Friday, March 28, 2008

Taking your lumps like an enterprise

Obie Fernandez posted recently about SAP, enterprise software peddlers par excellance, getting their asses sued by Waste Management, a behemoth of a company, for a clusterfuck of a deployment.

This reminds me why I want to keep working for small companies - I want to know when other people are making absurd promises that they'll then expect me to uphold as soon as possible and if at all possible, I want to be able to correct them or speak directly to the client and say "Sorry, they fucked up when they said that. Not gonna happen in that amount of time, but let's see how many items on that checklist we can realistically get done in the time and cost constraints you've set forth for us." Scrum has embarrassingly juvenile terms, but I think they really nailed it with the pigs and chickens metaphor.

It also reminds me of a talk I had with my COO a few years back, back in the heady days when I thought software could solve all ills and had no interest in moving any further up the food chain than architect. We were talking about some other clusterfuck that was in the news - a huge enterprise software vendor, a huge client, tens of millions of dollars and... nothing to show for it.

The developer in me was all righteous indignation - "How can they get away with that? Isn't that kind of thing embezzlement or something? If that were me, I would sue the bastards."

His response (and I'm paraphrasing) was a thunderously mighty zenslap.

"There's no point in suing them."

"How can there be no point? It'll serve notice to the next vendor in line that they're not to be trifled with."

"No, there's really no point. Even if they win, they'll never recoup their costs. They'll scare away other vendors and they still won't have what need. It's over."

I couldn't argue with that. I can't.

The contracts are dozens of miles long, filled with all manner of Cover Your Ass wording and dense, vague terminology that likely provide a Get Out of Jail free card to both sides. It'll be tied up in the courts for years, but it doesn't change the essential problem - you've already slipped what you thought was your deadline and run over-budget.

Do you spend time, money and focus trying to chase what you already know is a dead-end or do you effectively shrug your shoulders and focus on what will make you money? Were you completely up-front with all your needs? Were they all clearly outlined (and signed in blood in the contract)? Really?

And remember - if you do go with suing them, your chances of getting that software you swore you needed probably just evaporated. That's money that's probably coming out of your implementation budget (which is, again, already exhausted). If you could have done it in-house, you would have (right?) but you couldn't, so it means you need to find a new vendor. Who is going to be very wary of signing on with you because of the lawsuit, which means even more time and cost to get to the point where you can convince them to start building for you (which is going to take even more time and cost more because they know about your lawsuit and need to double-cover their asses). Knowing that it'll be a pyrrhic victory at best, do you still sue?

So I'm surprised that Waste Management is nutting up and suing the holy bejeesus out of SAP. I am, make no mistake about it, cheering for SAP to lose in the most majestic manner possible. I hope other large companies sue other large, shitty, enterprise software vendors.

And I am hoping that when they're eradicated, I'll figure out a way to become the next SAP. Money isn't the be-all and end-all, but I'm not too much of an asshole to say no to obscene amounts of money for nothing more than putting on a suit and having a nice little dog-and-pony show.

The difference between a shoplifter and a very successful enterprise software firm is that you're scared as fuck to prosecute the enterprise vendor when they rob you blind.

No comments: