Information technology explosion: do we need an ubergovernance council?

How to keep our reliance on software from coming back to bite us.

There's no getting around the fact that we rely on information technology for just about everything -- from communication to medical procedures. This reliance grows every day, and so do the risks of something going terribly wrong. For example, earlier this year, there were reports of people being bombarded with overdoses of radiation during cancer treatments.  There is a case where a software glitch shut down a nuclear power plant. And plenty of national security experts are nervous about what a crafty cyberterrorist could do to the national power grid.

HAL, the fictional computer that wrecked a very expensive space mission

These are just some of the concerns Jeff Papows raises in his new book, Glitch: The Hidden Impact of Faulty Software. (I had the opportunity to contribute to and review Jeff's book during its development.) Jeff, who served as president of IBM Lotus Software and is currently CEO of WebLayers, not only lays out the risks, but proposes some solutions, such as the creation of a "Global IT Governance Council" to stem, or at least mitigate, the risks of mass computerization.

Such an übergoverance council would draw its mandate from an "IT Governance Manifesto," developed and led by a coalition of IT and business professionals, government agencies, and consumer advocacy groups, Jeff says. The goals of such a group would be to "lobby for more stringent reporting of software glitches in matters of life and death," and even require a specified level of IT governance at companies.

Beyond national security and collective health and well-being, there's also a lot companies can do internally as well to keep software issues from blowing out of control, Jeff adds.  His advice includes the following:

  • Create a cross-functional, company-wide IT Governance Council responsible for ensuring appropriate enforcement and aligning technology with customer priorities;
  • Establish benchmarks, and evaluate progress according to agreed-upon metrics;
  • Promote IT governance as a positive contributor to the company's bottom line, and offer employee bonuses to help negate unfavorable connotations;
  • Extend corporate governance policies to outsourcers.

Ultimately, as Eric Lundquist points out in the foreword to the book, "there are a set of pre-defined skills and business processes a company can wield to protect itself against headline-grabbing technology meltdowns." The book calls on "technology educators and industry to think big and redefine the roles of the software engineer, restructure information technology governance, and create business processes where technology is used to accelerate an idea into a product or service offered to the public without a company-killing lurking glitches unseen."

Embrace mistakes early and often in the technology development process, Jeff says. Quash those minor bugs before they turn into big mistakes.

(Photo: Tech Republic.)

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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