Thursday, April 06, 2006

April 10, 2006


PLEASE NOTE: This is the sixth and final part in my series of essays on the history of Systems Development. This week's issue will discuss events during this decade, along with some closing observations.

2000's - GADGETS

We are now past the halfway point in this decade and there is nothing of substance to report in terms of computer hardware, other than our machines have gotten faster, smaller, with even more capacity. Perhaps the biggest innovation in this regard is the wide variety of "gadgets" that have been introduced, all of which interface with the PC, including: Personal Digital Assistants (PDA's), iPods, MP3 players, digital cameras, portable CD/DVD players (and burners), cell phones, PS2 and XBox game players. These devices are aimed at either communications or entertainment, giving us greater mobility, yet making us a bit dysfunctional socially. All of this means the computer has become an integral part of our lives, not just at work but at home as well.

Shortly after taking the reigns of IBM in 2003, CEO Sam Palmisano introduced "On-Demand Computing" as the company's thrust for the years ahead and, inevitably, it will mark his legacy. The concept as described by Palmisano was simple, treat computing like a public utility whereby a company can draw upon IBM for computing resources as required. "On-Demand Computing" made a nice catch-phrase and was quickly picked up by the press, but many people were at a loss as to what it was all about. Some of the early developments resulting from IBM's "e-Business On Demand" research included balancing the load on file servers, which makes sense. But IBM is carrying the analogy perhaps too far by stressing that "on demand" is the manner by which companies should run in the future. Basically, the theory suggests we abandon capacity planning and rely on outside vendors to save the day. Further, it implies computers supersede the business systems they are suppose to serve. Instead of understanding the systems which runs a business, just throw as much computer resources as you need to solve a problem. This is like putting the cart before the horse.

The "on-demand" movement has evolved into "Service Oriented Architectures" (SOA) where vendors are introducing "on-demand" applications that will take care of such tasks as payroll, marketing, etc. through the Internet. Again, it all sounds nice, but as far as I can see, this is essentially no different than service bureaus like ADP who for years provided such processing facilities. Now, companies are being asked to swap out their internal programs for third party products. I fail to see how this is different than buying any other packaged solution, other than an outsider will be taking care of your software.

The need to build software faster has reached a feverish pitch. So much so, full-bodied development methodologies have been abandoned in favor of what is called "Agile" or "Extreme Programming" which are basically quick and dirty methods for writing software using power programming tools. To their credit, those touting such approaches recognize this is limited to software (not total systems) and is not a substitute for a comprehensive methodology. Agile/Extreme Programming is gaining considerable attention in the press.

Next, we come to "Enterprise Architecture" which is derived from a paper written by IBM's John A. Zachman who observed that it was possible to apply architectural principles to the development of systems. This is closely related to consultants who extoll the virtues of capturing "business rules" which is essentially a refinement of the Entity Relationship (ER) Diagramming techniques popularized a decade earlier using CASE tools.

As in the 1990's, concepts such as "Enterprise Architecture" and "business rules" is indicative of the industry trying to reinvent systems theory.


Like computer hardware, the trend over the last fifty years in systems development is to think smaller. Developers operate in a mad frenzy to write programs within a 90 day time frame. Interestingly, they all know that their corporate systems are large, yet they are content to attack them one program at a time. Further, there seems to be little concern that their work be compatible with others and that systems integration is someone else's problem. Often you hear the excuse, "We don't have time to do things right." Translation: "We have plenty of time to do things wrong." Any shortcut to get through a project is rationalized and any new tool promising improved productivity is purchased. When companies attempt to tackle large systems (which is becoming rare) it is usually met with disaster. Consequently, companies are less confident in their abilities and shy away from large system development projects.

Corporate management is naive in terms of comprehending the value of information and have not learned how to use it for competitive advantage (unlike their foreign competitors). Further, they are oblivious to the problems in systems development. They believe their systems are being developed with a high degree of craftsmanship, that they are integrated, and that they are easy to maintain and update. Executives are shocked when they discover this is not the case.

The problems with systems today are no different than fifty years ago:

  • End-user information requirements are not satisfied.
  • Systems lack documentation, making maintenance and upgrades difficult.
  • Systems lack integration.
  • Data redundancy plaques corporate data bases.
  • Projects are rarely delivered on time and within budget.
  • Quality suffers.
  • Development personnel are constantly fighting fires.
  • The backlog of improvements never seems to diminish, but rather increases.

Although the computer provides mechanical leverage for implementing systems, it has also fostered a tool-oriented approach to systems development. Instead of standing back and looking at our systems from an engineering/manufacturing perspective, it is seemingly easier and less painful to purchase a tool to solve a problem. This is like taking a pill when surgery is really required. What is needed is less tools and more management. If we built bridges the same way we build systems in this country, this would be a nation run by ferryboats.

The impact of the computer was so great on the systems industry that it elevated the stature of programmers and forced systems people to near extinction. Fortunately, the industry has discovered that there is more to systems than just programming and, as a result, is in the process of rediscovering basic systems theory. Some of the ideas being put forth are truly imaginative, others are nothing more than extensions of programming theory, and others are just plain humbug. In other words, the systems world is still going through growing pains much like an adolescent who questions things and learns to experiment.

I have been very fortunate to see a lot of this history first hand. I have observed changes not just in terms of systems and computers, but also how the trade press has evolved and the profession in general. It has been an interesting ride.

Throughout all of this, there have been some very intelligent people who have impacted the industry, there have also been quite a few charlatans, but there has only been a handful of true geniuses, one of which was Robert W. Beamer who passed away just a couple of years ago. Bob was the father of ASCII code, without which we wouldn't have the computers of today, the Internet, the billions of dollars owned by Bill Gates, or this essay.


OUR BRYCE'S LAW OF THE WEEK therefore is...
"We never have enough time to do things right."
Translation: "We have plenty of time to do things wrong."


Friends, I don't know if you've seen it yet, but we've added a Frapper map to the "Management Visions" web site. Frapper is a free mapping service offered by the folks at Rising Concepts, LLC, and allows you to plot yourself on a worldwide map. This is a great way to keep track of our listeners and I encourage you to try it out through our web page or by clicking HERE.


The Quality Assurance Institute will be holding its 26th Annual Quality Conference at the Rosen Plaza Hotel in Orlando, FL on April 24th - 28th. For information, contact the Institute in Orlando at 407/363-1111.

The World Conference on Quality and Improvement will be held May 1st-3rd at the Midwest Airlines Center in Milwaukee, WI. For information, contact the American Society for Quality at 800-248-1946 or 414/272-8575.

The 15th World Congress on Information Technology will be held May 1st - 5th in Austin, TX. For information, call 512/505-4077.

The 17th International Conference of the Information Resource Management Association will be held May 21st-24th at the Wyndham Hotel in Washington D.C. For information, call IRMA headquarters in PA at 717/533-8879

The National And State CIO Association will be holding their 2006 Midyear Conference at The Capital Hilton, in Washington, DC on May 31st-June 2nd. For information, contact NASCIO headquarters in Lexington, KY at: 859/514-9153

If you have got an upcoming IRM related event you want mentioned, please e-mail the date, time and location of the event to


I'm sure you've heard me say on more than one occasion that if anything in life is constant, it is change. I believe change is a natural part of our lives but I recognize that change for the sake of change is ridiculous. To this end, something rather trivial has surfaced recently that bothers me, and that is how we express telephone numbers in the age of the Internet. It used to be that we would express telephone numbers with simple dashes, slashes, and parentheses; for example, MBA's corporate telephone number is commonly expressed as 727/786-4567 or (727)786-4567. But now in the Internet age, this is considered passe. Instead, telephone numbers are being expressed with periods or dots as commonly found in e-mail or web addresses; for example, the politically correct way of representing our phone number today is 727.786.4567. I think I missed the memo when this change was supposed to have occurred and why it was being implemented. We now see several web pages and telephone books being modified to relist telephone numbers in the dot format. I don't know what the dot format buys us but I see this as a trivial change that is going to cost us a lot of money to implement. Yes, it is rather cosmetic but someone still has to edit the computer files to replace the dashes, back slashes and parentheses with periods, and this costs money to do so. Like I say, I don't see the value of implementing such a change simply to accommodate the latest fashion trend.

Such is my Pet Peeve of the Week.


I received an e-mail from a Kurt Davis in Cincinnati who wrote me regarding last week's essay on "Part V of the History on Systems Development."
Kurt writes:

"You mentioned how sloppy appearance results in sloppy workmanship. Boy, is this true. I see it all the time. What can be done about it?"

Thanks Kurt for your note,
I've always been a believer in the military regimen whereby you either work on something, file it, or throw it away. If we need more files, let's buy more files. In our office, we used to have programmers with cluttered desks. We would then go through the office at night and throw everything in the trash. This caught their attention. You do this a couple of times and suddenly you start seeing clean desks. Even better, it forces them to get organized and start thinking and working in an organized manner. Try it, it works wonders.

Again, Thanks for your e-mail. Keep those cards and letters coming.

Folks, don't forget to check out our BRYCE'S CRASH COURSE IN MANAGEMENT which is a free on-line multimedia presentation offering pragmatic advice on how to discharge the duties of a manager, whether it be for a commercial or non-profit enterprise. Frankly, for someone aspiring to be a manager or for a new manager, it will be the best 45 minutes you can invest in yourself. Check it out on the cover of our corporate web page at:

For a complete listing of my essays, see the "PRIDE" Special Subject Bulletins section of our corporate web site.

MBA is an international management consulting firm specializing in Information Resource Management. We offer training, consulting, and writing services in the areas of Enterprise Engineering, Systems Engineering, Data Base Engineering, Project Management, Methodologies and Repositories. For information, call us at 727/786-4567.

Our corporate web page is at:

Management Visions is a presentation of M. Bryce & Associates, a division of M&JB Investment Company of Palm Harbor, Florida, USA. The program is produced on a weekly basis and updated on Sundays. It is available in versions for RealPlayer, Microsoft Media Player, and MP3 suitable for Podcasting. See our web site for details. You'll find our broadcast listed in several Podcast and Internet Search engines, as well as Apples' iTunes.

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Copyright © 2006 by M&JB Investment Company of Palm Harbor, Florida, USA. All rights reserved. "PRIDE" is the registered trademark of M&JB Investment Company.

This is Tim Bryce reporting.

Since 1971: "Software for the finest computer - the Mind."



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