and well-managed projects, these middle ways
are not born perfect. They grow best from iterative, participative, risk-taking,
cross-functional teams of public- and private-sector experts who struggle
together to achieve a common goal. The goal of creating innovative, dependable
solutions is worthy. We, too, must be.
—McConnell, former chief of information policy and technology at the Office
of Management and Budget and director of the International Y2K Cooperation
Center, is president of McConnell International LLC.