Wednesday, February 21, 2007

February 26, 2007


Have you ever been looking through a mega-hardware store/garden shop and not been able to find precisely what you are looking for? Instead, you settle for something else which you take home, try it, and regret having purchased it. Instead of returning it though, you think it is not worth your time and throw it in the garbage. Not only is the exact merchandise not available, merchants even go so far as to make the item difficult to return in order to discourage you from doing so. Even if you do, there is a penalty fee associated with it. You're stuck and you learn to live with it.

There is a growing trend to accept second class workmanship. For example, it is no longer a surprise to us if something doesn't work properly or is late in delivery. Instead of finding it intolerable, we simply accept it. And this is the mindset most businesses are hoping for.

Understand this, it is the middle class that fuels a country's economy. It is the middle class that purchases the products and services en masse. As such, the middle class is the impetus for mass production. By carefully manipulating the wants, desires and purchasing attitudes of the middle class, merchants and manufacturers can maximize their profit margins. They also know it is not necessary to sell a high quality product (which adds to costs) but, instead, simply offers what the public will accept.

Years ago, when we purchased something, we expected it to be durable and work according to expectations. We no longer think this way. This is why manufacturers carefully build in planned obsolescence into their products. They don't want you to buy it once, they want you to buy it over and over again.


I laugh when I hear people bragging they have the latest from Microsoft. They honestly believe it is the best that money can buy. But is it really? Let me give you an example. Back in the 1990's, IBM introduced its OS/2 operating system for the PC platform. Frankly, OS/2 was years ahead of itself. Not only did it have a fine Graphical User Interface (with a true object oriented desktop), it also included preemptive multitasking, crash protection, a vastly superior file management system, multimedia, Internet access, Java support, etc., etc. Microsoft, on the other hand, offered Windows 3.x which provided a simple Graphical User Interface for DOS (which most people were using at the time). Over time, enhancements were added and the product was superseded by newer versions entitled Windows 95/NT/98/ME/2000/XP and now Vista, all at ever-escalating prices.

Whereas consumers perceived OS/2 as a radical departure from their DOS environment, Windows appeared less threatening and affordable. In reality, people have paid Microsoft more than quadruple for Windows than what they would have paid IBM for OS/2. But Microsoft's forte is in marketing where they carefully spoon-fed their product to the public in smaller mouthfuls and captured the "mindshare" of the middle class. Even when Windows started hiccupping errors, people were taught that this was to be expected from a high tech product. And people accepted it. Today, OS/2 is all but forgotten and Windows dominates the PC world.

Microsoft has used similar tactics in marketing products that compete with Lotus, Real, Turbotax, and Adobe. Basically, their initial offering can be described as primitive at best but it is sold for next to nothing (thereby setting the hook for the consumer). They then issue subsequent releases of the product at ever-increasing prices until they dominate the market. I would wager you that Microsoft's research and development budget (against gross sales) percentage-wise is vastly lower than their competitors. No, their forte is shrewd marketing to the middle class and controlling its "mindshare." Windows, therefore, is an excellent example of a product tailored to the middle class. It is not necessarily state of the art, it is what the general public perceives as state of the art.

As an aside, to this day, I still prefer the reliability and performance of my OS/2 machines over Windows.

We see similar instances of manipulating the public in other areas as well, from everything from cell phones to automobiles. Foreign manufacturers have taken notice as well. Whereas Japanese and German cars were once considered a joke, they now dominate the industry.

We also see this same phenomenon in the information systems of our companies. System hiccups are commonplace, as are project cost and schedule overruns. So much so, that the end user community hasn't just lost confidence in the IT development staff, they expect such problems to occur.

A lot of this can be blamed on the decline of craftsmanship over the years, but more importantly, the consumer has been conditioned to accept screw-ups.

For example,

  • People ACCEPT inferior workmanship; we no longer have high expectations.
  • People ACCEPT delays and cost overruns.
  • People EXPECT products not to have a long life cycle.
  • People ACCEPT shoddy service (heck, we'll even tip people for bad service).

In other words, the intolerable is now tolerable and business is counting on the middle class accepting mediocrity. Is it that we no longer know how to make durable goods anymore or do we not want to?


As we should all know by now, business caters to the middle class. And they spend a ton of money on research to know precisely what the public wants and how they perceive things. More importantly, they have subliminally brainwashed the public's perceptions over the years whereby our search for excellence has been supplanted by the acceptance of mediocrity. Consider this, we now live in an age of electronic communications (cell phones, faxes, the Internet), but does anyone take the time to express their outrage? Far less than you might think.

Like it or not, we are being conditioned to accept mediocrity and are becoming more dependent on it each passing day. It seems the more high-tech we go, the more problems we encounter, and the lower our expectations get.

I guess misery loves company.

OUR BRYCE'S LAW OF THE WEEK therefore is... "The state of the art is whatever Microsoft says it is."


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I started going to Japan on business in the late 1970's. When I first started going there I noticed a lot of cultural differences than the United States. For example, I saw beer and whiskey vending machines right next to Coke and Pepsi machines. Kids don't bother the alcohol related machines as they might cause their family to lose face. Another custom I observed was tipping for service, or should I say the lack thereof. When you visit Japan, you simply don't tip anyone, be it a bell man, a waiter or a taxi driver. Nonetheless, you get excellent service. You would be amazed how clean taxi drivers keep their cabs, not for tips but to get more business, which I consider rather smart.

I think we treat tipping rather badly in this country, a horrible custom we picked up from the French. A lot of people seem to forget that a tip is a reward for good service and pay a standard rate regardless of the service rendered. For example, how many times have you seen people pay a generous tip even when the service was bad? Probably more than you care to imagine.

I also find it interesting to see how much we tip. Back in the 1960's, 10% was considered the normal rate, then it was 12%, then 15% for many years, but now people readily reward a 20% tip which I personally consider inflationary. To me that is like paying for a family of five when only four people are served.

I don't mind paying a generous tip for good service, if it is indeed good service, but I normally give just 15% for average service. My friends think I'm being cheap. I think I'm just being honest with the server.

I remember Jack Benny, the famous comedian, had a problem with tipping years ago. Jack's persona in public was that of being cheap (he perferred the word "thrifty") and, as such, he would have to over-tip to overcome his public persona. I would use the term "penurious" but I don't think anyone would know what I'm talking about.

I know of a consultant in Toronto who probably taught me the best lesson in tipping. When we would go out to a restaurant, we would sit down and before we even got started he would present the waiter with a $10 bill and would say, "This will either be half of your tip or all of it, it all depends on you." Needless to say, we were afforded excellent service and the waiter got a generous tip. I thought this was rather smart and drove home the point of the necessity of earning the tip through good service. My consultant friend said by using this approach, he has never had bad service.

I also find it interesting how other service related workers now expect a tip, particularly at Christmas time. This includes newspaper delivery people, garbage men, and postal workers. As you may recall, I have had difficulty getting mail from our local letter carrier. As far as I'm concerned, I'm going to treat him like the Japanese. I don't reward for lousy service.

Such is my Pet Peeve of the Week.


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I received an e-mail from Hugh Connell in Montana who wrote me regarding last week's essay, "Enterprise Decomposition."

Hugh writes:

"I found your essay to be interesting in terms of developing a stable model of a business. How else can this be used?"

Thanks Hugh for your note,

If you can layout a stable model of a business, there is no reason why you cannot establish comparable logical models of systems and data bases. It is only the physical implementation of systems and data bases that need adjusting. For example, back in the 1980's one of our "PRIDE" users (a large Fortune 500 electronic conglomerate) bought into our logical/physical concept and decided to put it to the test. Working from their corporate offices, they designed a complete Payroll System which they wanted to implement as the corporate standard across all of their divisions and subsidiaries. They completed the system with a recommended programming solution they wrote themselves (no packages were used) which I believe was an IBM MVS solution using COBOL. However, they recognized early on this implementation wouldn't work across the board in the company. Consequently, they gave the system specifications to all of their divisions who would then program it themselves in-house. The project turned out to be a major success and the company ended up with multiple implementations of the same system under IBM MVS, VM, Honeywell GCOS, UNIVAC Exec, HP MPE, DEC VAX/VMS, and Prime; all working harmoniously together. Other "PRIDE" users experienced similar successes, particularly in Japan.

All of this drives home the point that systems are logical in nature, and that programming is physical. If systems are designed properly, there is no reason they shouldn't behave identically on whatever computer platform you come up with. Better yet, it allows us to easily migrate our systems from one configuration to another.

The logical model is stable; it will only change if the business changes (due to mergers, acquisitions, diversification, new products/services, etc.). The physical model is much more dynamic, and is ultimately driven by changes in technology. The physical model is certainly not irrelevant, but I believe we have become too bound to it. A logical model represents independence of our physical environment, thus permitting mobility and portability to new physical environments. If done properly, new physical models can be implemented less painfully than they are today. In fact, a good logical model expedites the implementation of the physical model.

As I mentioned in the essay, whereas the logical is a rather stable model, the physical is dynamic and can be implemented many different ways. The logical models also deal with a finite number of resources, not infinite. For example, in the Enterprise Decomposition Model, there are probably no more than 50 business functions in any given enterprise. Some might argue over the exact number, but the point is, there is not a inordinate number of resources in the logical models. Imagine if these models were all properly documented; it could then be reused over and over again.

Assuming my argument is correct, it would be in a consulting company's best interest to develop standard logical models of businesses (templates) in order to implement new business strategies. For example, let's assume they had a standard logical model for a bank. They could reuse the template in many different banks and offer different physical implementations based on the latest technology of the day. Such templates would add to their credibility by demonstrating to the customer they understand their business. It would also give them a road map of what they need to implement.

Now let's imagine developing a library of such templates for different businesses. Wow! Talk about leverage.

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

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

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This is Tim Bryce reporting.

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


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