Archive for technology

Vaporware, the age old technology scam

Posted in General with tags , , , , , , on July 20, 2010 by newideasconsult

I have a real pet peeve, and its solutions being offered to customers that simply do not yet exist or do only a part of what they should, vaporware in other words!  It’s been a bane for me for years, way back during the old Netscape vs Microsoft wars, then during my tenure at ICL, and since when consulting with clients and seeing just what their suppliers try to sell them. The issue with vaporware is that it starts with dishonesty, a sale to a customer based on fictitious features that then leads to shifting delivery dates and higher budget demands whilst the vendor tries to ‘finish’ the product at the customer’s expense.

I have no problem with the concept of selling components to customers that then needs customization once purchased.  In fact this modular approach we apply in the transaction management software we developed.  It makes sense to build components or modules into a platform that then needs customization for a customer, as opposed to writing a fresh solution from scratch every sale you get.  There is logic in approaching software development in such a way.

Time and again tenders or quotes are awarded on the back of dubious claims by solution providers, and it is the client who ends up with a raw deal.  The current economic climate does not help either as everyone seems even more desperate for business.  A bad situation is just made worse, and we should not stand for it.  As consultants though the task is ours to evaluate those solutions and manage the client and supplier’s expectations.  Tough when time lines and budgets tighten around you, but necessary if the client is to have a fair deal.

Developing a smart vendor evaluation process is a first step in the right direction, and it needs to be a process that keeps up with the fast changing world we live in.  We all know the basic questions to ask, but often we weigh them incorrectly leaving us with a short list of the usual candidates, to the exclusion of new dynamic solutions who may be looking for their first project, but have no references or solutions with a different approach because we were too vertical in the type we were looking for, and so on.  A flexible approach with a framework of core requirements and an openness to fresh ideas is not an easy balance to find I agree, but there seems to me to be no other option.  Technology changes so quickly these days that being too rigid in weighting your supplier evaluations or being to casual in your selections could cause your client financial pain and an incompatible outcome.

The uncomplicated world of information technology

Posted in General with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 7, 2009 by newideasconsult

Technology is uncomplicated.

Yes, I know that this seems to be a contradiction in terms for many people, but technology has to be this to be successful.  In my experience technology must always address one or several needs in an uncomplicated KISS manner or it will almost always turn out as an expensive and bloated solution.  IT where I focus my efforts embodies this for me, even in its most basic form it exists as ones and zeroes. For me as a trained engineer it has always been about looking at a problem or challenge and seeing how to solve it, with or without technology. It has always been a situation where getting from ‘A’ to ‘C’ may or may not require technology, and if required then what technology solution would be best fit to get from the one to the other quickly, economically and simply.

Observing the news about current and past IT projects around the world seems to me to show that many of these projects take the approach of ‘I have a technology solution, now where is a problem I can fit into it’ or ‘I have this great solution, I just need to find where in my organization or my customer’s business there is an ‘A’ to ‘C’ issue I can use to press this into’. So they start a complicated under-planned and often unneeded project that ends with the customer believing the complexity of their problem can only be solved by the solution offered, who then spends a fortune on consultants, integrations and licenses only to sit back a year or five later and realize that their savings from this project is either non-existent or in fact negative, or that the ‘problem’ was never as huge as it was sold to be.

These are possibly bold statements to make in some readers views as technology almost always seems complicated and features difficult to comprehend, but those are most often design faults or bad planning in my view and not something to label technology or information technology with.  Information technology over the years grew into a domain for geeks like me, and as is often the case in the land of the blind where the one-eyed find they become kings and leaders, geeks realized soon enough that customers should be treated as mushrooms, kept in the dark, fed manure, and billed and billed and billed.

I generalize here and that is clearly unfair, but there is a large group of people in IT who still prefer to keep their customers in this state for as long as they can so as to maximize their revenues and profits.  After all, if we are listed IT companies, our shareholders become our priorities and not our customers, as with many industries these days I guess.  When we design solutions we do the same again, where we believe representing a solution in the most complex of ways will keep the customer astounded and paying, very often much more than the work is really worth.

The current way to address problems offered to IT companies by their customers, is to consider ways to ‘fit’ them into the solution from one of the big brands, or to bring in consultants who maximize their own revenue opportunities by making lots room within the final solution specification for even more consulting opportunities, which then leads to branded solution providers bringing in their own pre and post sale experts to see what added products could be included, whilst the going is good, and finally a team of integrators to put everything together, with a project manager hoping the final product will come in above the expected profit margin his employer demanded, with very little thought of coming in on budget or on time, or within a working specification for the actual customer who will be paying for and using this solution.

Again I generalize here, but it is absolutely true from my point of view that many such projects over the years have made IT the ‘complex’ industry it is branded as today, and laid the foundation to the fog of ignorance we hope our customers are lost in, so that we can remain the ‘experts’ who can save the day at a fee of course…

Information technology is actually about solving real business problems for me. About finding the lowest cost solution to a business issue, designed to require the least amount of customer employee training to manage in an ongoing manner. Compare that statement with what has been happening in the IT world today, and it comes somewhat short of reality, I agree. I guess for me it is panacea that consultants and IT professionals can think this way, but I stand by this statement. We as professionals have to come to a point in our careers where we change the view we have of ourselves, from ‘lets take short cuts and make loads of profits off our customers’ type of people to ‘let’s help our customers in a real way saving them real money and being there for them over the long term’ type of people. I am not forcing this on anyone, just lamenting the fact that there seem to be much more of the former type of person in our industry these days than the latter, leaving us with a false heritage and little integrity in the end.

Technology is a simple and wonderful solution to many things and it should be sold that way, even to our customers. We should make it our primary focus to roll out the most simplistic of solutions that actually solve business problems and improve productivity, instead of cause more problems and cost productivity. IT can be this to our customers, but it takes a fresh look at our own approach to them, their budgets and their actual business requirements to make a lasting change to our industry and the way people perceive it.

When infallible does not mean infallible…

Posted in technology with tags , , , , , , on March 9, 2009 by newideasconsult

One of the most lively discussions I had in years was about EMV or to be more precise Chip & PIN as implemented in the UK.  I remember a person asking a question about this technology, and in many of the responses, engineers close to the product made claims of high security and almost infallibility.  I felt compelled to write and refute some of the statements made, and was promptly shot down.  I again responded that my point about EMV or Chip & PIN is from the CONSUMER’s point of view, and does not focus on the actual chip technology and how wonderful that little piece of engineering is, or the beautiful way the terminal may be enabled to communicate with this chip and the magnetic strip on the card, but rather focuses on the entire system as proposed to consumers by their banks.

It has been sold to them as such an infallible system that consumers now must take responsibility for when fraud occurs on their card, because a compromised PIN is surely the only way Chip & PIN could be breached.  My argument was based on the fact that the system as a whole can be compromised, making the promise to the consumer, and therefore the shift in accountability, a false one.  To this day I stand by this, though I realize many engineers who designed the standards on which the solution is based, may be offended by my stance.

In fact the way this technology and the systems based on it has been sold to bank customers is the issue I have.  It is wrong to promise a customer during the initial phases of commissioning, up and until they accept the new product as their own, that it is for THEIR protection as it is infallible, have them then fall for that promise and accept the change, and then turn around and blame them when fraud occurs after the system has been rolled out and sold to them.

As a bank you are blindly believing your own hype, and therefore changing the way your staff handles any enquiries by bank customers as simply not possible.  Since 2005 it has been repeatedly proven that the system is indeed open to fraud, and that a customer cannot be held responsible just because the hype says so.  Chip & PIN is only as strong as its implementation, and it is here that the ‘system’ fails most often.  Yes, it takes an enormous amount of effort and processing power to break down the encrypted chip and steal the data, but that was never the issue.  Fraudsters have simply worked around the chip, and so the system has shown it is not infallible and can be compromised.

With such technology, specifically in high risk industries like banking, my input is always to be cautious with the manner in which our clients, the people who buy our systems or technology, sells the product on to their customers.  Though as an engineer we may smugly believe we can claim absolute security or infallibility when referring to the component within the product, service or system that we specifically designed, it is in the commissioning of the whole that the problems most often pop up, issues we engineers seldom thought of before.

So again, as with that Chip & PIN questions and answers group on Linked In, I caution fellow engineers and system designers that we educate clients and their customers correctly about what we mean when we state our product or service is infallible.  The above example is just one of many in the world today, so please don’t think I am picking on it specifically.  I am in the payment industry and the debates around Chip & PIN just gave me the perfect example to my argument.

My suggestions:
1. Don’t promise absolutes for something that has not yet been tested in the field.
2. Don’t change liabilities for that same thing if you have not subjected it to real world customers and exposed it to the market for a proper pilot phase.
3. Certainly do not change your staff’s approach to customers using this new technology if you have not done any of the above points first.
4. Don’t assume!  It gets me every time when I hear something stated as fact, and then investigate to find that the person, organization or company stating the ‘facts’ have indeed done so on the back of assumptions and not first hand knowledge.  Hearing from someone else that something technical is infallible, is not the same as testing the product for infallibility yourself!

New Ideas Consulting, the full story on the About page..

Posted in General with tags , , , , , on January 1, 2009 by newideasconsult

New Ideas Consulting is 15 years old now.  Wow, time flies!  It just hit me how many experiences I have forgotten over the years, but writing the About page has finally helped me remember some of them.  Hey, if you can remember anything from your New Ideas Consulting days or experiences, please send me some comments so that I can add them to the About page too.