Thursday, October 30, 2003

My Patron Saint

My Patron Saint

I try not to write about my work in my blog but my mind is currently filled with the difficult tasks ahead that I have to accomplish. Everytime I'm involved in a consulting engagement with a customer, I begin to appreciate Sukarno's contributions to Indonesia even more.

Sukarno managed to forge a nation--the fourth most populous in the world--from an archipelago of 17,000 islands that is ethnically diverse (over 700 languages), giving it a single language and identity and inspired its people towards a common destiny.

My typical assignment involves me having to recommend some kind of unifying IT architecture for my customers who are saddled with a multitude of legacy systems, built using different types of technologies and architectures.

In the course of my work, I also have to understand the intricate departmental politics within their environment to ensure that I do not make any particular party look bad. I am after all, only a vendor, trying to open up as much business opportunities as possible within an account. I try my best instead to cater for everyone's interests in my final proposal.

Furthermore, there are also different vendors--some partners, some competitors--who are eyeing the same customer account. I have to make sure that I do not derail a partner's plans and or put my credibility at risk by being overtly biased against any particular competitor.

It is a tough challenge that requires a lot of subtlety. But imagine the far greater challenge that Sukarno had to face with the multitude of political factions--communists, nationalists, religious fundamentalists, separatists, armed forces, ethnic minorities--that he had to unite; the economic poverty he had to tackle; and the sheer logistical difficulty of having to spread his message and agenda across a physically vast archipelago that spans from Sabang on the northern tip of Sumatra to Merauke on the eastern edge of Irian Jaya, in an age before the television and Internet.

Some historians call Indonesia, an unlikely nation. What Sukarno achieved was indeed something close to miraculous. He achieved it by giving the people a common vision based on common values. Bhinneka Tunggal Ika--Unity in Diversity--was the motto he exhorted. And the Pancasila--the five pearls of wisdom which he extracted and distilled from the oceans of ancient tradition--became the guiding principles of a newly independent nation.

I try to do that too--summarizing a complicated technical plan into few simple principles that are clear and relevant to the customer without appearing to sound too simplistic. It is a tough thing to do--expounding your vision. Sukarno had the great oratory skills to help him rouse the support of the masses. I don't think I can achieve the same effect without turning a corporate presentation into a political rally.

Now everytime I think of how difficult a task Sukarno had to tackle, I feel ashamed that I cannot do a better job of doing something so seemingly trivial as uniting the IT environment of a single enterprise. I strive to do my best. And each time, I would pray for inspiration and guidance from my patron saint: the Great Bung Karno.

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