Remember the George Carlin routine “The Seven Words You Can’t Say on Television”? (No, I’m not going to print them here; if you’re really curious, Google ’em.) I got to thinking the other day that IT has its own set of dirty words. Try saying any one of these in polite IT company, and someone will hand you a bar of soap to wash your mouth out. My filthy seven:
1. Brittle. As in unreliable, easily broken, difficult to keep running; a wonderful choice when you want to dis a developer’s skills. Not only do brittle apps rely on fragile, tightly coupled interdependencies, but they’re a bear to bend to shifting business requirements.
2. One-off. Often quick and dirty, a solution meant to solve a specific problem. Sure, this type of project works just fine, but the technology developed can’t be reused -- a real no-no for the forward-thinking enterprise. A one-off may stanch a stab wound, but you’ll still bleed to death in the long run.
3. Legacy. A loaded word, often said with a sneer to denigrate all your old, still-functioning hardware and software. When said with appropriate scorn, it’s a substitute for “dinosaur,” and it insinuates that your in-place systems are just plain decrepit. More than any other of the dirty seven, “legacy” has a magic quality: It enables vendors to sell you loads of shiny, expensive new gear by uttering just a single word.
4. Opaque. Compare with “visibility” and “transparency,” probably the two most praiseworthy entries in the IT/business lexicon. If a process is opaque, you can’t see into it: It’s a black box. And although black boxes may look great to end-users, you don’t want them in your operation because they’re a nightmare to maintain.
5. Proprietary. See “one-off.” The opposite of “open” or “standards-based,” proprietary solutions can solve a problem very fast. But you’ll have to live with (read: pay for) that solution forever. Or at least until you’ve been replaced.
6. Churn. Needless activity, change for the sake of change, all accompanied by wasted motion. Techies use the term to critique incapable management without saying “inept,” “clueless,” or “lousy” -- much in the way “nontrivial” has replaced the word “difficult.” Flexible, open standards and technologies can put the hurt on churn.
7. Silo. By far the most loathsome word on the list because it incorporates all the worst qualities of the previous six. Silos are unconnected, non-service-oriented apps, hardware, data, or processes trapped in their own world. Think “brittle,” “opaque,” “proprietary,” “one-off,” and “legacy,” with a high likelihood to induce “churn.” Silos will probably give you bad posture and gum disease as well.
Admittedly a subjective list. But if you’ve got a few IT unmentionables you’d like to mention, send me an e-mail, and I’ll include them in a future Editor’s Letter.