When an IT manager is selected as a victim of office politics of a large corporate, it is time for him to engage in intelligence-gathering. Phil Factor exposes a ruthless streak when called to account over an Engineering Workflow system.
"Hmm. Should one really put the Bishop of Llandaff in the same bed as Lady Kerkrade I wonder?"
"I wouldn't. The Bishop tends to attract flies, which will infect Lady Kerkrade. The Bishop is a bit loose in habit as well, and will flop all over Lady Kerkrade. Also Lady Kerkrade is a gross feeder and needs plenty of top dressing. I tend to fork manure in around her"
"But the colour combination works well surely? I’ve always wanted a hybrid and the Bishop of Llandaff is a great cross-pollinator."
I looked thoughtfully at the flower catalogue.
"Nah, the colours clash. Lady Kerkrade is a rather strident ‘bathroom pink’."
Keith, the Director of Engineering, sighed and stared dreamily out of the window. He and I shared a common interest in dahlias, and I often slipped up to his office in the lunch hour to discuss the finer points of gardening. Even an IT manager must relax occasionally.
As we thumbed through the flower catalogue, like two schoolboys over a stamp album, Sharon stared at me lustfully through the glass partition. A remarkable woman, Sharon. Her mind seldom seemed too stray far from thoughts of sex, and her undemanding job, as Keith's secretary, didn't provide her much distraction. I blamed the air from the Essex salt marshes, or perhaps her diet of E-numbers..
Suddenly, her demeanour changed and she tapped the partition. We hastily put the flower catalogue under a nice thick IT strategy report. A moment later Dan Stepford marched into the room, looking keen, dynamic and intelligent. Difficult for a man that looked like a poodle. 'Desperate Dan', he was called amongst the managers, due to his frantic efforts toward promotion.
Desperate Dan was a bit of a problem to both of us. His current tactic in raising his profile and visibility was to lambast IT for its failings. This was seen by the rest of the organisation as amusing but unsporting; a bit like shooting a sitting duck.
"Keith, may I have the file for the BCF27 Variant project please"
"Be my guest, of course"
Dan glared at me and marched briskly out. Keith looked worried.
"Surely, he's not going to start putting the dagger into the engineering workflow project now? I can’t tell you how much that has helped us hit our ‘dates’. OK we cut corners, and the IT Kremlin are hissing through their teeth, but it does the job."
"He can't" I answered flatly. "It's watertight. A few bugbears here and there of course but they'll be ironed out, and the users love it."
Keith sighed. "May the lord strike him. I don't like the way he looks at me as though measuring me up for my coffin."
"Did you know that before Admiral Byng's execution, they used the well-tried method of sending in four men into his cell of roughly his height, and starting a pretend argument about which of them all was the taller".
"Shut up Phil."
"Yes. Sorry." History is a bit of a hobby and I occasionally get carried away.
"Will no man rid me of this turbulent executive", muttered Keith, picking up the historical theme. We fell into a brooding silence. I removed the flower catalogue from underneath the strategy paper and began idly flicking through it. It was no good, though; the light mood had been replaced with a weary gloom.
Through the partition I caught sight of Dan engaged in intimate conversation with Sharon. As Dan began to move away, Sharon winked coquettishly and mouthed a word at Dan. His cheeks turned a shade of pink strikingly like that of the ‘Lady Kerkrade’. He shuffled on the spot for a moment before grinning awkwardly and striding off.
In the everyday life of an IT manager, information is everything and something told me that I needed to know what Sharon had said that had made Desperate Dan blush so.
Any customer-facing IT manager who wants to survive more than 6 months needs to harness the vast office intelligence system, fuelled by email, text, instant messaging and gossip. It is important only to have a contact who keeps abreast of it. Under the pretence of having some figures checked for an IT project I was costing out, I had a quiet conference with Gemma in Accounts. Although hardly someone who you'd want on your side in a pub quiz, she was a walking encyclopaedia of company gossip. Nothing escaped her attention.
I returned to my cubicle after my chat with Gemma, smiling smugly. However, I immediately saw that Tony was quivering with alarm. Tony was an able but highly-strung programmer. He was a genius at producing office-automation systems in VBScript and SQL Server. Whilst most development teams would have still been busy planning ambitious architectures, Tony had the entire engineering workflow application hacked out and working to the goggling amazement of the users. I had gained so much credibility in the business from harnessing his skills that I kept him close by in my cubicle, just as a gamekeeper keeps his best ferret in his sitting-room.
"Dan Stepford has just sent us an email with copies to half the human race criticising the engineering workflow system for being inadequate for their needs. Evidently, it is not ‘strategic’."
"Let him" I spat. I read the Email. "Cor. A bit harsh. Ouch. Dammit."
Having finished reading the email I felt what I imagine Wellington felt after having just managed to withstand the attack by Marshal Ney. All right, he asked for it.
"Come Tony." I said. "Off we go to see Desperate Dan."
"None of that. All you need to do is observe."
We found Dan at his desk in the open office area. The vast room was a sea of faces bent over desks, or staring into terminals.
"I haven't read such a stupid email as yours for a year. That is seven years in your time-scale I reckon." I declaimed loudly. My years in amateur theatricals and operatics came in handy.
Dan looked up. He knew what this meant. Only one man would be left standing after this conversation.
The sea of faces turned too. Nobody actually got up and moved, but you sensed that everyone had somehow slithered into ear-shot.
I allowed Dan his first riposte. He did well, I grant him. With vicious forensic precision, he tore our wonderful workflow project to pieces. We tried to look dignified as he spoke eloquently about its shortcomings, the lack of scalability, production robustness, and maintainability and so on. I could hear Tony gently whimpering beside me but I moved not an inch. Like a vast game of grandmother's footsteps, the occupants of the room inched closer. Everyone likes a fist-fight in the workplace.
I waited until he'd finished, my thoughts focussed on my next move. Dan was looking at me smugly. The reputation of the IT department depended on my ability to repudiate his tirade.
"Dan, you are entirely wrong in your analysis of the workflow system. It has been signed off as satisfactory for use by your director, after full user acceptance testing." In the blink of an eye, I switched to a soothing, placatory voice. "Look, I'm sure we can sit down and work out these differences, Dan….. " I paused momentarily, filling my lungs much as I did when I was the star of the local operatic Society, when my voice filled the auditorium.. "…or should I call you Bunnikins...?"
There was a slight pause and, like the spear-carriers of the operatic chorus, the assembled occupants of the office looked at each other quizzically. The fat man had stopped singing.
Rather poetically, Dan again turned that same interesting shade of bathroom pink that Keith an I had admired in the Dahlia. He stood up as if to speak, his mouth flapped open uselessly and he slumped back down into his executive swivel chair.
He managed a spluttering parting salvo about the incompetence of the IT department, but he was a beaten man, and everyone could see it.
The room gaped in astonishment as I led Tony from the room to the lift, and back to the safety of the IT office. After a soothing cup of tea, Tony had recovered well enough to ask the obvious question.
"Ah well, Tony," I started, "it is all down to information gathering and, intelligence. And lack of intelligence. There are two rules in corporate life that are inviolate. Desperate Dan forgot the first rule, never to be forgotten by an ambitious manager; that a torrid bout of after-work lovemaking on top of one's boss’s desk, with one's boss’s libidinous secretary, may end up providing the wrong sort of visibility."
"And the second rule?"
"Sharon forgot the second rule: if you really must indulge in a torrid bout of after-work lovemaking with a ..er.. rising manager, never describe the nuts-and-bolts of the experience in an email to your closest girl friends at work. I'm sure she swore them to secrecy but this sort of email is dynamite – especially as in it she revealed her pet name for Dan, a playful reference to his sexual desktop stamina. From that point, it was inevitable that the mail would be forwarded on and on through the Email system and eventually turn up in the inbox of one of my contacts in the office intelligence network. Such is the power of Email in our lives."
And so it was that, the next time I popped up to see Keith, he shook me warmly by the hand, and gazed at me in fond gratitude through eyes moist with emotion, before we settled down to our customary chat about gardening. We didn't even bother to have an IT Strategy paper to hand, as Desperate Dan had asked for a transfer, and left for another part of the company in Holland.
It was difficult to be a thrusting, dignified, ambitious executive with everyone calling him 'Bunnikins'.