Disintermediation

There are two main themes underlying the information revolution. The first is a continuation of the industrial revolution, most things got better/faster/cheaper/smaller unless they required skilled manual effort. And the class of things that require skilled manual effort is shrank.

The second main theme is “disintermediation” which is fancy term for cutting out the middle man. Increasingly information flows from source to sink electronically without the need for someone’s specialist knowledge to interpret or summarise it. People who need to make decisions get the information they need directly from its producers.

The next stage of disintermediation started about 40 years ago when new notation systems were created to describe the process of managing and using information. Waterfall methodologies like SSADM enabled system users and system designers to share a common language, sort of. Although it took special skills to develop diagrams like DFD (Data Flow Diagram) and ERD (Entity-Relationship Diagram) it took only a little training to understand what they showed.

The latest victims of disintermediation are the systems analysts and project managers who managed communications between coders who wrote software and the business users who specified what software needed to do. The gap between the two groups is gradually narrowing. Business users have PCs at home and are used to how software works and are getting better at describing how it should work. Programmers no longer wear white coats and live in air-conditioned basement computer-rooms. They talk to business users every day and often have a better idea of how the business really works than those who think they are running it. This new way of designing and building software has a name “agile methods” which is a clue to what they are intended to achieve. But that’s a story for another day.

Shy, Retiring

Last week I flipped my LinkedIn status to semi-retired, acknowledging a state that has actually existed for some years. Three quarters of the UK’s senior (age 50+) IT workers are unemployed. As the years pass and the gaps in employment get longer it gets harder to find a recruiter who will even return a phone call.

This isn’t a new situation but there is a sign that it can’t go on much longer. In the past the solution to finding (cheap) new technology skills has been to import them. In my lifetime this started with importing West Indian transport workers and more recently Polish plumbers. In IT we have been relying on India and Eastern Europe to provide new graduates.

The growing resistance to immigration, if it continues, will restrict UK companies’ freedom to import workers. Paradoxically Brexit will make the situation worse because we will need to import several hundred thousand IT workers to make it happen just when the brexiteers expect immigration to go down.

In theory we have age-discrimination legislation but it isn’t enforced. For instance it is still quite common to see the requirement for a degree in job specifications. As the probability of having a degree correlates strongly with age this is covered by the regulations on indirect discrimination and has been since 2008. Adding “or equivalent experience” to the specification makes it legal but we really should be taking active measures to expose employers who don’t implement that change.

T’interweb

Back when Methuselah was still in short trousers I had an idea. It happens now and then. I had been reading, in Byte magazine, about a system used in France called Minitel. Homes were given little terminals that were attached to the home phone line. They replaced the printed telephone directory but people were finding new things that could be bolted on to deliver other services too.

At the time I was working for the advertising agency Ogilvy & Mather. I was training people throughout the company how to use a computer, at that time this included telling people what a mouse was and how to use one. One of my trainees was Pierre, who was going to be handling the new IBM account in Europe. I mentioned to him that there was a new Minitel like system available worldwide. Not as advanced as Minitel but showing some promise. I had access to it from home but our work network wasn’t connected to it. I suggested that he look into the possibility of using it for advertising.

I wonder whether anything came of that?

Olympics 2024?

Watching the news today it struck me that some changes to the lineup of sports included in the Olympics might be called for. Anyone who knows me can probably tell that I have a limited interest in organised sports: “Built for comfort, not for speed.” But I can’t avoid what is effectively a shutdown of the TV networks for the next few weeks. One of the news items today was on the sports┬áthat are going to be added for the 2020 Olympics.

My opinion, that nobody ever asked for, is that unless the results of a sport can be quoted in SI units it isn’t a sport. I know I’m not alone in this. As far as I am concerned any competition that awards marks for “artistic merit” isn’t a sport, it’s an art-form. When the Olympics can offer medals for an objective test of “Best Cute Cat Picture” I’ll accept that it’s also time to award medals for gymnastics, synchronised swimming and ice skating. Not until.

The thought was triggered by the mention of the inclusion of rock-climbing as an Olympic sport from 2020. How can a climber’s performance be compared to another’s? Time to climb a standardised climbing wall would do. But for results to be comparable year-to-year the walls each year would have to conform to a published specification. Hand/footholds of the same geometry and coefficient of friction ever time. ┬áContestants might be divided into different classes based on their height and armspan.

That thought led on to thinking about what other sports could be legitimately included in future years. What other competitions are a test of skill that can be measured in numeric values. Digital values. Obviously, computer games! Easy to standardise from event to event, unambiguous scoring. Where do I sign up?