9/02/2012

Looking for a Perfect Market for Software?

Since the earliest days of the Rat's Eye View (#34, 2000), I argued that "The Rat's Eye Business Rule #1: No business is more than necessarily smarter than its customers." One of the best examples is in business software. I do not mean Quicken's Home and Office or Quicken Books or Microsoft Office or any one of the mass marketed programs that are intended for professional use but are sold to all of us. I mean the specialty software software designed for the biggest suckers in business: businesses. The bigger the business, the dumber the customer.

I've experienced this several times in my business career. The first time went back to the days (1967) of punchcards and hardwired business computers. That was followed by suffering with college computer systems in the 70's, Gerber and HP's godawful CAD systems in the 70's & 80's, the horrendous misery of IBM's quality management software with two medical devices companies (1990's), and most recently I'm all the way back to my own beginnings having to use the POS software that colleges buy. This past week, I heard exactly the same story from a middle manager in Minnesota's state government.

In particular, my own most resent misery has been caused by, first, the disorganized coding disaster produced by SonisWeb followed by an even bigger catastrophe misnamed CampusVue from Computer Management Corp. Both of these companies have done a fine job of targeting the function that most "educational institutions" are most concerned with: income management and customer/student tracking. However, these programs completely neglect the primary function of an educational facility; classroom management. From recording attendance to administering, scoring, and storing exams and final grades, these programs appear to have been written by a first semester, computer science student no more recently than 1975. Even worse, every "upgrade" blows away more useful features, blocks instructor access from classroom information, and adds more keystrokes to instructor's interaction with the already cumbersome and incompetent software.

You might wonder how such poorly written software can find customers? Easy. Administration buys the crap and administration has no clue what goes on in the classroom. You can't get a dumber customer than one who doesn't use the product or know what it's used for. What passes for "management" in today's dysfunctional organizations is so busy packing its pockets with "performance bonuses" for awful performance that nobody has an eye on operations or the bottom line or the future. That is pretty obviously a formula for disaster.

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