16 July, 2012

Don’t blame it on the computer

One of the weakest excuses you’ll ever hear is “Sorry; it was a computer error.” My initial reaction is almost always derision. Computers very rarely make errors, whether in reading or writing to a file, or moving data around (internally and over communication links), or in processing. Computers have inbuilt self-checking so that errors are detected and overcome or at least alerted. None of these should be sufficient to actually cause the incorrect recording and processing of an organisation’s business with you. So let’s look at what really went wrong:
  1. An error in understanding what systems and processes that the organisation needed to conduct its business with you.
  2. An error in specifying that need.
  3. An error in designing a computer system to meet that specification.
  4. An error in building and implementing the system.
  5. An error in testing the system.
  6. An error in the business processes around the system.
  7. An error in training people how to use the business processes and the system.
  8. An error in entering information into the system.
  9. An error in understanding what was said in your encounters with the organisation.
  10. An error in understanding what was heard in your encounters with the organisation.
Errors 6-10 are almost always the cause of the problem, followed by error 1. All outside the computer system. And did you notice something else? Every single one of these 10 errors is a HUMAN error.

Vigilant readers will no doubt have spotted that this is a repeat.  I've forgotten exactly when I first said it, but it was sometime in the mid-1970s.