Methods & Tools is located in Switzerland, a country famous for its chocolate, watches… and banks. I was therefore participating to a banking IT conference last month. The CIO of a very large private banks revealed that 15% of employees of his company were working for the IT department. He described them as the “mechanics” supporting all the business. And I thought this was nice. Then a CEO of a retail bank came to present the results of a survey of Swiss bank top managers. They were asked what would make their bank different or better than their competitors. None of the answers mentioned IT. And I thought this was not nice. It was a surprise for him too, as he said that now 90% of his bank consumer loans were originated from its Web site.
Thus came the question: do software developers make more difference than accountants for their CEOs? Are they just something you need to have, but don’t really contribute to the performance of the organization? Off course, some of you could work for the Faceboogle-type of companies where software IS the product (or a big part of it). Some of you may also work in Enron-type of companies where accountants make a big difference ;o) In many other companies, software is an important support and enhancer of the activity: managing supply chains, customer relationships or monitoring mechanical products like car engines. However, the software development function is separated from the other operational activities. Developers are considered as a support function as accounting could be. This comparison is not so awkward, as accountants belong also mostly to the introverted psychological category, like developers. And accountants could also deliver information that could change the way a company works, finding for instance which products or customers are truly profitable.
In a book from Watts Humphrey, he quotes Dick Garwin, the designer of the hydrogen bomb, saying: “You can get credit for something or get it done, but not both.” Software developers may belong more to the second part of this alternative. Despite all problems that impact our projects, we deliver solutions that allows organizations do perform better, but we don’t get all the recognition that we deserve. Some might be happy with our current lack of visibility, but then we should not complain if we are often considered only as a cost variable that should be minimized and not elements that could increase revenues. To achieve this objective, it is important that developers get closer to their users and improve their knowledge of business. Users don’t want a cool Ruby on Rails Ajax apps, they want solutions for their problems. If we want more consideration from the high management, we might have to express more our positive impact in organizations. After all, even some accountants managed to do this.