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First Published September 1995. Computer World Canada:

It's NEW, It's HOT - Ya Gotta Have it!

Yes - It's New It's Hot - It's the latest Paradigm Shift!

The Data Processing Steering Committee is in session: Items on the agenda:

  1.  Current Situation regarding the new EDP system.
  2.  Report By Users Sub-Committee on Screens And Report Formats
  3.  Discussion of recommendations in report by external consultants
  4.  Hardware Upgrades
  5.  System/ Data Base Engine Upgrades
  6.  Any Other Business.

Yes the finger pointing has started, come out of your corners recriminating, and may the best politician win. 12 months ago, it all appeared to be an easy path to tread:

"we have the need, obviously",

"we have assigned the cash,

we have (incredibly) every department head 'on side'",

Where did it all fall apart?

Lets time travel back to those heady days:

If you read the latest tech mag/ in flight magazines or any glossy technical journal this full page add was probably doing this office rounds: Yes siree Bob! We have the answer if you have the question! This product/ service/ function will solve ALL your problems......

To any supplier of high technology products, the simple fact is that unless you have developed a "new and improved" answer to a problem which the reader is not yet even aware of, the chances are, that this company/ product/ service will go in the same direction: nowhere. Simply by playing on the fear of being left behind in the high tech race to be competitive, as a potential buyer, you are de facto grist for the latest marketing fad, ah sorry, "technological breakthrough". Fear of this grizzly prospect is not limited to techies, but to all levels of the corporate strata.

The recent decade has produced it's batch of "add water and mix" panaceas; 90/ 91 it was "C"; everyone needed a C programmer to rewrite, well everything! "It's so fast, how can we manage without it?" 92: C++, "even better (?!) than 'C'. 93: Object Oriented programming. All took their place in the Hall of (Temporary) Fame. More Recently, 94: (Heraldic Trumpets): Client Server and Graphical User Interface!!, Distributed processing, Wow! Paradigm Shift! A marketing dream.

You have to ask yourself:

"How has the enterprise run at all up to now?". "I can hardly guess!", is the obvious answer.

Budget? -

"that is such a side issue when we are dealing with the viability of our department/ company/ corporation /world order." "...... it makes me shudder to think about what could happen if we don't have this up and running by the end of the quarter/ week/ day."

A picture may be worth a thousand words, but a buzzword - now that's worth a million bucks!

Well, throw enough money and people at an ill conceived or poorly analysed project and you too can end up with, well, basically a later, ill conceived or poorly analysed project. More money/ people usually result in a later, more confused project, and worst of all: insurmountable end-user expectations. The technology which could have given a competitive edge if handled in a more orderly and practical way, ends up corrupting the technology within the entire enterprise until another instant panacea (and/ or M.I.S. manager) struts onto the field.

Many are seduced by high tech solutions simply on their own merits, technology is not an end in itself, it is, has been and always will be, merely a tool, just like an abacus. Sophisticated or otherwise, its function is to make more money for the president/ shareholders/ mom 'n pop who put up the cash/ time etc. in the first place. Any new solution must pay for itself in a reasonable time (typically 3 - 5 years), Just like any other acquisition, a new system should require justification at a profit and loss level. Typically, a full analysis of objectives and implementation should make this question its main concern instead of this being the axiom which most projects proceed from. Put simply, : why does the company NEED to do this? Self aggrandisement may well be a large part of bringing in the "latest and greatest" high tech: the individuals who will push the latest, simply for the resume rush is simply chasing his next leap up the ladder. NB: It is always desirable to migrate to a new company just before the new project goes "live".

It is also becoming increasingly more difficult to convince any president who has just flown in the first class cabin from Hong Kong, that while this technology described in the faddest of magazines may well be available, these points should be borne in mind:

  • your company will become the guinea pig to test the Beta Version,
  • you will pay to train all your staff to some level of competence
  • while paying current staff to learn, your current system will still need supporting
  • the demo you saw on the laptop 110MHz Pentium, with 128 MB RAM, 256KB Caching Controller. 1GB Barracuda drive etc. etc, only demonstrated a total of 200 records across the entire database.
  • new technology almost invariable requires huge amounts of time and expenditure or playing Russian roulette with consultants. does it add to your bottom line?

Yet ill advised or incoherent projects do happen, and will continue to happen. The simple fact that Joe will still need 2 pairs of socks (tartan), sent to him in Moose Jaw (Sask), means that stock must be located and decremented, a purchase order generated if stock is low, a packing slip and invoice made, the amount due passed into the accounts, aged, received and entered, plus profit and loss reports generated for socks (tartan), department (mens wear), and corporation (A.N.Y. Clothing Suppliers). A socks icon displayed on a client screen in Vancouver (BC), running against a data base in Buenos Aires over a wide are network, will not of itself make a larger number miraculously appear against the profit side of either socks (tartan), department (mens wear), or corporation (A.N.Y. Clothing Suppliers).

It is I'm afraid, a simple fact largely unappreciated, that if the company results come out on a piece of paper at month end and they balance, then you are ahead of the game.

Yes of course there is a place for the new technical wizardry, but usually it is 18 months after most people think it is crucial!

Byline: Jim Smith is a consultant based in Toronto. For more years than he cares to admit he has specialised in co-ordinating and implementing all aspects of data processing system for Moms 'n Pops and Corporate high fliers. Since 1989, he has written systems exclusively under UNIX in the PROGRESS 4GL for which his company Kingsway Computing Solutions, is an Application Partner.

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