Wednesday 7 September 2011

Selling licenses to bureaucracies is embarrasingly easy

This is a fictitious post. It's all based on nothing, if any, maybe my dreams or nightmares or who knows what. This isn't real - it's just a dream. Somehow my memory got enriched with this information, and whether it actually did or did not happen, I really can't tell.
Anyway, it's such a bizarre story that I want to share it with you. Here goes

I went into work one morning, and heard that a meeting was called. An important one, apparently, as many were invited. Topic, agenda? Vague if even. So, I went.
"We need a new portal that will function as the single point of entry for all our relations: customers, suppliers, vendors, clients, companies, you name it"

Oh. I asked: "What's wrong with the current one?". No answer. I tried again: "What do we have in place at the moment for all those?" - and then I got answers. Many. I let people talk, interrupt each other, and at the end it became clear that there was a solution for every single one of those, but solutions overlapped, were owned by different departments, and all based on entirely different software - it was a jungle

Then, I asked the person who organised the meeting what the new solution would be like (it was an IT meeting; if you want to cut those short, or short-circuit even, get straight to the point and ask about value - don't. Let them speak, so you'll learn what moves them)
He started with "It will solve all our problems" and then followed that up by saying "and the best news is, we got a super deal on the licenses a few years ago"

A few years ago? Licenses? Hang on

"Yes a few years ago we were playing with the idea, and contacted a few people. And then this vendor came along and he was digging everything we were philosofying about! He even had a product that fulfilled all our needs, so we got that in place but alas, the winds started to blow in another direction"

Got that in place? What do you mean?

"Well we estimated that the entire project would cost 5 million, so those 750 thousand wouldn't hurt"

Which 750 thousand?

"Oh it's only 15 developer licenses, and we got a great discount on them!"

Alright. The conversation went on and on and in the end all the surprises were depleted. It appeared that 3 years ago, someone had an idea, and a vendor / system integrator "helped" him - ending up selling 15 development licenses to the company at an apparent discount of 50%. And so, the company had been paying 750,000 euros a year for those 15 unused licenses for the last three years

Let me be brief about the remainder of the meeting and the project: the meeting ended, the project started and ended on time and successfully, and it proved that the product was absolutely incapable of doing what it was supposed to do, and never capable enough to be doing what it was meant to do in the very first place.
One developer license remained for the current solution, and the other 14 were terminated

When I asked the license-manager (it was a very large company) how come the company paid over 2 million euros for licenses never used (aka shelfware), he answered: "I pay hundreds of millions in licenses for this company every year; I couldn't possibly check which really are in use, and which aren't"

I didn't ask what the added value was of him doing this work: I reckoned it mostly made him feel great and important. And probably bought him a few free dinners and what-not too...

No one cares about money in a bureaucracy. No one cares about value. All that people care about, is size: size of a team, of project funding, etc. Because that's all one can measure in a bureaucracy: the distance and anonymity are too great to get any closer to any source

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