For as long as most IT professionals remember, the only political issues any IT organization considered were largely internal. However, that appears to have changed in 2019 as more IT professionals begin to question whether they want to do business with IT vendors that support an organization they staunchly oppose on moral grounds.
This week that very drama is playing out in the form of a reversal after Chef CEO Barry Christ announced the provider of IT automation software would no longer provide support for its software to the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency, which is enforcing immigration policies enacted by the Trump administration.
The issue came to a head when Seth Vargo, a contributor to the open source Chef repository, decided to remove what many consider to be a critical module of code he contributed to the community to protest a support contract Chef had in place with ICE. Late last week, Christ said Chef would continue to support ICE; however, bowing to what he described as internal employee pressure, he reversed that decision earlier this week.
It’s not clear what impact this move will have on ICE. After all, there are many service providers that ICE could turn to for support. The decision, however, may open a Pandora’s Box, given all the stances IT professionals might take across the political spectrum, said Judith Hurwitz, principal analyst for the IT consulting firm Hurwitz & Associates.
Whether it’s gun control or conflicts in the Middle East, the potential for IT chaos is high if organizations have to consider a range of potential blowback if they have to consider how employees and potential customers might react, Hurwitz noted.
In many cases, software companies make their software available online, which makes it exceedingly difficult for them to know who is using it when it was paid for using a credit card, she said. In other cases, no one can prevent anyone from downloading software that has been made available via an open source repository.
“I’m not sure you can sell software based on who is going to use it,” Hurwitz said. “It’s going to get complicated.”
The controversy surrounding ICE is likely to escalate further. Last August, protesters disrupted an Amazon Web Services (AWS) to vocally express their displeasure with the company’s decision to provide cloud services to ICE. Last year, Salesforce had to contend with an internal employee revolt over a contract the company has signed with U.S. Customs and Border Control Protection. Salesforce wound up donating $1 million to help families affected by U.S. immigration policies. Chef CEO Christ, in his memo, appears to be following a similar course in involving an ICE contract valued at $95,000 that has been in place since 2015.
It’s not clear to what degree political passions will influence future IT contracts, but it is clear that organizations need to proceed with care. There are likely to be just as many individuals within an organization on one side of an issue as another. Most organizations these days can’t afford to lose key members of the IT staff over moral and political arguments. The trouble is, fewer IT people seem inclined to agree or disagree in the name of maintaining corporate neutrality.