The passion for software and the damage done

Some people become very passionate about software. Personally, I think that sex, politics and religion inspire passion, not software.

I suppose Bill Gates and Stephen Jobs are passionate about software, but for entirely different reasons. For them, software is an intellectual challenge enroute to the bank. You could say the same thing about some companies, except the challenge is figuring out how to use the software enroute to the bank for the loan to buy it. Come to think of it, that describes most of us, doesn’t it?

I remember one particular situation. A large organization was selecting a financial software package to replace one where many people filled out many forms only to have the information disappear into a home-grown system, never to be seen again. The selection process for the new software was very rigorous. Requirements were defined, budgets were created and the Request for Proposal was crafted with care. Proposals were received and an evaluation team started their deliberations. That’s when the fun began. The evaluators quickly achieved a three-way split on which proposal had the best product. Some wanted a package because “It looks nice.” Others wanted a package because “It had great new functionality that we haven’t had before”.

The technical folks liked a third package because “It’s like the one we have so we can modify it easily.” The jungle telegraph throbbed with rumours of the latest arguments and issues. Sad to say this group of intelligent adults became more and more entrenched in their respective positions and increasingly vocal about the merits of “their” software. Compromise and common sense became a diplomatic challenge.

The organization executive with great wisdom changed the technical requirements slightly and tasked the evaluation team with looking at a sleeper package. This package used different technology and a different approach from the other three. Compromise became possible. Demonstrations were performed, references were checked, the Return on Investment numbers were good.

Happiness reigned. Well, not really. Despite actually coming out at the top of the evaluation in fair competition with the other packages, it became the package that everyone in the organization loved to hate. Some people mourned the one that looked nice, even though this one looked very similar. Others mourned the lost functionality despite the fact that the functionality described was not part of the project and not things that the organization wanted. Certain pockets of the IS world mourned their inability to suggest and develop changes to the software for things that the package vendor now provided as part of the maintenance agreement.

People hated the new package, the company that produced it and anyone who had a role in the original selection. Performance was good, functionality was more than sufficient and it was robust. It operated effectively and continued to be verbally maligned and abused for 15 years. It was eventually replaced as more advanced technology and a new architecture was installed. I understand that everyone hates the new one too.

Perhaps this is a case of workplace dynamics gone wrong – the modern win-at-all-costs approach to business, ethics, manners and software selection. I hope not. I’d rather think that we could define our company needs and select the best way to move ahead logically, honestly and effectively. How do we explain the passionate (even violent) arguments over Windows, word processing packages, and spreadsheet packages or web browsers?

I think I’ll attribute it all to secret societies, phases of the moon and human nature. And I’ll save my passion for politics, religion and going sailing.

Horner is a partner in Sierra Systems Consultants Corporate Enterprise Systems practice. He can be reached at [email protected].

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