Don’t Take the Source Code

source code

The most difficult questions are the most open ones. What would you do if you were Prime Minister? Better to be asked specific questions: What would you do about school dinners, or Iraq, or capital punishment, or conscription, or food labelling or the railways? If the questions are more particular then you’ll probably have an opinion, or at least something to say.

I remember English composition lessons at school. Write a story, the teacher would say, and I wouldn’t know where  to begin. Write a story about four-eyed Martians and I’d know where to start. Complete freedom is paralysing. When everything is possible, nothing comes to mind.

For somewhat different reasons, being able to do anything at all with business systems is also terrifying. Partly, perhaps, because you don’t know where to start, but ,mainly because you don’t know when to stop.

Although nothing falls entirely into one or the other category, you can roughly divide business systems into those where you get the source code, and which you can do anything with, and those where you don’t get the source code, where possibilities are constrained.

I like constraints. When there are constraints, possibilities are very many fewer, and there are clear choices to make. This is the better situation.

Of course, if you get the source code you can build something that does exactly what you want to do (well, what you want to do NOW), but it will take you forever and cost you an infinite sum. When you don’t get the source code you may get 90% of what you want at a reasonable price, and soon. Moreover, you will find upgrades immensely easier.

I worked years ago, as a consultant, with an oil company that decided to take one of the largest business systems in the world, adapt the source code and implement it globally. The project was immensely expensive, took far longer than planned, and when the system was ready it was already out of date and impossible to upgrade. The system was abandoned in favour of another even bigger one that needed less adaptation.

And at LLP Group, a software reseller, where I work, we had two divisions – one selling Microsoft’s modifiable Dynamics software, where our projects were often disastrous, and one selling Infor’s non-modifiable software, where our projects were manageable, satisfying and profitable.

Don’t touch the source code!

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