Coming up to speed as a new IT leader requires that you take in a wider variety of information than ever before.

One of the things you will discover is that everything is connected. As Douglas Adams (author of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy) wrote in his book Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency, we are dealing with “the fundamental interconnectedness of all things.”

One of the places where this interconnectedness pops up is in the history of the organization. Depending on that history, this can be an important part of understanding the organization or it can be a small part.

Portions of this article are excerpted from my book, The I.T. Leader’s First Days, available from bookstores everywhere.

These historical artifacts — pieces of history embedded into the computing infrastructure — can be confusing if you don’t understand them for what they are. Here are some examples of where you might see some history where you don’t expect it.

  • If your organization has grown quickly, there are likely systems that were designed for a smaller group of people and haven’t scaled well. Manual processes that worked fine for a few dozen employees now struggle under hundreds.
  • If your organization had a major restructuring in the past, there will be artifacts of the old structure in the systems. There will be reports that didn’t get cleaned up and still present the data the old way. The network may still be segmented to match the former structure or former department locations. The old organization names will still be around in surprising places. For example, no one wants to change names of the file shares, so the old names stick around.
  • If there were mergers or acquisitions, not all the systems will have integrated into a coherent whole. There will be different terminologies that didn’t get merged completely, multiple naming conventions that still exist.
  • If a major system was replaced by another, we will find remnants of the old system in the new system. Data structures and business processes will have been copied over rather than having been reimplemented from scratch.
  • Old naming conventions started by individuals that are no longer in the IT department weren’t carried on by those that followed.
  • Architecture philosophies change over time. The computer industry has swung back and forth between centralized computing and some version of client/server so many times that both can look archaic.
  • Email structures from the old email system were reimplemented in the new email system to make the transition easier for users.

People made decisions that were the best for the company at that time. Time goes by. Eradicating these historical artifacts won’t always be worth the effort. However, ten years later, those artifacts will seem strange unless you know the history.

Figuring out how the business, people, and technology fit together is a never-ending puzzle. Everything is connected, including history.

Photo by John Bredesen

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