Behind The Anxiety

Another set of issues clouds the
thankless but necessary process of acquiring computer hardware and
software. The whole process of technology acquisition is blurred
by a set of attitudes I call the FUDGE factor.

The term FUD is certainly not new.
It’s a long-standing computer industry term, coined circa 1960 by
IBM’s competitors frustrated by Big Blue’s early dominance of the
computer industry. FUD stands for Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt. To
organizations whose fortunes were inexorably linked to IBM’s product
announcements, the term FUD applied to a palpable anxiety that they
would be left behind. IBM salespeople used FUD as their theme song
and played it like virtuosos. I personally witnessed the following
variations on a theme:

The Fear: "Sure
Amdahl Corporation’s storage devices are cheaper than IBM’s, but
where will you be if, by chance, next year they stop supporting
them?”

The Uncertainty: "Now
I can’t be sure when, but support for system X will be frozen. However,
if you upgrade now…”

The Doubt: “Let’s
say for the sake of argument that Computer Associates’ database
management system is more efficient than ours, but can you be sure
that they’ll be around in ten years?”

People have lived with FUD for years.
But more recently, two additional attitudes have crept in. These
attitudes–Greed and Envy–are more corrosive to the efficient application
of computer technology than anything FUD inspired and its they who
add the ‘G’ and the ‘E’ to make FUDGE. Greed is displayed in the
understandable desire of people to posses the latest toys without
consideration for cost or utility. The Envy is exhibited in resentment
that someone, someplace, might have a system with more bells and
whistles. Here’s how I have heard it expressed in the halls of my
own company:

The Greed: “I
need the latest, most powerful whizbang notebook with the latest
and greatest in software and graphics I’m pretty sure I can find
a problem to solve with it.”

The Envy:
“Jake down the hall (or our competitor down the road) has one. We
should have one, too.”

Let me give you an example of the FUDGE
factor at work at Computer Associates. I’ll bet many of you have
had this conversation or one like it, if not with your technology
people, then probably with your children. Just recently one of my
senior vice presidents stopped me in the hall. He told me that a
senior VP at one of our competitors just got a Pentium color notebook
with 64MB of memory, a 2GB hard drive, as well as CD-ROM, multimedia,
a fax modem and a docking station. In other words, one very powerful
machine. “I really need one of these notebooks,” the senior VP told
me.
“What do you need a machine so powerful for?” I said. “Are you planning
to land the Space Shuttle?

"No, but just think of how much
more productive I’ll be,” he replied. Now, I know what he’ll use
the machine for. He’ll probably use it to build presentations, may
be do a little word processing, crunch a few spreadsheets. But mostly
he’ll use it for email while he’s on the road. Realistically, he
probably won’t use more than 15 to 20% of the machine’s capacity.
But he had to have it. And I don’t want to be unfair. He’s not alone.
We all do this with everything from stereo components to cameras
to computers. We all want to play with the new toy.

That’s fine. It’s what hobbies were
invented for. My point is that the natural human inclination for
conspicuous consumption is a poor reason to invest in technology
for business. If we are not cautious, we will find ourselves, at
the end of the day, with technology investments that might be great
fun but are not really serving any legitimate business purpose.

Seven Problems with
Software:
Everyone needs
software. It’s the only thing that adds value to computer hardware,
and it’s the only thing most of us have control over. If developed
properly, it can be a meaningful, competitive differentiator. It’s
amazing to me sometimes, given the problems with software, just
how much human ingenuity and perseverance have been able to accomplish.
But it’s clear to me that we won’t get to a realigned environment
until we solve the following seven problems:

Software maintenance
is too high:
Software maintenance
is like a 500-pound canary. Many organizations devote 80% of their
programmer resources to maintaining existing software. It’s a tremendous
drain because software maintenance takes on a life of its own, and
many IT groups can’t see much past it. It’s like the old joke: Do
you know where a 500-pound canary sleeps? Anywhere it wants to!
(By the way, do you know what a 500-pound canary says? Here, kitty,
kitty, kitty…!)

Software reusability
is too low:
We reuse machine
parts, and even lawyers reuse boilerplate legal language for contracts.
Why is it so difficult to reuse a piece of software? The result
of not reusing software is that programs take a long time to build
and cost a fortune.

Software is too incompatible:
Many software applications
are islands of technology, unable to communicate with each other.
We need software to be designed by experts in human-machine interfaces
and accepted by different developers.

Software is too unstandardized:
This means that hardware
is expensive due to platform dependence. What we need is software
that is portable across a wide spectrum of multi-vendor platforms.

Software is too Inconsistent:
Many software applications employ a unique look and feel that complicates
training and maintenance.

Software is too complicated:
When only programmers can create programs, everybody needs to be
a programmer. The trick is to make programming of end-user applications
so intuitive that programmers become obsolete.

Software is too focused
on activities:
Most applications
simply automate existing activities (paving cow paths). What’s needed
is software that supports business processes like business intelligence
and teamwork.

How
disconnected are you?

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