Microsoft hits financial crisis around 2010

Posted to "Tribe Predictions" on "I, Cringely" around early Jan, 2007.

[Early April 2007: Paul Graham of Y Combinator posted Microsoft is dead, meaning they have become the established player, not a Revolutionary Force to be reckoned with.]

I.T. Failure - it's not about noticing and fixing the problems

Here's the deal:
  • Commercial I.T. is generally poorly done - if only because it can't be proven otherwise.
  • It's been that way for 50 years.
  • Many people have attempted to define, measure and address these endemic problems - with very limited success.
  • There are simple remedies, but the people who 'write the cheques' aren't implementing them.

What's Going On?

The problems with I.T. are nottechnical, nor within the industry. [It's not a 'profession' under any definition.]
Something else is going on: it's outside I.T. - the "meta-level" - the people that employ and manage us...
And it's been very consistent over time - provably for more than 40 yeras.

And it's cross-cultural - every country was affected by "Y2K". It was foreseeable, completely avoidable, and at no additional cost, if remediation had been generally started around 1992. [There have been many, many "Clock Roll-overs" in the history of computing - and there are more still coming at us. E.g. The Unix "time_t" rollover around 2036]

On an ITIL course last week I was surprised that people didn't know any early computing history...
And there's that quote (roughly): "If you don't know history, you are condemed to repeat it"...

When was the first computer? That'd be Charles Babbage's never finished analytical and difference engines.

Wikipedia has an excellent set of articles on the topic.
There's a site dedicated to Alan Turing that is worth reading.

The first Commercial electronic stored program computer (or general purpose computer) was built around 1951 by the "J Lyons" sweets company in England - "LEO" - Lyons Electronic Office.

Computing is well into it's second half-century.

How far has "I.T" come in that time?
What about in relation to other disciplines?

The problem that I have with I.T. is the number of unnecessary project failures and the amount of avoidable waste.
In the early 1990's, Larry Constantine (an ACM Distinguished Engineer), noted that there was no "Software Crisis" - that in 4 decades nothing much had changed. A 'crisis' is a short lived thing.

What we have in I.T. is a very long, drawn out, "train smash". There is no urgent 'crisis'.

Proof of Systematic, Endemic Problems

"Software Engineering", well described in Wikipedia, was coined around 1967 and the first conference held in 1968.

In the mid-1960's, NATO had noticed that projects involving computing had huge failure and wastage rates.
And "Software Engineering" was an attempt to address and control this flood of time, money and talent.

Only it hasn't.
Given that the problem was recognised and actively addressed around 15 years from the inception of Commercial I.T., why do we have any waste and failure in I.T. another 35 years on??

Almost every mistake possible - human, technical, organisational, planning and financial - has been made.
But also continues to be made...
All that hard-earnt learning seems to have gone away in a puff of negligence.

It doesn't have to be this way

Here's the proof that this is not just "the human condition" and not "as good as it gets":
The Aviation Industry.

Not only has Aviation become much safer and less incident and accident prone over exactly the same time as I.T. has been around, but it can demonstrate as much. The FAA and similar bodies have detailed statistics that show on every measure "RPT" (regular passenger transport) has been consistently improving.

But what is more interesting, "General Aviation" (i.e. private planes) reached a plateau some time ago. They are not improving their safety.

The two sets of figures demonstrate what is possible and what is missing from I.T.:
Management Will

Passenger planes don't crash as much because people of "power and influence" care about the result.
I.T. failures are directly failures of Management Will. QED.

As Mark Toomey of Infonomics says: "Memo to the Board: If I.T. fails, it's your fault." [sorry, no reference]