Law of Unintended Consequences

Cause Effect Keys Meaning Consequence Action Or ReactionMany years ago, there was an IT department. The role of the IT department was to extend the business of the organization into technology. The world of IT was immature at this point, where new technology was sprouting every day.

In the early days, the technician had to know what the business of the organization was about. It was essential that the technician know the business in order to effectively apply technology. The technician needed to know what the organization produced, how to recognize a customer, how to process a sale, how to create a shipment. Whatever the basic business of the corporation was, the technician had to at least have a cursory understanding of the business.

Then one day something unintended happened. Technicians discovered that their loyalty ought to be toward their technology, not the business. Technicians discovered that if they became experts in a technology that they could switch jobs easily. If the job at one company did not work out, they could just move to another company that needed the technical expertise that they had. Furthermore, they could get more money by moving jobs.

Technicians began to be loyal to their technology rather than to the company they worked for. What got lost in this change of loyalty was the alignment that the technician had with business. Suddenly the technician was working for the technology, not the company that was footing the bill.

Then years later, we woke up to find that the technician knew nothing (or very little) about the business that was generating the money that was paying the salary of the technician. I recall speaking at a conference years ago and making the statement that technicians should understand the business that they were working for. I shall never forget the reaction I got. The audience thought this was a radical and new concept.  I was perplexed. I didn’t understand then (and I still don’t understand now) how a person can take a paycheck from a company and not have the faintest idea of how that company conducts its business.

A few years later I was talking with people in IT. I was trying to explain how a concept – data warehousing – was going to help their business. IT wasn’t the least bit interested in helping their business. All they cared about was new features the vendor had put into the latest technology.

Fast forward to today. I was at a recent conference where I was talking with people who happened to work for a large company (that shall remain anonymous). The people at the conference told me an interesting story. Their company was laying off 80% of their IT staff. They weren’t outsourcing. They simply were jettisoning 4 out of 5 people who were in IT. Top management had sat back and asked what good were the IT staff doing? The IT staff had grown so distant from the business that the world of IT was like its own separate world that had nothing to do with making the corporation a better and more efficiently run place. So the corporation just got rid of the bulk of IT workers. They weren’t contributing anything positive to the business in any case. So the shift in loyalty away from the business to the technology by the technician has come full circle. The years of ignoring the business person and not making the business of the corporation the top priority have resulted in a nasty divorce.

It was never intended to be like this. It is just how it happened.


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About Bill Inmon

Bill is universally recognized as the father of the data warehouse. He has more than 36 years of database technology management experience and data warehouse design expertise. He has published more than 40 books and 1,000 articles on data warehousing and data management, and his books have been translated into nine languages. He is known globally for his data warehouse development seminars and has been a keynote speaker for many major computing associations.