We Bought Software

In a town hall meeting at work yesterday there was a big announcement "We bought software". I don't even remember what it was for but it did have a special purpose. As I listened to the announcement of all the big plans I grinned. I find those kinds of things amusing because of the trend toward turn-key systems. The humor is multi-fold.

XYZ Systems. On the web sites of two of the educational institutions in Tyler (UTHCT is not included) there are ads for IT personnel that have been running for months. The ads are for IT professionals with experience with some odd software package they've turned the key for. Except for some key software packages there is very little formal training for turn-key software. Considering the number of packages available for every function in business there is a severe limitation trying to hire someone that knows that package. And if you understand the law of supply and demand you understand the potential cost involved when you think you must have someone with XYZ experience. The biggest irony is that both of these institutions have IT departments but I doubt either of them has even a class on the XYZ package. It's like a brand name that companies will boast about much like they might take so much pride in their Beamer Caddie or Lexus. They have little clue to what they have other than the brand that some car dealer impressed them with.

Opening the Box. The second laugh has to do with the expectations that administrative leaders have. At first they think enthusiastically we have a package that will do all we need. It is only after installation that they discover all the shortcomings all the things that will cost more money. At the other end of the installation when original personnel have left they think that they have to hire someone with experience with that package. The sad thing is that there is some truth in that. Fewer and fewer people have the ability to learn more than a few new things.

Training and Maintenance. At UT Health Center we've gone through several installation and training programs for whatever new package they adopted. It is a time-consuming and expensive process although the package itself is supposed to be turn-key. Some of our supply item numbers have changed four or five times because that turn-key application doesn't know how to use the existing data. In reality most data can be carried over into a new system if they know how or will take the time to do it. I know because I've done quite a lot of data conversion.

The tower of Babel. One of the problems I've seen with multiple turn-key packages is that they don't talk to each other. Networked software (i.e. SQL Server) has been around for a decade that enables multiple departments in a corporation to securely share data. Yet there may be multiple employee or student databases on a campus each for a different thing and each having to be updated when there is a change.

A REAL IT Staff. Real programmers use Edlin. That was voiced in jest a few years ago. While I do know how to use Edlin the point is that a real IT department needs to have people that have been adequately trained. They need a staff with a broad knowledge of industry software that is general purpose and can be employed to do a number of tasks and that have the skills to use those tools. There are specialties of course but most IT departments seem to be filled with people with limited specialized skills. They might know POISE or MEDITECH or some other turnkey program but have no clue about networking or database administration. There may be some educational shortcomings but much of that is due to the focus of the company itself.

Real qualifications for an IT job should include languages protocols standards of the industry not proprietary software. Very often for a business the size of these colleges software can be written to accommodate the needs of the institution. They don't because the leadership of these departments are incapable of developing plans for such a project.

In the end this all points to the idiocy in many of our institutions and corporations. Very often administrators' only skills involve giving orders acting authoritative knowing how to buy stuff. If you know how to buy stuff you have a future.

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