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Pendulum swings – Santayana says …

I saw Stewart’s article on customized software in ComputerWorld this week, and googled (Googled?) a bit more and found a pair of good posts from Scavo (Keller/AMR started it all), speaking of an apparent trend back to favoring custom-built software in business today. A few thoughts …

  • A classic blunder made by many corporate IT groups is to buy into the idea that custom software is easy. It’s certainly fun – much easier to develop a brand new piece of code than to maintain someone else’s …

<aside> I think a good programmer can write something from scratch, but a great programmer can fix someone else’s bugs!! </aside>

… but it’s certainly not easy. I’ve been on the product development side of the aisle, and you learn a much different style of development when you’re creating something that has to scale, work on multiple databases, and not generate a lot of time-consuming support calls!!

<aside> I’m also fascinated by the corporate IT and business groups that do a little custom application and want to start selling copies / become a new profit center! Every single company I have ever worked for has had that idea at least once, and I’ve talked them out of it every time (“we’re big pharma / elevators / etc., not a software house …”). It really is harder than it looks!</aside>

  • On the other hand, custom development – even for internal use only – throws a much brighter light on critical processes and management tasks for the IT group. For example, a well-structured Project Management Office (PMO) for prioritization of projects, maintenance requests, resource assignments, and coordination technical efforts so it all eventually hooks up. Also, a well thought-out, yet flexible, Information Architecture will ensure that components are built towards a common vision / goal, and unpleasantness at the end is (hopefully) avioded.
  • When you read Scavo’s notes on open source and offshoring, don’t concentrate on cheaper components and labor; think flexible, component-driven “system objects” from multiple sources (the old “best of breed” rap), and flexible workforce management opportunities (don’t forget nearshoring, flex-time, contractors, and part-timers).
  • The idea that trends reverse – the pendulum meme came up elsewhere in the same edition of ComputerWorld, talking about the need / desire for CIOs to have demonstrated technical skills for the complexities in today’s architectures. I’m feeling old – I remember when the desire for business savvy over tech skills increased the number of CIOs who rose up through the business ranks. I do think tech skills are important, but let’s not swing too far in that direction …

Heady times for this development and architecture maven … more evidence of the great universal paradox of entropy (constant change).

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