This book addresses the Wittgensteinian problem of knowing what you do not know. It provides an intellectual framework in which the topics of information processing are related to each other. It describes some useful and constructive attitudes toward managing IT, and discusses technical topics suitable for management, which needs some notion of a technology's position in the market. For technologists, it provides some idea of how other technologies affect what they do.
Technology must be understood in the context of its profitable use. Many books discuss management in a manner independent of the particular attributes of what is managed, and they discuss technologies without distinguishing between industry standards and arcane projects known only to eleven graduate students. There seems an almost inexplicable lack of treatment at the meeting ground where investment decisions must be driven by an assessment of the capability of the technology and the investment risk.
This book addresses the empty center between management and technologists. At one time, IBM mediated between technologists and management, and the empty center was not so dangerous. But now the center is empty in a time of rapid change. Organizations are floundering in architectural vacuums, without the skills necessary to make the transition to new technologies, and with no significant idea of the relative costs and profit potential of various systems' structures.
This book undertakes to define the center in which IT management and the technologist can meet. It hopes to provide a common view of the industry and its dynamics, a commonly held set of the key issues of IT and a shared view of the key technologies.
It also hopes to broaden the horizons of technologists so that they will understand how an area of specialty relates to the general system structure; how other technologies impact an area of specialty; how future developments in other areas may change the specialty by merging with it or requiring new functions; and how costs and benefits are viewed in the eyes of management.
Difficult decisions about content and balance must be made in such a book. The guiding principle is to focus on technology and those vendors operating at the enterprise level. The cost of this is a focus on IBM, Microsoft, Novell, DEC, Sun, AT&T, and others capable of being primary vendors, with a gloss over specialized vendors whose products will fill boxes in the blueprint. This is deeply unfortunate and a disservice to splendid companies like SynOptics, Cisco, 3Com, and Banyan, but there is no real choice if room is to be left to build the center with an artifact not unusably large.
The book assumes a level of computer literacy an IT manager would have merely by listening to vendor presentations. Technical people are less likely to hear these presentations. They tend to be even less informed about technologies not their own than their managers.
A sort of book within a book, The Basics Book provides supporting discussions for readers who can profit by a review of underlying principles and technologies. The boxes in the text provide commentary that may establish a basic principle, discuss a related topic not necessarily useful in the main flow, or explain a technical point beyond the interest of some readers. The reader can decide which boxes are useful. The book can be read without the boxes.
There is no shortage of books on operating systems, communications, distributed computing, etc., of which this author is himself culpable, but there is little integration of the technology, market, and economic factors that can define a meeting place for management and technology.
The book has many sources. Primarily, it comes from the efforts of the IBM Systems Research Institute. The Institute tried (apparently unsuccessfully) to draw the attention of IBM professionals and managers to changing technologies and new industry dynamics and the risks and opportunities for IBM. It also comes from my experience with the needs and activities of graduate students in Computer Science at Hofstra University. They remind me that, behind the white papers, strategy statements, and statements of direction, people are trying to develop systems in a world independent of the hype.
Some material comes from my work with clients concerned with strategy and risk issues, from participation in technology start-ups, and from professional seminars developed with various organizations, including IBM, Hewlett-Packard, MTS in the U.K., and other organizations in Australia, Italy, and Germany.