Big vs Little

Over at the ACTKM discussion list, there has been a rather long thread running  during September which began with the heading “Sharepoint is no magic bullet” and has since wandered off into the fields of organizational/cultural change, mentoring and so forth. (It’s a very lively list, and well worth subscribing to.)

The initial point, however, is interesting itself. In general whenever you see a company plan to launch some grand software that is going to improve all sorts of business processes and so forth, you are fairly safe to predict it will fail, or at best not quite live up to expectations. There are usually lots of little reasons why this is so, but there are two main, big reasons.

First, most of these plans are less about the software than they are about changing certain business processes. The software is brought in because by making its use mandatory, the business processes — management believes — will be brought under control.

Well, no, actually. If things are in such a mess that you can’t bring about organizational change, then introducing some new, unfamiliar software really isn’t going to help. It will just create a bigger disaster. If you have trouble believing this, take a look at what happened at Australian Customs a couple of years back.

Secondly, there is just no way you can bring in a major computer system out of nowhere that is going to effectively meet the needs of the people who work with it. Aim low enough, and you might meet the needs of management. But it’s likely people will not use the system much, or do so grudgingly.

The best software is grown organically. It starts out as something small, then gets added to a little bit. Then extended. Then linked to something else.

Of course, this drives the average IT department nuts. But, you know something, the software isn’t made to keep the IT department happy. It’s made to make the users more effective.

True, it can go too far, until things require so much maintenance that they’re down 10% of the time, and not much use consequently. Even then, it isn’t necessary to replace everything.

When I made Xenos, I very much had in mind the idea of “small collections of loosely connected things”. Xenos is just the first of a series of products, all of which will link together, if you want them to. And I’ve been careful to stick with open formats wherever possible, so that other people — developers, users — can make things that will link easily to Xenos.

The idea is to build software that is scaled to the size of the human, and not the size of the Ideal. At least, that’s the aim, though I guess we all do fail at something so ambitious most of the time.


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