Saturday, 8 January 2011

IT Consulting when IT isn't the problem

For those of you who don't know, I'm currently in the Indian state of Jharkhand, in the North of the country, working for a tiny Foundation based here. Ostensibly I'm here as an “MIS Officer”, but I'm basically taking on the role of “Consultant” - unsurprisingly given my background.

What's interesting for me to consider is how much of what we do tends to take an IT flavour, when in reality the underlying problem is not one of technology – that's just the solution we tend to use. If the only thing you have is a hammer, etc.....

Case in point – the charity I'm working with expected me to come in and provide them with an “MIS System”. Ask them to expand on this and they don't really know what they need. It has become pretty apparent that a one-system-to-fix-them-all approach is absolutely not the right answer here. For a start, I'd be significantly concerned about supportability once I've left!

My approach at the moment is to try and bring up their general IT skills. I'm not looking at specific problems yet, I'm not even really doing anything with MIS. What I want is to generate a culture where their employees are really thinking about what they want to do with the data they are collecting and then try to find a way of doing that. This isn't a technology problem – it's a people problem. And that is in no way a slight against the people I'm working with – they're great people who have just never had any exposure to this type of work before.

It's a lesson I hope to be able to take into my work when I return to the UK. Possibly easier said than done – but surely it's worth, every once in a while, taking a step back and asking the question “is this really a tech issue?”

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