Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Tools again

I have a confession to make. The small company where I work, a service business, has it's whole business run on paper. The only use of a computer is writing quotes, and printing pdf's from the manufacturer's web sites.

Why is that? Because my employer, who has been in business for decades, in a business where probably 60% fail within 3 years, has a system that works. He knows how much he owes, how much is coming in. The book keeper just writes everying down. We each do billing, by hand.

He tried an accounting program, which was a disaster. The poor lady running it couldn't grasp what the software was telling her, and in a short time the data was useless. Partly software issues, mostly trying to fit a square peg into a round hole.

I use a palm (or did up till two months ago when mine malfunctioned) to keep track of the myriad of notes I take on the job. Part numbers, serial numbers, notes on various consumables etc. Very useful

Almost all software depends on you fitting your operation to the software. You must change the way you do things. Which is fine if you don't have a way of doing things. But what if your business has specific demands? For our industry, there are a few software packages available, but they are very expensive, and force the users into a mould. For us to computerize the whole operation would cost tens of thousands of dollars, with no realistic payback. Hence we do it by hand. My employer spends the tens of thousands he saves on his hobbies.

The palm became useful to me when I wrote an simple application to do what I needed. I have attempted many times to write something that could run a similar service business, but the time and effort involved is beyond me.

On another subject. The move towards free Windows software seems to be driven by the desire to monetize free software. Yes, people need to be paid, no question. But if developers are paid to develop by companies who also need large marketing departments (and budgets) to drum up sales, and the sales imply support costs, and of course the best way to get sales is bundling, etc. etc., in what way is that different from the old and broken natural monopolizing software business that got us all into the pickle we have today, other than alot of people can use if for free? (Which has always been the case) This headlong rush will force the usually shenanigans of lock-in, purposely incompatible, and of course vapourware and the usual nauseating marketing trash that happens. This is already happening. One of these days some company with clout is going to lead us down a path that we know is a dead end, and most will follow.

Of course these rants come from the same mind that seriously ponders the usefulness of a monthly summary execution of a randomly picked marketing director. I suspect that after a few months it would act as a moderating influence.

A project that I've been pondering for a while is starting to see progress. I don't think I can countenance php and html for a while without a violent physical reaction, so now to start digging into the intricacies of Qt and KDE application programming. It will be a tool replacing the rather tedious process of calculating heating and cooling loads.


Comments:
You don't know how right you are. I've actually discouraged some small businesses from massively going down the IT route simple because they have paper systems in place and they work really well. I've also been worried by the fact that they've been told they need computers in their company, but haven't worked out how or why. Unfortunately, people and especially small businesses just don't see computers and software the way they see other systems - as a way to get things done on a day to day basis.

It's not that I don't want them to spend money (especially with me), but I know that if we really go to town and start getting them to use software everywhere and it fails (as it inevitably would do) they wouldn't touch software or IT in general at all ever. They've been rather shocked, but quite pleased, when I've asked them why they think they need a software system. We can then move on from there and find something that works for them.
 
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