Is There a Place for Ethics in IT?

Kindly read the case study and answer the three (3) questions that follows.

Is There a Place for Ethics in IT?

On March 15, 2005, Michael Schrage published an article in CIO magazine entitled “Ethics, Schmethics” that stirred up a great deal of controversy in the IT community. In the article, Schrage proposed that “CIOs should stop trying to do the ‘right thing’ when implementing IT and focus instead on getting their implementations right.” Ethics, Schrage argued, had become a buzzword much like quality in the 1980s, and that the demand for ethical behavior interferes with business efficiency.

Schrage gave a few scenarios. For example, a company is developing a customer relationship management (CRM) system, and the staff is working very hard to meet the deadline. The company plans to outsource the maintenance and support of the CRM once the system is developed. There is a good chance that two-thirds of the IT staff will be laid off. Would you disclose this information? Schrage answered, “I don’t think so.”

Schrage asked readers in another scenario, “How about deliberately withholding important information from your boss because you know that its disclosure would provoke his immediate counter productive intervention in an important project?” Schrage said he would do it; business involves competing values, he argued, and trade-offs must be made to keep business operations from becoming paralyzed.

Schrage was hit with a barrage of responses accusing him of being dishonorable, short- sighted, and lazy. Other feedback provided new perspectives on his scenarios that Schrage hadn’t considered. For example, Kathleen Dewey, an IT manager at Boise State University, argued that doing the right thing is good for business. Not disclosing layoffs, she argued, is a trick that only works once. Remaining employees will no longer trust the company and pursue jobs where they can feel more secure. New job applicants will think twice before joining a company with a reputation for exploiting IT staff. Other readers responded to the scenario by suggesting that the company maintain loyalty by offering incentives for those who stayed or providing job placement services for departing employees.

Addressing the second scenario, Dewey suggested that not giving the boss important information could backfire on the employee. “What if your boss finds out the truth? What if you were wrong, and the boss could have helped? Once your boss knows that you lied once, will he believe you the next time?”

Another reader, Gautam Gupta, had actually worked under an unproductive, reactive, meddling boss. He suggested confronting the boss about the problem at an appropriate time and place. In addition, as situations arose that required Gupta to convey important information that might elicit interference, he developed action plans and then made firm presentations to his boss. The boss, he assured Schrage, will adapt.

Gupta, Dewey, and others argued that CIOs must consider a company’s long-term needs rather than just the current needs of a specific project. Others argued that engaging in unethical behavior, even for the best of purposes, crosses a line that eventually leads to more serious transgressions. Some readers suspected that Schrage had published the article to provoke outrage. Another reader, Maikel Marrero, agreed with Schrage, arguing that ethics has to “take a back seat to budgets and schedules” in a large organization. Marrero explained, “At the end of the day, IT is business.”


1. Discuss how a CIO might handle Schrage’s scenarios using the utilitarian approach, and the normative approach.

2. Discuss the possible short-term losses and long-term gains in implementing ethical solutions to each of Schrage’s scenarios.

3. Must businesses choose between good ethics and financial benefits? Explain your answer using Schrage’s scenarios or your own examples.

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