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A Geek Tragedy in Three Acts

How xfServerPlus could have stopped a systems derailment

I could picture the Suits on the other end of the conference call.

There were three of them. I’m pretty sure two were smoking Fat Cat™ cigars while the third poured out snifters of brandy. The sound of hundred-dollar bills being rifled by gaudily-ringed fingers was just barely inaudible.

Assembled on my end were a couple of Synergy developers, some IT support members, and a few managers. We were all intent on the speaker phone in the center of the table. A life or death battle over the future of their home-grown, in-house Synergy application had been taking place, and we were on the defensive from the moment the phone rang.

As I tried to reign in my imagination and picture the “adversaries” as they truly were — just a couple of new executives and a dude from an outside consulting firm — I couldn’t help but wonder if we’d even be having this debate if the Company had chosen to incorporate xfServerPlus technologies at some point in the past.

I thought not.

Expositional Background
Ironically, the only reason I was involved in the conference call was because I happened to be onsite for a Passport to .NET, with the goal being to launch a new xfServerPlus initiative that would bolt a slick GUI onto the current application. Unfortunately, even as preparations for the engagement were underway, an opposing force had been assembled in the Company’s other division.

On the one hand, we had a stable, customized Synergy/DE-based application that had served the Company well for more than 20 years; on the other, a highly-effective sales campaign for a Microsoft-based solution with reporting services, graphs, charts, integrated email, and point-and-click interfaces.

The fact that neither the new executives nor the outside consultant knew how to use the current solution quickly proved to be immaterial: no one seemed to mind when the consultant admitted he had no idea what functionality was “missing” from the existing applications, and he fully acknowledged that he had never really looked at them.

Of course, such a statement begs the question: “If you don’t know what the current application does, how can you recommend another?” The tragedy isn’t in the answer, but in the fact that an alternative was even being considered in the first place. Migration to the proposed new system is extremely expensive, the custom features implemented through decades of tweaks to the original application will be difficult if not impossible to emulate, and cost overruns (in both money and time) are fully expected.

Given all of this information, how was the idea of moving to a new solution allowed to take seed and grow? Unfortunately, it’s a well-known plot in which only the names of the characters seem to change.

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