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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James MacLennan

... is the Managing Partner at Maker Turtle LLC, a digital consultancy focused on creating value in ways that align with your strategy and drive engagement with employees, customers, and stakeholders. He is an active creator, providing thought leadership through on-line & print publications, and public speaking / keynotes.