By training I am a chemist and by profession I am an information scientist, enriched with metallurgy, electronic publishing and market research along the way. This kaleidoscope of a career has taken me to almost 40 countries and inside over 100 organisations, ranging from the United Nations in New York to a convent in London.
I started my career as an Information Officer in two trade organisations for the non-ferrous metallurgical industry. A core element of my role was to answer technical enquiries from member companies, and I quickly learned that what callers started out asking for was not in fact what they wanted to know. The experience taught me to listen carefully and not be afraid to ask questions that would clarify their requirement, a core skill for a consultant.
In 1982 I joined Logica PLC, at that time a highly successful and visible systems development and integration company, heading up a team of consultants trying to make sense of the telecommunications market as broadband services started to arrive. Despite being a senior manager, I had to attend a one-day induction course. The primary message was to highlight the difference between a system that was fit to specification and a system that was fit for purpose. Logica made a passion out of developing systems that were fit for purpose even if the company had to take a profit hit on the contract. It knew that more business would result from this focus on user expectations and the user experience.
Fifteen years later I started up Intranet Focus Ltd. as even by 1999 it was becoming clear that the early intranets were not meeting expectations. My standard approach at the start of a project was to talk to a small number of employees at various levels within the organisation, ideally including the Chief Executive. From the information I collected I could then decide where to broaden the number of interviews. From the start of my intranet work I discovered quite quickly that the procedures that employees needed to undertake on a regular basis (e.g. booking a meeting room) often overly-complex. They may have been fit to specification but certainly not fit for purpose. As a result workarounds had been developed which invariably remained invisible to managers. In the course of the next 100+ projects and 20 countries the extent of the workarounds never ceased to amaze and concern me.
Somehow during the course of my career I have found the time to write nine books. Each has been a learning experience, challenging me to explain topics to readers in a level of detail that my clients had never required. This is my tenth book, and it really is time to stop. However, this book is very different from its predecessors as they were all written almost totally from my own experience. This textbook is based to a much greater extent on research literature – after all I have been honoured by the Information School with the title of Visiting Professor for over 20 years. This book is going to be the nearest I will ever come to writing about topic with a combination of the rigour and analysis of an academic (albeit a visiting version) and the experience gained from my consulting work.
When I started writing this book, I had little idea of what I would find in Pandora’s Box, and my literature collection is now the largest on any topic in my personal digital library outside of ‘search’. It was a fascinating journey, especially as I began to appreciate the insights that the research community has uncovered that could be of value to IT managers.
I hope the results shed new light for you on the challenges that every organisation faces in managing the flows of data and information amongst its employees and also with suppliers and customers. Workarounds and shadow IT can have an important contribution to make in supporting these flows, but the risks are also very significant. Balancing the benefits and the risks is what this book is all about.
Horsham May 2023