IT and Helicoptering

The IT world is changing: We are starting to try to create a clever, semantic web that understands things (but why does web 2.0 seem to consist of endless Facebook applications and bad MySpace pages?) we are trying to capture tricky data (that will be pretty much all metadata) by defining the Web Ontology Language (

BTW I think I finally know what an ontology is: An ontology is a taxonomy with attributes. And a taxonomy is a controlled vocabulary organised into a hierarchical structure (

This creates a nice logical progression: controlled vocabulary -> taxonomy -> ontology. So why can’t I find a straightforward description of this anywhere on the web? I can think of two reasons:

  1. I am wrong. Eminently possible. I make mistakes all the time.
  2. The people involved with ontologies are so buried in the weeds that they are unable to abstract their passion and make it accessible.

There are more examples of this attempt to move IT into semantics and meaning or

And this brings me on to helicoptering: I work as a Solution Architect, meaning I have to understand quite a lot about data, applications, process and infrastructure (though I tend to leave the boxes and cables to other guys) and then ensure that the system I am involved with meets the business’ needs. So when articles are presented about giving data meaning (which is what users expect) or enabling users to define the system (which they try to do and invariably fail) it has to be possible to provide a logical connection between the technical detail (which is in the articles), the system specification (the sort of thing that I will create) and the business strategic leaders (the management speak)

The abiilty for one person to dive into the technical detail, ensure it is consistent with the overall architecture and can be communicated to the strategic leaders is called helicoptering. And IT people are generally extremely bad at helicoptering.

I can’t complain too much, because part of why I get the work that I do is that I have some ability to transcend these levels. But as a larger body of people, I implore us:

Use people who can operate at multiple levels of detail. Please. Otherwise all these smart ideas will struggle to gain wider acceptance. And we do, genuinely, need them to be accepted.