How to avoid losing 150m Euro

It now seems obvious that the Healthcare Payroll system was destined to fail. If you were working on the project, I’m sure it felt very differently at the time. How can your projects avoid a similar fate? While IT may sometimes seem disconnected from reality, the following guidelines show that ‘Real World’ lessons still apply.

  1. Know what you want and stick to it. If you’re building a house and change the plans several times the builder is going to fleece you, no matter how low the initial quote was. The same goes for IT Projects – if you change your mind after the price is agreed, you’re going to pay more.
  2. If you don’t know what you’re doing , find a friend who does. I know very little about houses, so when I was buying my own I got a friendly surveyor to check it out. With IT projects, this ‘friend’ should be genuinely on your side, and have something to lose (e.g. financial or reputation) if things go wrong.
  3. Little and often is better. Like exercise, smaller projects that deliver results little but early are best. If the results are good, try a second (and third) round to add more functionality based on the feedback from users.
  4. It’s been all done before. Tailored suits cost a lot more than ready-made ones – and most people are happy with a ‘Good enough’ instead of ‘Perfect fit’. There are literally thousands of ‘off-the-peg’ computer systems out there ready for final alteration to what you need.
  5. If you don’t understand the answer, ask more questions. Thankfully the days we sat and nodded at the Doctor’s Latin words are long gone. IT Consultants may sometimes speak a different language, but if they can’t explain what they’re talking about in English that you understand, the chances are they’re trying to hide something.
  6. Don’t build on sand. Like houses , projects need good foundations. For IT Projects , the good foundations are sound knowledge of the Business Processes being coded into the system. Changing processes and changing IT systems at the same time is like building on sand.
  7. Sometimes the tortoise wins the race. Unless your entire business model is built around being the very first to market, then being a tortoise and letting others race ahead has very big advantages. Not only can you learn from other people’s mistakes, but the chances are you’ll get it at a much reduced cost – For example websites now cost a fraction of what they did during the dot.com boom.
  8. Use a safety net. When building houses, often the first thing to go up is scaffolding, for safety reasons. The equivalent safety net in IT is called ‘Unit Tests’. Not only do they help you get there faster, but they let you know if you’ve broken something you’ve already built.
  9. Be a good poker player. Good poker players never give away valuable cards. For IT projects, owning all cards mean just that – make sure that you have full rights to the solution so that you can still move tables and use a different supplier. Even if you never make the move, knowing that you can is an effective bargaining chip.

And finally …

When you are in a hole, stop digging. The decision to call a halt to the projects was no doubt a difficult one, and is to be applauded. Too often, the temptation is to keep on going and hope things will turn out right. Recognising problems at an early stage means there is more chance of being able to fix them.

Wired Article – The Long Tail

Before I got into IT, I was involved in Supply Chain Management – the stuff that gets your Cornflakes from a farmers field to your breakfast table.

One of the biggest problems in retailling has been an abundance of supply – unlike the previous 100 years where you could ‘never get anything in Ireland’ , be it staple foodstuffs or the latest Gucci Handbags, these are now available at Brown Thomas and shops all over Dublin (the Handbags, not the potatoes).

Unfortunately, shelf space can’t increase at the same rate, so most shops are stocking only the ‘Hits’ – the products that appear to the lowest common denominator of the mass market. This is a problem if you music tastes go beyond ‘Busted’, if you want an extra special Christmas present or or part for your Hifi that ‘they just don’t make anymore’

Step forward the internet. If you look at the success stories of the internet – Amazon, EBay, Online Travel, they all aim at the estimated 50% of purchases that are individual rather than mass market. Read the Wired Article here that explains more.

SAP and Java

When SAP announced that they were migrating their solution to a full J2EE server stack, I was initially sceptical. While it makes good business sense (after all Enterprise Java server’s are now effectively free), and complemented their decision to open source the SAP DB (now known as Max DB), there was still a niggling feeling at the back of my mind.

Why? Well over the years we’ve learnt a lot of lessons of how to build Scalable Java applications. Even then, some people can’t seem to get it right (No names , but you know who you are). How would SAP people (who I have a lot of respect for as you don’t get to the position SAP is within the industry without getting at least something right) react to this strange new Java world. Would they shed all past baggage and dive in with the enthusiasm of College Graduates? Or would they take a ‘not invented here’ attitude and hack together something in Java along the lines of what they were used to.

I suspected the latter , and fully expected to end up cleaning up some mess of a CRM or ERM system. However, I am pleasently surprised with SAP’s Java Website. On a pure Java level, it approaches the efforts from Oracle , IBM and BEA. If SAP are making this amount of effort to promote Java best practice, then there may be hope after all.

Final question: If this goes the way SAP is planning, at what point does it’s installed base get counted as part of the Market share of J2EE servers. What percentage of the market would it have? A healthy and very profitable 10%? Certainly the strategy (and the Market share) is very close to Oracle , which also bundles it’s (10g) App server with it’s main product (a Database rather than a CRM or ERP Solution).

ERP and CRM Solutions

80% of Java projects end up build the same thing over and over (Web-Java-Database).

There’s frameworks out there (e.g. Struts , Spring and Hibernate) to reduce the effort , but Compiere goes one step further – it gives you a complete ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) and CRM (Customer Relationship Management) solution in a box , which you can then customize for your end client.

Compiere is very good ,as befits a project that is consistently in the top 10 on sourceforge. So , if you have any interest in Java and Oracle , you should check it out at http://www.compiere.org. Worked with this product in my days with firstpartners.net in Dundalk , Ireland , and good as it was then , the product has matured a lot more (included Database independence)