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Doing it all over.

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Something that occasionally bugs me is the habit in our industry to want to throw out all the old rubbish and start over. This time we’ll do it right. I think I first noticed this phenomenon in respect of our Intranet development, for a while there it seemed like it would get a new redesign about every 6-9 months. This usually meant a revamp of its appearance and moving everything around so no one could find it for a while. Then, when Oracle 9i came out RAC was all new and nothing to do with Oracle Parallel Server (in this case of course it was deemed important that it appear to be new rather than actually be new.

Anyway, I had a little example the other week of why this rarely works. Take a peek at Ocado, a uk online grocery you’ll see the usual sort of story ‘avoiding legacy issues’, ‘build a business centered around the customer’ and so on. The usual pattern in the UK is that existing grocery stores take orders online and supply from the nearest (largeish) retail outlet that they have. This means that you may not get what you ordered – because it wasn’t on the shelves of that store – and that the effectiveness of the system depends on a local store manager. Ocado don’t do this – they don’t have stores. They have a very nice website (skinnable even), and deliver from their warehouse stock (so that what you order is what you get). So we got a promotional flyer and a money off voucher so we decided not to use our existing supplier but see how they did. It wasn’t good, the driver rang me just after he’d missed his delivery slot to say he was 3 hours late and that I would have to ring customer service to re-arrange. When I did, customer service didn’t answer the phone for 47 minutes (at which point I gave up). I then emailed customer service, cc’ing the operations director. I received this reply at 6:50am the next morning.

Thank you for your E-mail.

This is not how our service is meant to work and I am dismayed at the lack of service that you received.

I am going to investigate what happened to your order last night and will contact you later today when I have some answers.

So this new service set up to avoid

  • legacy
  • issues managed to

  • Miss agreed delievery dates
  • Be unable to deal with customer service requests
  • Have senior management promise, possibly rashly, and not deliver
  • In other words it looks an awful lot like the existing services built on legacy systems – except worse.

    What if anything has this to do with Oracle and the IT systems we use, support and implement? Well it seems to me that the urge to do everything new in our systems has two main issues.

  • We assume that we will do it right first time, next time
  • We don’t deal with environmental issues
  • Joel Spolsky has a great article addressing the first assumption. The second assumption is what we in IT like to call the business, I hate that term by the way as it implies that we work for some other organisation (yes outsourced people do), Its hard doing customer service as Ocado are presumably finding, starting from scratch doesn’t change this fact. Equally in almost every problem that is worth automating to some degree, its hard to do the underlying business process, just starting over – especially if you see more than two current industry buzzwords involved – seems to me a warning sign that the problem is perceived as being software, bt is almost certainly a ‘soft’ business problem.

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    Written by Niall Litchfield

    May 16th, 2005 at 5:10 am

    Posted in Uncategorized

    2 Responses to 'Doing it all over.'

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    1. I should mention that the email came from the director and not the customer services people, who still haven’t responded.

      Niall

      16 May 05 at 5:34 am

    2. When reading this I was also prompted top think of a Joel On Software article, but it was this one.
      http://www.joelonsoftware.com/articles/ForewordtoPPM.html

      This is my new paradigm for software development — getting things right all the time, and sounds like a philosophy that the company you’re talking about could do with.

      A store caled KingSoopers does home deliveries in my area. According to their maps we are well within their delivery area but their website rejects our home address as being outside it. That probably means that no-one in our street can get the service without some hassle, so probably no-one does.

      David Aldridge

      17 May 05 at 10:27 pm

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