I think the reported death of the software programmer is a little premature but I admire Marks & Spencer for paying more than lip service to the role of business staff.
They have empowered “super users” to create their own applications using business friendly tools based on graphical, non-technical platforms. Business Objects is quoted as one example of a tool that is in business hands.
M & S IT director, Darrell Stein is a convert. Dr Nikolay Mehandjiev of the University of Manchester (arguably the spiritual home of computing) points to the reduction in misunderstandings citing the normal “transaction costs and delays associated with having other parties in the loop”. Dave Cheeseman of Arista Insurance suggests that speed to market is the most important driver and that his insurance specialists will always be better informed, and therefore, more effective than programmers.
All good stuff so far. But in a fantastic piece of balanced journalism, Computing’s Lisa Kelly has managed to unearth a naysayer from a surprising source.
Philip Virgo is a strategic adviser for the IMIS and he claims that giving users the power to “define their own needs and programme them directly often produces a result that is not fit for purpose”.
I wonder if Mr. Virgo can tell me how many programmer produced business applications are fit for purpose? How many have delivered yesterday’s solution for tomorrow’s problem? How many delivered a cart, when the user had asked for a horse?
He goes on to say that “many tools are as user-friendly as a cornered rat” and that a “super user is someone who was a competent user but is now an incompetent programmer”.
I could have learnt HTML but I elected to use WordPress to publish this blog (and what an excellent tool that is). And I don’t even consider myself to be a “Californian liberal academic”, but one of the managers who Mr Virgo thinks cannot cope with a helpful business tool.
I wonder if Mr. Virgo and his IMIS colleagues may better promote their profession by supporting, rather than criticizing, initiatives that help end users enjoy the benefits of computing. After all these tools would not have emerged had the traditional programming model been adequately serving end user needs.
Programmers are still needed to build the platforms, tools and solutions that enable end user computing. As for business applications, we should be giving power to the users.