Posted:April 13, 2009


The Financial Meltdown May Suggest Some Lessons for IT

John Bogle, the retired founder of The Vanguard Funds and a long-standing clarion voice of financial good sense, observes that we have moved from an “ownership society” to an “agency society” in the past 50 years.

In an article yesterday by Gretchen Morgenson in the NYT [1], Bogle points to the loss of fiduciary responsibility as one of many factors enabling the recent financial meltdown. In moving from an “ownership society” to one of agency where external parties handle many of our affairs, we not only have passed the buck, but we have done so to parties that have too often not looked after our own best interests.

In the financial realm, this is called “care of duty” and it is part and parcel of an agent’s fiduciary responsibility. Fiduciary may sound fancy, but it simply means that a party you entrust is indeed trustworthy to look after your interests. So many have failed us, and we have failed ourselves to oversee and ensure this duty is being met.

I suspect the same failure and lack of oversight has been true for quite some time in IT, as well. We hire consultants to write the specs, select the vendors, and then oversee delivery. An “agent society” has predictably led to failure rates for major IT projects that all of us often quote as exceeding 60%.

Shame, shame.

A significant — but not often publicized — advantage of open source software is that we, as users, are now completely free to inspect and test the basis of the code. This is goodness. And, it removes the distance that is inherent to “agency”.

Now, to square the circle and make sure we are indeed getting what we expect and pay for, we also have the responsibility as consumers to inspect and verify. The beauty of open source is that what runs our systems is now transparent.

But, whether it works or not, or whether we are getting what we paid for, is still our responsibility. Open source or not, some things never change . . . . It is just that with open source, it is a whole lot easier.

Tag: We’re it.

[1] Gretchen Morgenson, “He Doesn’t Let Money Managers Off the Hook,” published in the Sunday Business section of the New York Times, April 12, 2009; see

Posted by AI3's author, Mike Bergman Posted on April 13, 2009 at 12:08 am in Open Source, Software Development | Comments (1)
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