Blood and Code

People sometimes compare IT to the nervous system of the organization, but I found myself thinking the other day that it’s more like the circulatory system. Sitting in an awkward position can make your leg go to sleep, but that’s just a transitory numbness or tingle: move your leg, and it will come back to life after a minute or two of discomfort. Cutting off the blood supply to your leg will make it die, just as lack of key information can lead to a gangrenous loss of a key customer or partner: that’s not something that will fix itself.

What triggered this grisly image was an article about new understanding of the limits of blood transfusion. "Everyone knows" that the function of blood is simple: deliver oxygen to body tissues, and remove waste products like carbon dioxide. What’s now becoming clear, though, is that stored blood loses a key ingredient — nitric oxide — that has an important role in dilating arteries and capillaries so that blood cells can get to where the rest of their payload is needed.

Perhaps it’s a sign that I’ve been in this business too long, but this seemed like a perfect metaphor of many poorly conceived IT initiatives. They’re loaded with the "oxygen" of good data, but they’re lacking in the nitric oxide of effective deployment and well-designed usability. You keep hanging bags of nice red cells on the rack, and sticking needles into every exposed point that you can find, but the patient dies anyway. In fact, the attention consumed by badly designed systems can make them worse than useless, just as the nitric oxide scavenging effects of old blood can make death rates with a blood transfusion actually higher than death rates without.

Without measured adoption, and rapid response to any areas where users appear to lack understanding, any software initiative is likely to yield a disappointing result. Of all the advantages of on-demand delivery, the ease of precisely measuring what people are using may be the most under-recognized. Plan to take advantage of these tools in your next on-demand deployment.

October 29, 2007