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Much is made in the press about the shortage of IT professionals and in particular good IT professionals who really know their stuff.

In fact, much is made of how expensive it is to employ good IT professionals.

I work for a large multinational IT firm and one which is always on the lookout to contain the cost of hiring staff - unlike dotcom startups, most firms don't have venture capital to burn on staff. One ways my firm tries to curtail costs, is to get everything documented - need to change a disk? Then write each step that you do, down to the command you type on the server, so that the entire process is captured in a document that can be handled to someone less technically competent to do.

The idea is of course, just like object orientated programming, is to be able to reuse 'processes' without having to re-invent them.

The goal is to enable less competent staff to be able to perform the more mundane and repetitive tasks without assistance. Less competent staff are cheaper to hire and therefore the firm saves money. Sure, you still need some gurus to write the documents in the first place, but a couple of gurus is cheaper than a team of competent staff. And since we know that the less competent staff are ... well, less competent and therefore more prone to making mistakes, we'll throw in a couple of reviews, technical reviews, peer reviews, implementation reviews ... just to make sure everything goes smoothly.

BUT STOP! What has this achieved?

By getting gurus to document their every step, you get bored and unhappy gurus. They leave and so the less competent (or experienced) staff rise to the positions that the gurus had. This means that the documents being produced are of a lesser quality and hence when the (even) less competent staff use it, errors and mistakes occur resulting in downtime or bugs. So to stop these bugs occurring, more reviews are held of the documentation by more and more people with each review trying to eliminate all the errors and mistakes. Except the more reviews you have, the more the 'promoted gurus' have to spend doing non-techie stuff, the more bored they become ... and then they leave. Vicious cycle!

What I have described is what is happening in my work place. The result is that we spend a lot more time spinning our wheels, but the end product remains no different than before. We have neither reduced the number or errors or downtime, nor have we reduced costs. If anything, we have increased the amount of red-tape with minimal if any increase in results.

So what is my point?

My point is that in the information industry, trying to achieve efficiency and automation by streamlining your most valuable resource (ie your staff) is a false economy.

Far better gains can be made by spending that little bit extra to hire good knowledgeable staff, spending on training, and raising the general knowledge of all staff, rather than a few. Clustering your knowledge with a small number of gurus worked well in the old economies when much of the work was manual - but it doesn't work well now.

But most of all, don't get stuck in the situation where you end us endlessly reviewing work that you plan to do - get good tech staff and run - it's the only way you can keep up in this industry!

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