Have you hacked the enterprise? Then tell us how

Across the globe – often under the radar of the CIO – IT professionals are hacking the enterprise. Alex Cruikshank needs your help to discover more…

Hacking – in a positive, constructive, legal sense – is nothing new. Hackathons allow groups of coders and individuals to experiment with data in new ways. Some of them start while still at school, as is the case with Young Rewired State.

The results are often stunning, with young people developing applications that process data in new ways, joining the dots that might never be seen by people within the organisations themselves.

Hacking in this sense boils down to:

  • taking existing data and using it in new ways
  • joining disparate systems together so that they're greater than the sum of their parts

Philosophically, this is often tricky to achieve in large organisations because they are usually conservative. They don't have the time or – no criticism intended – imagination to look at the data they have and ask, "What happens if we do this?" Blue-sky experimentation is simply not in the business plan. The furthest they might get is to ask outside consultants to take a look at what they do and suggest new directions.

Technology companies are obvious exceptions here. Many of them, especially startups, exist to disrupt. They can't afford to be conservative, because if they stay unchanged for too long they'll be overtaken by more nimble, flexible competitors.

But enterprise hacking does exist. It just doesn't often see the light of day. For example, when faced with the task of joining a legacy system to a new one, some IT managers will bite the bullet and pay a six-figure sum to the supplier of the new system. But others... won't. Instead they'll talk to the keen staff member who's been coding since they were 10 and, unofficially, knows more about the two systems than even the vendors themselves. And that person will, within a day, have produced a short, elegant piece of code that does the job.

I know this because I've been there. In the mid-2000s I was working at a UK government department on a classification system for a public-facing website. The project involved organising thousands of forms and publications into a hierarchy based on their content. The hugely expensive natural language classification system had already been purchased, but it needed some basic metadata from each form before it could start work. The approved plan was to enter this by hand, for every form.

Instead, I wrote a 150-line Perl script that extracted the relevant information automatically in a few hours, bridging the technology gap and saving someone – probably me – hundreds of hours of tedious data entry work. The script was never referenced in any of the project documents. The metadata flag in the project spreadsheet simply went from red to green overnight, no questions asked.

Friends who work in banking IT departments tell similar stories, of taking sensible technological shortcuts to get around overly-conservative internal regulations that cause more problems than they solve. At least, that's their perspective: I avoid banking there [where they work] just in case, though the practice is probably endemic.

In New Zealand, where I lived for almost a decade, this is known as the Number 8 Wire mentality. It's the resourceful ability to solve problems using only the most basic of materials and an ability to, as Albert Szent-Gyorgyi put it, see what everyone else has seen and think what nobody else has thought.

Somewhere out there are the unsung heroes of enterprise hacking, people who looked at a problem and said to their superiors, “I can solve this quickly and cheaply, but you should probably look the other way while I do it.”

Is this you? Perhaps you've been rewarded, or at least recognised, for your achievements. More likely you haven't, except for a metaphorical pat on the back, a nod of approval, and a slightly-more-generous-than-expected pay-rise at your next review.

We want to hear from you. I want to hear from you. I want to tell your story, here on IDG Connect. Anonymous or not – your choice – and there's no need to mention any organisation by name.

Tell me what clever things you've done, what cunning tricks you've employed to solve enterprise problems that would otherwise have been impossible, expensive and/or mind-numbingly tedious to solve. You know that what you did was a work of genius. Now's your chance to tell everyone about it.

You can contact me via Kathryn Cave at IDG Connect. She'll pass your emails on to me and I'll be in touch.


« News Roundup: Should robots come with 'Black boxes' to record their decision making?


The connected CEO vs the informed CEO »
Alex Cruickshank

Alex Cruickshank has been writing about technology and business since 1994. He has lived in various far-flung places around the world and is now based in Berlin.  

  • Mail

Recommended for You

Trump hits partial pause on Huawei ban, but 5G concerns persist

Phil Muncaster reports on China and beyond

FinancialForce profits from PSA investment

Martin Veitch's inside track on today’s tech trends

Future-proofing the Middle East

Keri Allan looks at the latest trends and technologies


Do you think your smartphone is making you a workaholic?