A new release once a century

Do you use standard software from the major manufacturers? If you do, this surely operates perfectly and follows a well-organised procedure which may look like this:

  • Release deliveries are provided every three months. However, you cannot make use of each release because you always have to make sure that your own specific business transactions still operate properly with the software. Probably, you only accept a release once a year and possibly have small corrections and maintenance work delivered and installed once a month.
  • But let’s assume that we are dealing with a major functional enhancement. This would have to be released four weeks before the deadline so as to be integrated into the manufacturer’s programme.
  • To ensure good-quality programming, the rule of thumb is that the production time at least is incorporated into the delivery time. For example, production time of 20 days would result in a delivery period of four weeks. Of course, if more staff are involved, production time could undergo a linear reduction.
  • In order to create efficient programs, the IT department needs exact written instructions from the business unit in question. Two months could easily be required for a programming exercise of 20 days because a business unit often carries out this work as well as its daily routine tasks. In addition, the requirements have to be co-ordinated with other business units.
  • Once the IT department receives the written instructions, a consultant from the software company will be invited for discussions. However, since the software company’s products are very much in demand, four weeks can pass before this meeting takes place.
  • The consultant alone cannot decide if the enhancement required can be included in the release and to top it all, the Product Management Board only convenes every two weeks to decide on additions to releases.
  • If a positive decision is made, the enhancement is transferred to development planning.

In the company in our example, the new releases are installed in the annual company holidays in August when only a skeleton staff is working. Surely not the best time to implement new software?

Now have you been counting? In what month does the business unit in question have to start work, if it wants the delivery installed in August?

October Use of the investment
September Introduction of the software to the business unit
August Installation and test in the IT department
July Frozen period/manufacturer test phase
June Development
May Development planning
April Product Management Board
March Meeting with the consultant
February Discussing the concept with the IT department
January No project work because of end-of-year tasks
December Business unit works on the concept
November Business unit works on the concept

A normal cycle lasts twelve months. However, if this only takes six months in your company, this could almost be considered as quick. The reaction to these lengthy cycles, which we are all aware of, is usually that the standard software cannot cover all urgent requirements. But what does urgent mean in this case? By definition, “urgent” means all requirements needed by the Board, the owner, the legislators and the supervisory bodies. When there are enough “urgent” requirements, the business units hardly have the time to write the functional concept/enhancement requirements for the standard software.

So what does this tell us?

Standard software is only adjusted to a company’s requirements to a minimum degree and essentially operates in the same way for the next five to ten years. The intended rationalisation has not come about, as was hoped, because more staff would inevitably be required to implement the “urgent” requirements in addition to the standard software. After five to ten years, a new IT manager comes along with a new tendering process which is verified by ROI calculations. Then the product is purchased from a major manufacturer because only major manufacturers can supply a lot of functions at a relatively low price. Ultimately, functional concepts/enhancement requirements are developed for those functions that do not satisfy your company’s needs.

Is the IT industry really so bleak and stagnant?

Unfortunately, it is. Thankfully however, a parallel world for mobile phones and devices has been in existence for some years now. Apps that update automatically and innovations that are provided on the basis of the user profile. Security measures are automatic, back-ups are always available and users often fail to realise that these devices are so user-friendly because of the software.

At this point, you might be thinking that you cannot really compare mobile apps to powerful software such as that for materials management, accounting or human resources. But this is indeed the case. Just have a look at how simple some functions for business software are: tax calculations, aggregation of positions and printing of invoices. In contrast, some games software is much more complicated. The reason for the existence of two software worlds is another. The designers of mobile apps had very limited computer resources, tiny monitors and a self-defined target group. App designers have to know exactly what they are doing so that the first application is a success. Nowadays, if users cannot operate the app after one minute, they will not download or use it. With major standard software, it’s a completely different story. Users are trained for four weeks until they master the art of writing an invoice while their employers insist on them using the software. Who has managed to operate standard software in just four weeks?

Can you see the difference?

As far as apps are concerned, users are in control of how they use them which is not true for standard software. For strategic reasons, a decision is made for or against a particular manufacturer. Would you like to know what these strategic reasons are?

  1. A release is guaranteed once a year
  2. Manufacturer’s Product Management Board
  3. Defined change processes
  4. Any number of others use the software

That’s how easy it is.

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