Is this efficiency?

We don't endorse products in GCN, but I'd like to repeat a particularly cogent piece of
copywriting from an ad that appeared in a recent issue.


"To improve efficiency, it's not your people who have to work harder. It's your
software."


I wish I'd thought of that one. It summarizes the dilemma that every agency faces as it
tries to do better work with fewer people and less money than a year ago, or five years
ago. Credit for the line goes to PeopleSoft Inc.


Had I written the phrase, I would have added hardware.


Unfortunately, there is a class of people in government who seem to be working harder
all the time supporting software and hardware, and not the other way around. These are the
people who design, build and then support and manage networks, application-building
projects, World Wide Web sites--you name it.


We profiled six such people in our Aug. 11 issue. One was John Sibolski, software
engineering chief for the FBI's fingerprint system. Users expect his system, which handles
2 million transactions a day and contains modules written in Assembly Language, never to
be down.


Another was Teresa Houser of NASA. She reads her e-mail at home each night and on
weekends so she'll get a sense of the scope of LAN-related help requests that await her.
When a GCN reporter visited, she had 63 requests in her in-box.


Demands on people who keep systems running are increasing because the size and
complexity of systems is increasing. Systems work harder for us, but every system requires
people to keep it going. In too many government offices, downsizing has shortchanged the
very systems that are supposed to compensate for the downsizing.


Equally unhelpful are the goofy laws, such as the one proposed by two senators--and
discussed more fully in Walter Houser's column on Page 30--that would require all
government PCs be scrubbed of games. If that passes, it will create another ongoing
headache for systems people.


Information technology systems designed to boost efficiency and let people do the
otherwise impossible require intense and continuous human intervention. It's the ultimate
irony, but it's a reality with which we have to live. If we want computers, we've got to
pay the price. People like Teresa Houser may not be willing to work nights and weekends
forever.


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