HomeBusiness Ethics

Credit, corrections, complaints and comments

Like Tweet Pin it Share Share Email

Bits, pieces, odds and ends:

A couple of weeks ago I gave Mark Gibbs the credit, but it was Abe Lincoln who said “People who like this sort of thing will find this to be the sort of thing they like,” long before Mark did.

Sorry Abe.

* * *

Not a correction:

Last week I said the worst of the worst when it came to budget-cuts would be decisions to defer non-discretionary spending. Quite a few correspondents questioned this statement, considering it self-contradictory: If it’s non-discretionary, they asked, how could deferring it even be possible?

True enough: If spending isn’t discretionary, it’s mandatory. That doesn’t necessarily mean spending it now is mandatory.

For example: Most of the studies I’ve seen strongly suggest preventive maintenance costs, on average, less than waiting until something breaks and then paying for repairs. Maintenance, that is, is non-discretionary. You can, however, swap preventive maintenance today for the cost of repairs later on.

Similarly, in the long run upgrades are unavoidable. You can skip one or two, but the more of them you skip, the higher the cost of getting current when you finally have no choice.

It’s a familiar political strategy: Rather than raise taxes or cut spending, governors and legislatures find ways to push costs into the future, when they’re someone else’s problem.

So yes, it is possible to defer non-discretionary expenses. Usually, when you do, the decision comes back to haunt … well, if you’re adroit, it comes back to haunt your successor.

* * *

Sometimes a correction isn’t good enough — something even better comes up.

Last week, following a strongly worded letter from Rapunzel’s attorneys, I sent subscribers a corrected version of “The root cause of the root causes,” (Keep the Joint Running, 1/12/2009): Rumpelstiltskin, not Rapunzel, was the miscreant who spun straw into gold.

After which Ramona Winkelbauer made this excellent point: Neither tale did the job. CEOs who fudge and fiddle the numbers are, in fact, Oberon or Titania, depending on their gender: They give shareholders fairy gold. It looks like the real thing to we mere mortals until the fairies depart. Then the “gold” turns out to be rubbish.

* * *

eWeek contained a provocative story. Titled “SOA: Wanted Dead or Alive,” (by Darry K. Taft, 1/7/2009) it discusses Burton Group analyst Anne Thomas Manes’s contention that the recession has killed Services Oriented Architecture (SOA).

Not really. Manes’s contention is that recession has killed the acronym. “It’s time to accept reality,” she says. ” ‘SOA’ has become a bad word. It must be removed from our vocabulary.”

The whole thing is more than just a bit confusing. SOA, the article contends, was supposed to cost less and be more agile than its technological predecessors. The article also explains that the reason we have to retire the term is that it has become associated with big and expensive projects.

By extension, we should eliminate the word “movie” from our vocabulary because Battlefield Earth, Inchon, Heaven’s Gate and Ishtar were all long, boring, stupid, and expensive.

Yes, we should, perhaps, eliminate the possibility of any studio releasing a sequel to a successful movie, and especially Disney from releasing a direct-to-video sequel (and even more so, Disney from ever again using the self-congratulatory, hackle-raising phrase “instant classic” in its promotions) … but that’s a different tirade for a different venue.

Back to SOA. It’s a perfectly useful idea: Define software as a collection of business services (verbs) instead of as objects (nouns).

Well, not perfectly. Talk about your false dichotomies — imagine I had decided to write a book (hypothetically, we can call it Keep the Joint Running: A Manifesto for 21st Century Information Technology), only before writing it I was required to choose between using nouns and verbs … well, you see the absurdity of it. (It is true that back in my guitar-playing days I once wrote a song with no verbs, but I didn’t try to make a career of it, let alone a song-writing movement.)

Here’s the big problem with SOA, which before SOA was the big problem with OO, and before that was the big problem with every other IT technology since maybe FORTRAN: Purveyors of methodology followed by prophets of methodological purity grabbed hold of the technology and imprisoned it within layer upon layer of wasted effort.

Maybe, instead of banning “SOA,” we should instead ban the word “methodology.” Comparing the two I have no doubt methodologies have wasted far more time, effort and money than any technology ever invented.

Comments (14)

  • Give the acronym back to electronics. Safe Operating Area.


    For power semiconductor device (such as BJT, MOSFET, thyristor or IGBT) a safe operating area (SOA) is defined as the voltage and current conditions over which the device can be expected to operate without self-damage.

    I’m ‘in” software now, but was in electronics, and SOA always makes me think power transistors. 🙂

  • And before OO skipping a few decades was structured programming.
    SOA was a fad just like most programming languages. Face it COBOL still runs the majority of American business computers. Will that change any time soon? Well IBM seems to want to kill off COBOL as they have stubbornly refuse to produce a 64 bit COBOL for the mainframe for a few years. SHARE (IBM USER GROUP) has had requirements in for several years and essentially the silence is deafening. They have produced one for their AIX system but have not (yet?) come up with one for the mainframe which runs the majority of all application code. What is IBM trying to tell us? COBOL is dead? But they have not come up with anything (except C++) and trying to write C++ for application code is close to committing suicide.

  • You know you’re going to have to publish the lyrics of the song without verbs sooner or later — might as well do it sooner.

  • I agree, there seems more focus on pedantic pandering in IT then there is on getting the job done. Like with the programming elitistism (<=== New word, Add it to your lexicon scrubs) that I’ve seen over the years (c++/c# vs VB6/VB.net), IT elitists seems to enjoy throwing out new catch phrases and methodologies which make no sense to do, but seems to get an instant push with management.

    Oh well.

  • Bob,
    When you said “Purveyors of methodology followed by prophets of methodological purity grabbed hold of the technology and imprisoned it within layer upon layer of wasted effort” – I couldn’t agree more. I have dealt with the next “best thing” (i.e. “next best acronym”) since the days of IBM’s failed SAA in the late 80’s. Big companies grab upon an acronym and try to make a reality from nothingness. What a waste of time and effort.

    SOA,OO,SNA,SAA – and my favorite ugh, “rich user experience” – really have no meaning. How do these terms help business better use technology to support their busines? THEY DON’T. They just put money into high-cost IT behemoths that spend the customer’s money and produce nothing (one of which you and I once worked for).

    People can spend money to actually implement real technology that accomplishes work or they can dally about with pondering the meaning of the latest acronym like “SOA”, spend lots of money, do nothing, and wonder where it all went until the next best acronym comes along. Then they can once again confuse technologically-challenged high-level executives – who try to make sure whatever bad happens does so on the next guy’s watch, not theirs!

  • “It is true that back in my guitar-playing days I once wrote a song with no verbs…” Ok, you can’t tell us that and not share the lyrics! Or was it an instrumental? 😉

  • Bob,

    Loved your comment on the “retiring SOA” article….probably because I had a similar reaction. In fact I read your column because it reminds me of what I would write in such a column if I weren’t so lazy.

    Do people ever love things with which they do not agree, or people with whom they cannot identify?

    Despite “identifying” (and thus admiring) with most of your writing I found myself in diagreement on your explanation and understanding of what is nmeant by the term “discretionary spending”. I think you made your case well – (at least as well as a losing case can be made! ) but to me the bottom line on discretionary is as your other readers have said. If you don’t “have to do it” it is discretionary. From my perspective, your description of discretionary spending appears to goes too far into the “optional” side. Deferring expenses now that will likely need to be paid at a later date is true for a lot of discretionary spending. The key words are “likely need”.
    You may reasonably ask – well, then, Dave – is ANYTHING not discretionary? My answer is yes, there is clearly a point at which anyone would agree the spend must be made, because the risks are unacceptable or unavoidable.
    My summary – the degree of risk for delaying spending on non-essential needs varies considerably among business decision makers. I’ve advised business owners that certain security risks were not “discretionary”. Ten years later, nothing has happened, they saved the money, dodged the bullet. There spending was discretionary because it was a risk they could accept.

  • While no one has come out and said that SOA will work to prevent Data loss by limiting what data a user can access, there by preventing a breech in internal security. This factor is one big reason that a business should invest in SOA.
    I am currently outside the system and see the value in many different ways. When added to Virtuallation and Software As A Service (SAAS), the benfits are there to make a good strong systyem that protect the data from both internal and external theats.

  • Many years ago I was working for a Government contractor when I read about a design/documentation method that used symbols fairly heavily. I was really anxious to try it out and did so using the language available, FORTRAN.
    I learned that, although it worked as advertised, the program was ugly and only made sense if you were one who understood the design “language”.
    Since I was the only one who did, I am quite sure that when time came to update it, it was discarded.
    My own illustration of methodology taking hold and wasting, uh, something or other.
    On the other hand, the program worked and I got paid. I guess that it as kind of a standoff????

  • From your website’s description of your new book: “And, every chapter is written in Bob Lewis’s distinctive, entertaining, conversational style. Even the chapter on metrics should keep you awake!”

    I am assuming you mean it won’t put me to sleep as opposed to it will scare me to the point that I can’t sleep!

  • You missed “mutually exclusive” when you described the ‘self-congratulatory, hackle-raising phrase “instant classic”’. I instantly remove said product from my ever-to-be-purchased list.

    And I couldn’t agree with you more on that one.

    Everyone else has chimed in enough on SOA…

  • Deferring non-discretionary spending tends to reward the timid, pad the quarter budget and allow a cleaner get-away where the get-away-ee can claim “I told them not to do that …..”.

    You are on target with your article fairy tales notwithstanding. Aren’t we entering into a fairy tale of 21st century now? If people believe Merlin lives, Merlin will live in spite of the actual reality as opposed to the offered reality.

  • “Similarly, in the long run upgrades are unavoidable. You can skip one or two, but the more of them you skip, the higher the cost of getting current when you finally have no choice.”

    I’m a firm believer in “Just in time upgrades”
    Do it when its needed- let others be the pioneers.
    Think of the poor schmucks that installed VISTA.
    As for hardware, the longer you wait, the cheaper it gets.
    There is an optimum time for an upgrade- when it enhances productivity and before productivity is impacted.

  • I would agree on retiring the fatty “methodology”. I would say that, adopting a methodology is good to start with or it is good to have it as a guideline but don’t get lost in it. Methodology must work for us, we should not work for “methodology”. So the rule of thumb is “There are no best practices, only practices that fit best”.

Comments are closed.