Tuesday, November 25, 2008

What are we doing?? - Part Three

This is what got me thinking about "What (the %*&$) are we really doing?". Are gazillions of dollars being invested in IT, by organizations just trying to maintain their status quo? As the study shows, this is partly true.
  1. Businesses require to grow for survival.
  2. Growth requires accommodating more and more people and systems into your business.
  3. It is very natural (and useful) to be paranoid of these new people / systems.
  4. As businesses grow they have to become more or less bureaucratic.
  5. Bureaucracy requires additional processing power.
  6. This power can either be man OR machine
  7. If the business chooses to invest in machines, we, the IT guys, make some money.

So that is what we do.

We help businesses grow...
...grow by overcoming their paranoia by automating bureaucracy...
...bureaucracy which is only bound by the stakes...
...stakes which are ever growing.

To be honest, I am still not totally convinced that this is all what software is about. What do you think?

What are we doing?? - Part Two

Any system is inherently trust based but always tends towards being distrustful. Consider a prisoners' dilemma example.

(A) = A crook with a bag of jewels
(B) = Another with $100

(A) needs the money and (B) needs the jewels. Now they are both "if you see my face, I'll have to kill you" kind of guys. So they develop a simple system. (A) leaves the money a designated place in the forest and (B) leaves the bag of jewels at another designated place.

If they both co-operate, they leave happy. But life is not so simple, is it?

Once they start losing trust in each other. They will employ various methods, making the system more sophisticated in the process, so as to make sure that they are not tricked. Here's what they could do (this list is not exhaustive ;-) )
  1. (A) decides to send a friend to the place where (B) is supposed to leave the bag to see that (B) does leave the bag
  2. (A) realizes that even if (B) leaves the bag, how will (A) know? So he decides to send two friends, one of whom shall come back and inform (A)
  3. (A) grows suspicious of his two friends, coz they might run away with the jewels, so he has to keep their children as collateral. He appoints a person to guard the children and has to feed them as well.
  4. The friends say that if (B) leaves an empty bag, it's not their fault. Which is fair, so they end up carrying mobile video cameras that transmit back to (A) on his mobile receiver...
... and so on.

Well actually at step 4 (A) goes "All this for $100?? Not worth it at all". Wise decision but if the stakes go higher, (A) will end up investing in the hi-tech solution which only improves his chance of not getting cheated by a fraction. By the way all this while (B) is also employing similar tactics.

So here we have two parties willing to invest in more and more complex systems as long as the stakes seem high enough for them. And here are we, the IT people, who will help them do it.

To be continued...

What are we doing?? - Part One

I am doing what we call an Inception for a new project. The situation is not at all unusual.

The Constraints
  • An Organization with a bunch of generic e-commerce platforms
  • Live customer sites on each of these platforms
  • One of these platforms particularly painful
  • Integration with proprietary back-office operations software

The Requirements
Build a custom platform that will replace all the existing ones, support all the customer sites and have a bunch of unique features. And BTW we need to go live in 2 months.

The only way to do this is build a bare bones application that can take a couple of simple customer sites live in 2 months. We can then keep adding to the application and making it richer and better and migrating more customer sites as and when possible.

Now whenever you try to skin an application the first ones to suffer (and rightly so) are the administrators of the system. I say "rightly so" because normal users can potentially be dumb, careless, in a hurry, etc. and the application has to make sure they are doing the right thing.

Administrators on the other hand are trained to maintain the application. They can do without a jazzy UI and help and pointers all over the place. They know how to do their job. We, as designers of the system, take the liberty of trusting them. And in that trust lies the topic of this series.

To be continued...