"Obviously, the airlines have become way too dependent on computers," airline expert Terry Trippler grumbled to the Associated Press after the Comair fiasco. "Imagine a computer glitch and all the Wal-Mart stores across the country shut down. Sam Walton would come out of his grave."
Obviously, Trippler and his ilk are missing the point. If computer problems ever were to close Wal-Mart stores en masse, Mr. Sam would be craning from his crypt to decry IT mismanagement or underinvestment, not to pine for the good ol' days of manual processes. Despite his folksy persona, the Wal-Mart founder understood the power of automation and drove his people to identify customer buying patterns, reduce inventory and improve service through the creative application of technology.
Rather than show that companies are too dependent on computers, IT failures reinforce the fact that managing and integrating systems, applications and data stores is complicated. But with the right people, processes and technology in place, most IT misadventures are preventable.
For all the ruminations that "IT doesn't matter anymore," IT expertise matters more than ever because of that complexity. Certain servers, switches, storage devices, connectivity services and software suites are becoming commodities, but they're hardly standalone tools like staplers. The networked whole is much more than the sum of those individual parts.
Arguing that we depend too much on computers when they cause flight delays or supply-chain snafus is like arguing that we depend too much on CAT scans when such systems fail or their images are misread and a patient's condition is misdiagnosed. Machine-based processes may not be perfect, but we're far better off for having them.