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"Thinking outside the box," buzzwords and other dumb things that business people say and do

9/15/2016 3:31 PM

Management consultants and business guys in general are infamous for their meaningless clichés like "drink the Kool-Ade," "open the kimono" or "paradigm shift."  Unless you studied Latin or Greek (I did) don't crow to me about paradigms.  The worst of these is "thinking outside the box."  The business people I have run across don't have the training or experience to truly even know where the walls of "the box" are, much less what is inside or not.  I'm not really sure what an MBA prepares a person to do, but I can assure you it isn't innovative thinking.

For example, Sentia had a contract with Jack Henry & Associates in Charlotte to help them add on some regulatory functionality to their Cruise application for Credit Unions.  The regulation was called "Tila/Respa."  I don't recall what that meant but it was a disclosure of loan terms to the borrower. the regulation was huge, about 50 entities and and average of 20 attributes per entity, or a little over a thousand database fields.  My guy got there on September 1 last year and the functionality had to be implemented by October 1.  Designing and building a database, designing and building a middle tier and designing and building a user interface using two guys for a thousand plus fields is getting close to impossible.  My guy wrote a tool that took the specification, scraped out the names and datatypes of the attributes, assigned them to entities and generated a database.  The other guy, meanwhile, was working on a tool to generate Windows forms (yes it was a Windows application, ewww) from the same specification.  My guy then pointed Sentia's Object Relational Mapper (ORM) at the new database and generated the middle tier.  After some trial and error with naming conventions and such, the generated front end was mated to the generated middle tier and while ugly, worked fine.  This whole process took a week.  Of course then then the specification changed (six more times) but because we chose to generate the application in toto, all we had to do was regenerate the application and make it pretty.

Why do I tell you this story?  As problem solvers, those two guys really "thought outside the box" and delivered not what the client asked for, but what they needed and compensated for the changes they knew were coming.  Instead of doing as they were told and "coding tila/respa" (whatever that means) they looked ahead to changed they knew would come (they always do) and instead of slaving away, they designed a flexible solution that would solve the real problem.  It was still a lot of hard work, and harder work than "coding tila/respa" (again, whatever that means) but less of it, and flexible enough to compensate for the shifting sands of a requirements document left until the last possible second.  So these same two guys knowing that Cruise itself was a complete train wreck with possibly a dozen ways to access its own database, procedural code that has been around since the VB4 days, and generally didn't work and couldn't be fixed, suggested that they use the same methods to cut out all the old middle tier code and replace it with the new code generated from the database schema.

What was the response?  "That can't be done."
Well, yes it can and my guy just did it.  

In fact, our sister company Sentia Health, just went through a complete rewrite of its EMR's entire user interface a few months ago.  That is fairly comparable to what my guy suggested to Jack Henry.  In another month or so, we are going regenerate the middle tier with an upgraded version from the new ORM that we have developed.  that is PRECISELY what we suggested to Jack Henry and they said couldn't be done.

I still haven't given you the reason I made you read the Jack Henry Story.  Here it is: Business doesn't want "outside the box" thinking.  Further, they don't recognize it when they see it, or even when it is shoved down their throats and proven to work.  There it is.  THAT is the reason.

So yeah, we still haven't addressed buzzwords.  The business guys don't get those either.  XML, Web Services, XAML, Big Data, WPF, WCF, SOAP, REST, NoSQL, Hadoop, don't make sense in most applications and some don't make any sense at all.  "The smart guys  got a PhD for a dissertation on Big Data so I need some Big Data in my solution!"  Well, no, you don't and there is no such thing as big data.  Microsoft has a Big Data solution and it has been around for decades: SQL Server.  Don't run procedural code against your unstructured data, structure it and run set based code using a database engine.

So once again, it is conclusion time.  Until we quit letting the MBAs run anything, including their mouths, we are never going to get anywhere useful.  Regular readers will recognize the Bob Cratchit theory: Businesses are doing nothing differently now than they did in 1843 at Scrooge and Marley's counting house, they just have the spreadsheets on a computer today.

The conclusion of the conclusion is to let the MBAs worry about funding and shares and corporate structure.  Let the truly smart people decide HOW things are going to be done.  THIS is what we have and THAT is what we want and we software guys will show you the best way to get from THIS to THAT.  At Sentia we have automated entire businesses.  Not just one, not two, but many.  We took an existing business and automated it to the point that there is nothing to do but click the "Send bills" button at the end of the month.  Literally.  In the most recent case of Coffee County Alabama Office of the Constable, We spent three days writing a system for the deputy constables to issue electronic tickets.  No paper.  No filing cabinets.  No lost documents.  We wrote it for free and they use it for a $10 monthly subscription per login.  The automatic generation of cases for the constables and the automatic generation of court dockets alone pay for the system, since they no longer have to pay someone to produce these reports.  Even better, If you get pulled over in Coffee County, you probably are only going to be issued a warning, because they now have the ability to see if you are an habitual offender.  You don't live there, so you get a warning.

That is the way we do things: Automation, make it easy.  Doesn't everyone need some of that?

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