I am not much of a Bible expert, but I do know it were the descendants of Noah (the guy who did all the difficult things with shipping animals, really the very first logistics consultant) that founded the city of Babel on the plain of Shinar. There, guided and united by their leader Nimrod, they built a tower that was destined to reach the heavens. This was apparently not in the Divine Master Plan and through a heavenly intervention, the arrogance was quickly taken care of: everybody started to speak their own, unique language and in the confusion of tongues that resulted, collaboration was no longer possible. Soon, the people of Babel were scattered across the world, all speaking their own, incompatible languages, no longer able to communicate, let alone create something useful together.
Am I mistaking, or have we just found the original bloodline of IT Specialists?
Let’s face it: the persistent tendency of IT Specialists to design and build megalomaniac structures, seems certainly to be genetic material. And the ability to speak the same language is not particularly overdeveloped. The latter becomes especially apparent if IT people try to have a meaningful dialogue with their business clients. After all these years of reluctant coexistence, it’s still mainly a matter of gesticulation and throaty sounds.

But also amongst themselves, IT Specialists are not excelling in communication: the industry not only has produced far too many different programming languages, but is also haunted by a myriad of incompatible document formats, methods, design techniques and tools. A common dictionary of IT concepts does not exist and it is illustrative for the immaturity of the profession that there is still no clarity about roles, skills and competences.
All this inability, it doesn’t even need to be a problem. You retire to your isolated IT department and continue to jabber your own little language. Just speak that lovely South-Bulgarian mountain dialect and rest assured that the wicked outside world is at least a three day’s march away.
But now that distributed, offshore development is quickly becoming the default and clients shout more than ever for truly integrated solutions, there is no alternative any more: we will simply have to speak the same language. Not so surprising therefore, that nowadays so much emphasis is put on standards. Particularly in the categories open and worldwide.
And there are many examples.
More and more governments, including the Dutch, make the use of the Open Document Format (ODF) mandatory for the publication and exchange of documents. XBRL is quickly evolving into a widely established standard for financial reporting. OpenUP is the first open and public methodology for systems development. COBIT is globally accepted as a de facto reference model for the activities of an IT department. And just recently, the Open Group announced an important, global standard for the certification of senior IT Specialists.
I’m not sure how to put this in correct English, but it is high time that we put the confusion of tongues to an end. If we want a boundaryless information flow inside and outside the organisation, we better rely on extreme standardisation. It is definitely time to ‘un-babel’ (or ‘de-babel’? Any suggestions?) our industry. And the signs are right. As long as we don’t start building that tower again. For sure, arrogance is still not appreciated way up there.

27/9 Update: sincere apologies to many of my friends in India: I have too little knowledge of Hindu religion to find a similar metaphor for the Tower of Babel story. Feel free to suggest! In any case, with more than 250 Indian languages being spoken, some divine intervention must have happened in the past…