Horse Burger Scandal: Lessons Learned For The Technology Sector

Now that we have all had time to digest the horse burger scandal, I couldn’t help but ponder its relevance to our beloved technology sector. We now all know why this scandal reared its head…it’s all about poverty, desperation and big corporations under pressure from shareholders to keep showing a profit in the face of adversity. It’s about cuts, shortcuts, and cuts of meat we would rather not have known we were eating.

But it is also about being in an age of convenience, of commodity-buying and of not worrying too much about the origin or provenance of stuff out of sight from where we sit. So if we assume that most shortcomings of human nature will manifest themselves in all walks of life, what comparably could be occurring in our sector, under our very noses?

Well look at the supply chain in our industry – do you know the origin of everything you consume? Should you care? As intelligent grids stretching across the globe start to come online, for all you know the power that runs your ever-hungry systems might someday be generated by baddies burning prisoners in in some Pluritania. What a shock to our system it would be to discover that.

Most of your kit is now coming from the Far East, and we all have at least a vague idea of some of the suffering taking place there just to keep us supplied with microchips.

And where’s your data being stored right now? In the clouds somewhere? Where in those clouds? Looked after by whom? Could it be that that right now, some data-farmer under pressure to slash costs is looking to move your stuff to the next developing country down the grid?

And then there’s impoverished Eastern Europeans who – now that shooting cart horses for a living has been rumbled – are taking to stealing and copying our contact details instead.

So what are we going to do about this comrades? Bring all our data back on board? Demand power generated only by good old English coal? Pay top prices for our servers and storage systems? Insist that any programming by technicians in India is being done by vegetarians working no more than eight hours per day?

Of course not, but surely there must be a ‘third way’?

I know it’s hard to swallow, but until shareholders start caring a little more about ethics, risk and quality control than short-term profits, every single corner will continue to be cut in whichever industry you are working in.

It’s a trend at present for under-pressure board execs to distil their IT discussions down to ‘cut our IT costs dammit’. They know utility computing is easy to buy. They like the prospect of spending less time pondering over complex technical considerations and the need for their own IT staff.

A CIO who might genuinely be concerned about say, technical integrity, or the unquantifiable risks of cloud delivery, can be shouted down when trying to present a solution that’s more expensive, more complex on paper, or unfashionably on-premise.

Maybe those board execs should be sent a copy each of Margaret Heffernan’s book ‘Wilful Blindness’ – a term coined to describe what happens when everyone in a market ignores the obvious because they only want to reap short term benefits. Wilful Blindness is what took down Enron, Lehman Brothers, News of the World and may yet take down some of our major food manufacturers.

Auditors are now getting to grips with the fact that having a backup policy is not enough; it’s also about retrievability and integrity as well. Maybe auditors now need to start getting savvy about where corporate digital assets are held, and who is handling them?

What we also learnt from the horse-gate fiasco is that we cannot even rely upon a supplier just because they are a big ‘safe’ brand, because as we have seen, they can be duped as well. We are in an industry where even the blue-chip suppliers have a ‘supply chain’ connecting many different service providers and manufacturers.

So who can we rely on now? To be safe do we have to take everything back in-house? A backward step for sure, but it would certainly encourage buyers to think a little harder about things that they might have been happy to entrust to a faceless third party….on condition it was cheaper and it meant they didn’t have to understand more boring technology stuff.

I reckon the ancient warning: ‘Caveat Emptor’ is more relevant in our so-called age of austerity than ever before. Ruthless cost cutting invariably leads to short-cuts, and attracts sharp-sellers into the fold. If buyers want high-quality safety and great service they need to pay for it still.

Alan Haley is the founder and MD of Europa Communications, which provides outsourced business development and marketing services to the enterprise technology sector. Before founding Europa in 1994, Alan held sales, marketing and operational roles at Cap Gemini, Wang, Comshare, Mantix, Intelligent Office Co, Mancos and even Chrysler. Alan has a BSc (Hon) in Maths and Computing, a high golf handicap and a passion for cooking, sailing, travel and Newcastle United.