In the past week or so, we’ve seen something truly unique in the world of technology. I’m referring to the highly effective protests of the proposed SOPA and PIPA laws by web giants “Google” and “Wikipedia” (among many others). If you’re not sure what SOPA and PIPA are, you should go to Google or Wikipedia and read all about it (irony intended).
The teams at Wikipedia and Google decided that they’d had enough of the U.S. Congress’s meddling with the web, and so they decided to do something about it. Wikipedia intentionally blacked-out their U.S. site for a day, and Google covered their iconic logo with a black “censor bar.” In concert, hundreds of other websites hosted online petitions telling Congress to back off. I don’t know about you, but it seemed that every other Facebook/Twitter post I saw was about SOPA/PIPA for a few days – and all of them had links to online petitions protesting the proposed laws.
The effect of all of this online rabble-rousing was immediate. Those responsible for writing and sponsoring these proposed laws changed course within 48 hours, and as of right now, Congress seems to be moth–balling SOPA and PIPA. Again, check with Wikipedia or Google for the latest…
So, wow. Revenge of the Nerds, indeed. A few well-known web sites and some web-forms now have the power to derail months of policy planning and millions of dollars of D.C. lobbying. Even though I knew all about the protests, I went to Wikipedia that day to look up something (force of habit) – and I saw the page go black. It was a great reminder, and I clicked-off to sign one of the petitions that I’d seen during the week.
The whole thing left me thinking, “Why didn’t Congress just ask Google, or Wikipedia, or Reddit (or any of the major online brands who publicly condemned SOPA and PIPA) what their thoughts were before drafting the initial laws?”
I don’t mean to be crass, but there was a Senator (Stevens) who thought the Internet was a “series of tubes” just a few years back (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Series_of_tubes). Clearly, some members of Congress have issues grasping the complexities of the environment, and their role within it. With that, perhaps it would have been wise to bring in the people who know what the heck’s going on before you try to change and govern it.
The more I thought about it, I realized how much this whole SOPA/PIPA mess mirrors the way many businesses work with their IT teams. Just replace “Government” with “Management” and “Google/Wikipedia” with “Steve in IT”, and we see it all the time.
Scenario: A Manager or Exec who really doesn’t understand how all the systems work behind the scenes conjures up a plan that will be “great for everyone.” After announcing their plans, they bring in the IT team to implement it, and “Steve” rolls his eyes and thinks, “This is a horrible plan that will create more problems than it solves.”
For those of us who do IT for a living, we can only wonder how many “Steve’s” out there are willing to intentionally take down the company website for a day to prove their point? Exactly.
I’m viewing this whole SOPA/PIPA debacle as a reminder that business and IT leaders should engage their IT team members as early as they can in the planning process. Of course there are times when corporate strategy dictates a big shift in direction, and changes can be unpopular – but I’ve seen (and been guilty of launching – oops!) a few projects that would have been well-served by bringing the right people into the conversation much earlier.
Relying on “Steve in IT” to stop the company from hurting itself unwittingly is pretty risky.