An Information System Fairy Tale

By Dave McComb

[The names have been changed to protect somebody.] Once upon a time there was a firm. The firm had many, many employees and of course had payroll and personnel systems. One day the firm was visited by software vendors who convinced it that its systems were not “state of the art” and that if they were to change systems they would adopt “best practices.” The clients decided that they didn’t want to have anything other than best practices so they decided to implement the new system. When the vendors told the firm how much this would cost, the firm decided that they would have to do a “rigorous cost benefit analysis” and that the project would have an “ROI.” This turned out to be a lot harder than anyone wanted to admit. No one was willing to sign up to head count or any other significant cost reductions. And frankly the existing systems weren’t all that bad. So, instead they decided to rely on “gap analysis” and some “essential features” to sell the ever growing plan. When all was said and done the “essential feature” that everyone agreed to was “support for collective bargaining.” As it turned out, the existing systems just weren’t up to the task of supporting the upcoming major collective bargaining session. There were many other efficiencies touted in the very large feasibility study binders as well. So the vendors toiled away. And the firm’s internal staff toiled away. Budgets of course were busted. But over the protests of many people involved, the system went live. Very few of the anticipated efficiencies were realized, and a surprising number of unexpected inefficiencies were suffered. Many of the firm’s divisions had to bring on additional staff to handle all the “efficiencies” of the new system. And what of the collective bargaining? It turns out that while the new system was overrunning budgets and slipping schedules, the existing staff built the extra functionality needed to support collective bargaining onto the old system. Just in time for the collective bargaining (and also just in time to get replaced by the new system). Nobody saw the irony in this. But they lived happily ever after anyway.

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