Tuesday, May 16, 2017

The nature of progress

With all of the news lately about NHS IT woes and "ransom viruses" it's easy for people to reach the conclusion that computer systems are more trouble than they're worth. This is a view shared by many people, in fact I have a good friend who runs his own business and needs to do things like accounting, purchasing, manufacturing and inventory control etc. He manages pretty nicely without a single computer in sight, in fact he still uses leather bound ledgers and fax machines to do most things; I poke fun relentlessly at his technological protestations but it's probably still a really common way of working for many and in some rare cases (like his) preferred by some. 

Of course when organisations reach a certain size in terms of people and/or transactions then it becomes necessary to hire more people or use software, the brutal fact of the matter is that software is cheaper than people. But software applications are complex things, buying one is probably the easiest and first step on a long and continuous journey. I've lost count of the number of ignorant sales and marketing directors who think that simply buying a CRM system will instantly lead to them selling more stuff to more people and are most indignant when told they actually need to invest time, money and effort to make it work! 

In the case of the NHS problems the causes were almost certainly multi-faceted, first the virus needs to be injected into the network somewhere, leveraging a weakness (usually a person) and then it needs to be able to propagate; having old obsolete versions of operating systems (like Windows XP) and no anti-virus software certainly doesn't help but isn't the only issue. Much like climate change isn't the same as weather, progress isn't measured in single events like this; money and time need to be invested to make systems (used by people) work, there's no way around it.

PS. the photo above is a 5 Mb disk drive being loaded onto a Boeing 707 back in the 60's. We now have thousands of times more storage capacity available in devices that we carry in our pocket, such is progress.

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