Wednesday, August 14, 2002

Software Without People: No Ones, Just Zeros

Phil Windley: People are the Key in Technology.

In an article in the Atlantic Monthly called Homeland Insecurity, Charles Mann quotes Bruce Schneier thusly:

“The trick is to remember that technology can’t save you,” Schneier says. “We know this in our own lives. We realize that there’s no magic anti-burglary dust we can sprinkle on our cars to prevent them from being stolen. We know that car alarms don’t offer much protection. The Club at best makes burglars steal the car next to you. For real safety we park on nice streets where people notice if somebody smashes the window. Or we park in garages, where somebody watches the car. In both cases people are the essential security element. You always build the system around people.”

The article is a great read and offers numerous insights into the problem with most homeland security proposals, but I was struck by the strong and pervasive belief, expressed in the article, that technology won’t solve these problems.  [Windley’s Enterprise Computing Weblog]

I attended the 1995 Computers, Freedom & Privacy conference hosted by Stanford University ( miraculously, the materials are gone from Stanford’s site but are still available thanks to Tim May, one of the founding members of Cypherpunks, got up and declared before a packed house that his job was not to make anyone’s data secure. His job, he figured, was to make bribing the cleaning service more cost-effective than trying to hack in. (The article Tim submitted as a companion to his presentation is also available through

Today, I had a long chat with an analyst at the Gartner Group. We talked about the oft-quoted Gartner statistic that 55% of all CRM deployments fail. Her comment was that unfortunately, none of the press that reported on that statistic (more on that tomorrow) bothered to let the other shoe drop from the same Gartner report: that the failures were far more likely a result of people, processes and culture than they were of the technology.

The thread connecting all of this – Schneier, May, the Gartner analyst – is that technology will never be a panacea. Software can be perfectly suited to the task and still come up short. In the end, the users must be committed to its success.

A picture named tgv.jpgSoftware’s not a free ride. Could be a brisk trip on a TGV, might be a ride on a razor scooter. Or it could be face plant while walking in the park.

(But of course I’d say this. I’m a vendor, after all.)

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