Revenge of the Bricks

By Ali Saadat, Quantum Software Corp

Ali Saadat, President of Quantum Software Corp, gave us permission to reprint this thought-provoking essay from the CAMUS Newsletter. It reminds me of "The Emperer's New Clothes". Please read it and see if it doesn't give you a better appreciation of the value of your existing IT investment. Ali's firm Quantum produces innovative products for the CA-MANMAN and HP e3000 market, such as XactMan, a web-enabled e-commerce solution that provides real-time access to HP-hosted data. - Bob Green, Robelle President.

Let's say you are one of those realistic IT managers, or CIO's who were not taken in by the hype and have not adopted a new ERP system. You probably also realize that technology is changing, and that your IT department has to embrace the new technology in order for your company to be competitive and survive. Certainly you're under pressure to make a decision in terms of the direction and strategy of systems and applications. In this age of the Information Super Highway hundreds and hundreds of buzzwords and acronyms bombard you daily. Every time your CEO travels, he reads about a new ERP package that is even better than the one he read about on his previous trip. There is a new standard every day, and before you can really understand and evaluate one technology, another one pops up.

By now you have heard plenty of stories about those early adopters who put themselves and their company through what has become known as "Conversion Trauma". Basically you are putting your future and career up against the hype and media produced by the highest bidder. The biggest mistake that was made by the early adopters was that they believed what they were told. This was that, in order to take full advantage of the latest technology they would have to completely retool the IT department.

What does this mean? It wasn't about throwing away your existing hardware, or your software. This was about throwing away the business applications, rock-solid hardware, and foundational infrastructure that currently runs your company's business. No one stepped back to take a clear look at what this implied, after all 'everyone else' is doing it, aren't they? No matter which legacy hardware you are using, the software that runs on it has probably been around for many years. MANMAN (which I am intimately involved with) is a collection of millions of man-hours being spent developing and tuning the software for the manufacturing industry. Not only are you being asked to throw that away, but also you are about to throw away the functionality that has matured over years and years of industry use. This maturing has been a cooperative effort that grew between the software provider, hardware provider, and the industry usage through the last 30 years. In the case of manufacturing, this is a lot of tuning and functionality.

The evolution of software comes with use in real life production environments. By keeping in touch with industry, and providing new tools, platforms, and technology while reaping the benefits of the man-hours of experience in the industry itself. Look around you. Most people remember that not too long ago their PC had an operating system that crashed several times a day. However operating systems on the PC have matured through time, energy, and trial and error. No wine should be served before its time, and software is similar in nature. It takes time to educate your IT staff to understand the needs of the business, and while education can teach the basics and theory, there is no school that can teach them the lessons learned by hundreds of factory workers and line managers.

This reminds me of a question I have wanted to ask. Who is writing these new ERP systems? I am sure a group of highly educated bright computer experts that have been fully trained in the latest and greatest technology and languages. Is that the only criteria to write any kind of functional software application, let alone a sophisticated system such as a manufacturing system that supports a multimillion/billion dollar business? The programmer's world is a closed and theoretical world, where they design and code based on their perception of the real world, never knowing that their world is not remotely close to reality and that theory is just that. The college graduates who are writing your new manufacturing programs have never worked in and have never seen the shop floor of any manufacturing company. Some of these 'new software for the new millennium' applications are designed by people with PHDs in computer science who have written their thesis about 'distributed disjointed processing'. However the closest they have come to experiencing the difference between 'make to order' and 'make to stock' has been in comparing the way one fast food franchise prepares food to another. Thank god for having it your way, otherwise we would be all be eating cheeseburgers with mustard and catsup.

Similar genius programmers have worked on the legacy software that you are using today, however with every release the software evolved and got closer and closer to what the real world asked for. Another consideration is the efficiency of these legacy systems. One can conjecture that being legacy also means being primitive and inefficient, however it is well known in the computer world that the more primitive an environment is the more efficient it can/should be. While this efficiency has been important in the past, it will become an even more important part of the technology during the age of global connectivity.

Lets pause a moment and rethink our reasons for wanting to migrate to a new system. What are we gaining? What are we losing? Almost everyone thinks that the legacy systems are dying. I would not be surprised to find out that after these conversions, companies are still using these old legacy systems to accomplish the tasks that the latest technology available is not able to do yet...but in time... Right. The check is in the mail...

If you are looking at worldwide connectivity, e-Business, and m-Commerce for your company, then take a closer look at the latest definition of these terms. They are just another way to communicate with your customers and vendors, while staying competitive in today's market place. Upgrading the system for global connectivity between businesses and consumers is absolutely necessary. Throwing out all the experience and expertise that your legacy system has is not necessary. You realize that your databases must reside on a hardware system that is reliable, efficient, and available 24/7. In order to achieve this, you need to look at a multi-tiered architecture. This implies that there is a tier that communicates with the database farm, and another that is at the client desktop, in the field, or at your customer's site. To stay competitive, this model puts emphasis on the connectivity and communication, rather than completely retooling the IT department, or uprooting the back bone systems where your business logic resides and re-training your business staff.

What I am saying, in a nutshell, is this: there is no need to discard the system you already have, in order to take advantage of the technology advances that your company needs. Leverage your existing enterprise system (people, processes, programs, etc...) by seamlessly integrating functionality to support the achievement of your business goals. After all, that's what it's all about, isn't it? Business.. what a concept.

Ali Saadat,
Quantum Software Corporation
4201 F.M. 1960 West, Suite 460
Houston, Texas 77068
PH: 281.895.6620 FX: 281.895.6623