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Jamming a square tech peg in a round hole. There must be an app for that.


How often have you come across an idea that sounds really great, but, when it comes to the actual execution, it just doesn’t fly? These often involve the deployment of technology solutions dreamed up by non-technical people.

One of the most half-baked implementations of technology I’ve heard of recently is putting an RFID chip in a passport. Follow this link to the article RFID passports: a tragedy waiting to happen from ZDNet Blogger Robin Harris to get a feel for what I’m talking about.

In principle this isn’t a bad idea, but the execution leaves a lot to be desired.

This has gotten my attention because my daughter recently received her first passport with one of these chips embedded in it. Having worked with technology for some time, I’ve developed a healthy distrust of any attempt to use technology to solve problems that can’t and shouldn’t be solved by technology alone, particularly where the people making the decisions are so tech un-savvy they think a ball-peen hammer is a technological quantum leap.

I can walk into any electronics store and buy an RFID reader and start sniffing out passport details. This is not a good thing. As the ZDNet blog mentions, it isn’t that hard to access the data, whether its encrypted or not.

Technical solutions put forward by people who don’t understand what they’re asking for are common and trigger unintended consequences. RFID passports are a case in point.

This happens because we’ve been lulled into a false sense of security, thinking technology of any kind is essentially beneficial and can be deployed in a simple and quick manner. People who don’t really understand technology think of it as a magic wand that can be waved in the general direction of a problem, making it disappear in a puff of machine logic.

It just ain’t so.

The tech industry has done a great job of selling everyone on the idea that this stuff is really easy to use. Let’s be honest, how often have you heard someone say that a computer is no different to a household appliance?

A toaster heats up some wires with the aim of drying bread and giving it a pleasing colour. A computer is a typewriter, a calculator, a video conferencing unit, a video playback unit, a design tool, a data storage system and a whole lot more. Unlike a toaster, you’re encouraged to extend its functionality and customise it to suit yourself. Let’s face it, there is no global multibillion dollar industry providing endless customisations and functionality extensions for your toaster (or fridge, dishwasher or oven, for that matter).

The more complex the thing, the greater the chance of unintended consequences. Mix in a politician’s conception of something that will convince the electorate they are curing some of the world’s greatest ills and you have a recipe for disaster. It gets worse when a CEO is involved…

No matter how widespread the use of technology, it just isn’t simple. It’s no different to a car — easy to drive (for most people, anyway), but when something goes wrong under the hood, things get really complex and expensive really quickly.

Whether you’re a startup, a small business or a multinational, always remember that even the most straight-forward technological solutions bring complexity and unintended consequences. And with them comes unexpected costs.

The 1% Spend is written by a prominent Australian I.T. consultant who is choosing to remain anonymous (and candid).

Photo: ePublicist