You Don’t Have to Move Just Because You’re Ready

I was worried when I saw Denmark ranked no. 4 in “The Global Cloud Ecosystem Index 2022.” I was afraid that we had somehow stumbled into the cloud trap without my noticing. But it turns out the index is not about actual cloud adoption, only cloud readiness.

Being ready for the cloud means having affordable, fast internet connections, digital public services, data protection regulations, and a well-educated workforce. I’m all for that.

But the fact that we can doesn’t mean we should. Just like the fact that you could move some of your services to the cloud is not an argument for doing it. There are some systems where there is a sound business case for moving to the cloud. But for most existing systems, attempting to move to the cloud destroys value.

Good Intentions are not Enough

“We have the ambition to test disaster recovery twice a year.” That’s not something anybody in a professional IT organization would say, is it? Ambition? I have the ambition to create a spam- and hate-speech-free Twitter alternative powered by unicorns and rainbows, but unless I act on my ambition, nothing will happen.

Nevertheless, critical Danish infrastructure was operated on that principle. The common login system that everything from banks to tax authorities to municipalities uses is operated by a company called Nets. They apparently got to write their contract with the state themselves because it contains the ridiculous “ambition” instead of an actual requirement.

They did run a test on May 28, 2020. They did not run a test in November 2020, as was their ambition. Nor in May or November 2021. Not even in May 2022 did they test it. So when they crashed the system in June 2022 due to undocumented changes and other unprofessional shenanigans, the disaster recovery unsurprisingly failed.

Please tell everyone this story. When you are done laughing at the incompetence of central Danish authorities and their vendors, make sure you are testing your own disaster recovery…

Do you Need People to Run Your Systems?

If everybody in IT left, would your software systems still run? Of course they would. Any professional IT organization strives for hands-off, lights-out operation.

In the short term, a running system should not need any human intervention. It should automatically allocate more disk space and apply routine vendor patches. If you have a variable workload, your system should auto-scale or auto-throttle. User provisioning should be automated, as should routine password resets. System privileges should automatically follow the organizational role of an individual.

In the medium term, however, an unattended system will collapse. There will be emergency security patches that need manual attention. There will be changes in APIs you depend upon.

It remains to be seen if Elon Musk has retained enough talent to stave off the medium-term collapse of Twitter. How about you? Do you have the talent you need to maintain all your systems? Or are some of them left totally unattended, waiting for an implosion?

Eventually, We Will All Work in IT

By 2057, everybody in the U.S. will work in IT. That’s because IT organizations are able to outgrow anything else. The minimum growth rate is 5-7% increased headcount per year for the same work – as every other bureaucracy. But in addition, every 6-12 months brings a new technological fad that necessitates a whole new team with new skills. Since no old code is ever retired, all the old programmers stay on. And every “simplification” initiative simply adds a new integration platform, yet somehow never reduces the existing complexity.

The radical solution by Elon Musk is to simply fire half the employees and all the contractors and see what happens. Twitter is still up as of today, though its long-term viability is still very much up in the air.

All the other tech companies had apparently been waiting for someone to go first because Amazon, Meta, and others have gotten rid of more than 100,000 employees in the last few weeks.

If there is a better way to streamline IT than a Musk-style massacre, please tell me.

Are You Aware of the Dangerous Tipping Points in Your Business?

“Gradually, then suddenly.” That’s Mike explaining how he went bankrupt, in Hemmingway’s immortal voice. It’s also how cryptocurrency exchange FTX collapsed. And it’s how usage of your IT systems declines.

It happens all the time that users suddenly defect en masse from a product that used to be popular. For a while, the vendor gets away with offering a slightly worse product and charging a little bit more. Inertia and the inconvenience of switching means that for a long time, users will only slowly trickle away. But unless the vendor changes course, they reach an irreversible tipping point where their product usage crashes.

It can happen to your IT even if you don’t sell your software. When the database gets slower and slower, or the sign-in procedure becomes more and more cumbersome. One day you will realize that your users are running the business with no security and no backup in Smartsheet and Excel…

Using the Power of UX for Good or Bad

You can easily manipulate users. Using design tricks to confuse and deceive users is known as “Dark UX,” and Airbnb has been an enthusiastic practitioner. For example, American users have always been surprised that their great deals look much less great after humongous compulsory “cleaning fees” are added at the last step.

I never saw this trick in Denmark because such shenanigans are illegal here. Airbnb power users know to search for Airbnb rentals in the US on the Australian site because deceptive practices are also illegal there.

Under pressure from users and regulators, Airbnb has stalled for years, implausibly claiming technical challenges in displaying the total price. However, it seems like the pressure has now grown too big to ignore, and even Americans should shortly be able to see the actual price.

User Experience knowledge is meant to help users, not trick them. You don’t want your company to become a byword for deception like Airbnb has become.

How Do You Make Sure You Keep Up?

Did you learn anything this week? Every industry is changing rapidly, and the IT industry more than most. Those who keep their noses to the grindstone every day will miss important trends. There are new technologies, new tools, and new ways of working.

I was discussing the future of IT with some of the sharpest minds in Denmark at the Software Architecture Open Space in Copenhagen yesterday and came away with new insights and provocative rebuttals to some of my entrenched notions about how organizations can be successful with IT.

If you are in a leadership position in IT, how do you ensure that your key players take time out from their day-to-day tasks to learn what is happening in the industry?

Handing Off Your Problems to Someone Else

Today is the day when up to 300,000 Danes can no longer access their online banking. They also cannot use any of the gazillion public services that require a login. That’s because the old public ID system in Denmark has been retired, and everyone has to use the insecure and shoddily built new one.

The reason thousands of people are left behind is the cumbersome signup process that – among other things – involves scanning the chip in your passport with a modern smartphone. It turns out many people can’t figure out how to do that. But that is not a problem for the organization behind the ID system. They simply tell users to show up at the local service point in their town for help.

It is, however, a problem for the overworked local service center employees. They are staffed to (barely) manage their usual work. Dumping 500,000 IT support tasks on them has predictably led to huge waiting times for an appointment for anything.

Don’t allow your IT systems to dump their problem somewhere else and declare themselves a success.

Are You Sure Your Backup System Works?

Why did all the trains in Denmark stop on Saturday? Russian hackers may or may not have been involved, but Danish incompetence was.

The Danish State Railways (DSB) has digitized all the paper that a train driver used to carry. That’s temporary speed restrictions, track works, and deviations from the standard schedule. They have also outsourced their digital solution to an amateurish vendor, and neither the vendor nor DSB had a backup solution. So when the vendor shut down the system due to an unspecified “security issue,” the trains stood still.

I’ve boarded a Delta Airlines flight with a hand-written boarding card on a scrap of paper. A professional organization continues to run, though slower, without its computers. An unprofessional organization like DSB is paralyzed. Are you like Delta Airlines or like the Danish State Railways?

Why Should the Business Trust You With Their Money?

“Give us a bag of money and go away.” That seems to be the thinking of most in the #NoEstimates movement. They have, of course, misunderstood the original concept, just like people who claim to do Agile when all they’ve done is to do away with the documentation. I agree that estimation is hard and software is complex, but asking the business to commit money for unknown benefits in the uncertain future represents monumental hubris. The real world works by comparing costs and benefits, even though both cannot be evaluated exactly.

I’ll be meeting some of the best and brightest IT architects in Denmark at the annual Software Architecture Open Space next week. This is an open-format conference, and I noticed some of the other participants have already brought up estimation and #NoEstimates as a topic. I’m looking forward to an interesting discussion. If you are in the vicinity of Copenhagen on Nov 3rd, I encourage you to participate in SAOS as well. You’ll surely learn something.