December 9, 2002

Backwards Design

Peterme is going on about software design, and how a lot of companies take these software packages (designed by engineers, usually), and try to shape their business practices and workflow around the software. That’s a completely backwards way of doing things, but it happens every day. The software should follow the needs of the company, not vice-versa. I know this from experience, after a painful switchover to our new accounting/project billing software last year. Luckily, I was only involved on the fringes of it, installing it and making sure it worked smoothly across our network. But I got to watch the accounting department rip their hair out on a daily basis after shelling out the big bucks for this fancy software, billed as being “specifically for construction and design firms!” Our fancy out-of-state consultant was here so often that it was a shock to walk upstairs and not see him. And all of this was because the software firm thought they knew the best way for us to run our business, and hardcoded that technique into the program.

What would have made things easier? A more customizable program, perhaps. The software firm could have recognized that different firms have different processes and left the program’s architecture more open. As it was, we customized this thing to its limits, and were constantly on the phone with Client Services. Their standard response? “Nobody’s ever requested that feature before.” And these were for simple requests, such as providing an interface for project managers to place verbiage directly on an invoice. Nobody’s ever requested that before!?

In the end, we ended up giving certain people more access than they should have had, to more complex interfaces than they should have been subjected to. And all because the software tried to dictate our workflow to us. So I’ve been there, Peter. I’ve been burned, too.

Of course, I realize that Peter’s rant is also directed towards people who purchase such software without more complete evaluations. So, I’m properly chastised as well. In my defense, it was Accounting’s purchasing decision, and I took their word when they said, “This software does everything we want!” Unfortunately, they forgot to mention, “And a few things we don’t.”

Filed under The Computer Vet Weblog

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