Saturday, September 13, 2008

SOA and Women

There seems to be many similarities in the life-cycle of a home-maker with that of IT folks in Enterprise. Neither can ever achieve the nirvana, of less work and more output.

Of the many promises of SOA, the prominent one is the reduction of burden on developers, maintenance personnel, engineers et al, who are commonly clubbed under a banner category called IT folks in an Enterprise.

Let us look at this one particular promise from a different perspective, by comparing this SOA fever in today’s IT World with that of electrification of households in early 1900s.

Paraphrasing Nicholas Carr from his latest book, “The Big Switch” which provides a deep insight into the electrification fever of early 1900 and later we will look at the SOA fever of 2000s.

{Page 89}

The Utopian Rhetoric was not just a literary conceit; it proved to be a powerful marketing pitch for the manufacturers of electric appliances. General Electric was particularly adept at playing to people’s native optimism about technology. During the 1920s the decade in which the pace of wiring the American homes peaked, the company increased its yearly promotional expenditures from $2million to $12 million dollars. It devoted much of the money in installing in the public mind what is called “a positive electric consciousness” through a concerted program of magazine advertisements, pamphlets and presentations at schools and women’s clubs. Typical of the campaign was a booklet called ‘the home of a hundred comforts’ which described in flowery prose and futuristic illustrations how electric appliances would eliminate most household work, bestowing a life of peace and leisure on formerly harried home-makers. Having electricity in house the companies marketers proclaimed would be like having 10 home servants.

Whether conjured up for literary or commercial purposes the Utopian future never arrived. Cheap electricity brought great benefits to many people, but its effects purely played out as expected and not all of them were salubrious. Tracing the course of some of the most important of those affects through the first half of the last century reveals the complex interplay between technological and economic systems and their equally complex ways it exerts its influence over society.

Later in the book, he provides some insights which can be anti-thesis to the so called benefits.

{Page 99}

As it turned out, though, the electric iron was not quite the unalloyed blessing it first appeared to be. By making ironing “easier” the new appliance ended up producing a change in the prevailing social expectations about clothing. To appear respectable, men’s and women’s blouses and trousers had to be more frequently and meticulously pressed than was considered necessary before. Wrinkles became sign of sloth. Even children’s school clothes were expected to be neatly ironed. While women didn’t have to work hard to do their ironing they had to do more of it, more often, with more precision.

{Page 100}

A series of studies of the time women devoted to housework back up Cowan’s observation. Research undertaken between 1912 and 1914, before the widespread adoption of electric appliances, found that the average woman spent 56 hours a week on housework. Similar studies undertaken in 1925 and 1931, after electric appliances had become common, found that they were still spending between 50 and 60 hours a week on domestic chores. A 1965 study again found little change – women were spending on average 54.5 hours per week on housework. A more recent study, published in 2006 by National Bureau of Economic Research, also found that the hours housewives devoted to domestic work remained steady, at between 51 and 56 a week, in every decade from 1910s through the 1960s.

There might be many reasons for the no-change state of amount of work, while the primary reason was the push in the levels of cleanliness. An office employee might have been forgiven for crumpled dress before the arrival of electric pressing machine (Electric Iron). It is supposed to be easy to press cloths with the electric appliance hence it is mandatory for one to have pressed his/her cloths. Earlier carpets were cleaned once in a while (hence the term “Spring Cleaning”) as opposed to current once a week routine, if not once a day.

Due to this perceived notion of “ease of work” the workload remained repetitive due to the changes in the social norms; while expectations changed due to these widely canvassed “easy” perceptions.

Here, we can draw a comparison between the frenzy electrification and the todays frenzy SOAfication of Enterprise.

Will SOA not change the perception of Enterprise business folks towards IT folks?

Will not these so called “ease” of development, lesser “time to market” and flexible maintenance, create a new set of business norms? Will this ease not overburden the IT folks, else at least make them do repetitive tasks like cogs in machine working for the Enterprise will?

Before the advent of “packaged” applications, businesses depended on the multicolumn spreadsheets and also were tolerant of certain omissions, due to system limitations; compare the same with a packaged application, where everything is supposed to be out-of-the-box, yet the IT folks are found spending their energies in “customizing” the out-of-box features.

I would like to draw attention of the readers to one particular sentence in the above write-up from Nick Carr.

It devoted much of the money in installing in the public mind what is called “a positive electric consciousness” through a concerted program of magazine advertisements, pamphlets and presentations at schools and women’s clubs.

Doesn’t it sound threateningly similar to what our today’s magic quadrants and analyst reports talk of? The innumerable conferences, summits, road shows, webinars etc trying to instill in Enterprise minds the benefits of SOA and countless dollars spent by businesses in POCs to peek into the SOA world.

Can we draw safe conclusions that like the ease of electricity increased or rather did not affect the workload of homemakers; SOA too will not or cannot affect the burden of the IT, instead may increase the burden?

May be, future may tell…