Monday, 15 December 2008

To everything there is a season (turn, turn, turn)

In the late 1980s I worked for a consulting practice that was then just beginning to push Information Engineering (IE) and associated CASE tools.  There was real excitement about the concept - provably correct systems; engineering rigour applied to application development; massive savings in development cost; etc. 

I remember that I loved the insight (from Quality movements) that getting things right in early lifecycle stages was much cheaper than fixing them later.  And identifying and monitoring an external critical assumption set, tied to critical success factors, seemed so obviously sensible.  The graphical nature of the tools, too, pointed the way forward pre-Windows.

But I was also puzzled.  I'd been working in 'office systems' - later 'desktop computing'.  From that perspective, it seemed self-evident that most of the information with which organisations worked was unstructured or semi-structured.  And IE seemed to have next to nothing to say about this.  Second, despite its recognition of the criticality of external assumptions, I saw it doing nothing actually to capture or monitor information relating to them.  Maybe these weren't what killed IE, but they seemed both beyond the tools available then, and pretty fundamental to me.

Reflecting on this now, the technology I use, and the Net environment within which it operates, demonstrate that both these shortcomings have pretty much been overcome.  So, there's a question about why there's been no resurgence in IE, given that its promise was so attractive.

I think the answer points beyond 'IE was ahead of its time' explanations.  Yes, it needed technology capabilities that came along later.  But it also needed a context that asked questions to which it had an answer - and that considered those questions compelling.  And, for whatever reason, IE has stopped being an answer to the most important questions organisations are asking.

So what?  A recognition that having an embryonic question to a compelling question may not be enough.  If by the time the answer is fully gestated the question is not longer critical then we're sunk.  I wonder how many of the current key questions businesses and consumers ask are being changed by the present socio-economic conditions?  And, I wonder, how many businesses are doing the scenario planning that might prepare them for this.  

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