Author: Jeff Papows
Publisher: Prentice Hall, 2010
Aimed at:Managers, decision makers
Pros: An interesting read, some worthwhile points
Cons: Does it merit a book?
Reviewed by: Sue Gee
According to its back jacket from reading this book you'll learn about the cultural, technical and business issue behind software glitches, so you can proactively prevent them.
Is that claim justified?
Chapter 1 opens with an attention-grabbing, albeit true, story of a debit card charge being made for a pack of cigarettes for the phenomenal sum of $23,148,855,308,184,500,00. The same “glitch”, resulting from a "temporary programming error at Visa Debit Processing services" caused some 13,000 transactions to be misposted but perhaps the most shocking aspects of this situation were that the victim of this particularly obvious error had to notify his credit card issuer himself and then had to go back and forth between the card company and his bank to clear up the misapplied overdraft fee and was never formally notified of the cause of the problem.
Having established that computer glitches can be more than minor inconveniences in that they cause "brand damage" and require time and effort to resolve, Jeff Papows asks what's behind the glitches and suggests that three of the most pressing drivers are loss of intellectual knowledge, market consolidation and the ubiquity of technology. I have to admit to being surprised that, in discussing the first of these he pointed to COBOL and the impending dearth of experienced COBOL programmers. I thought we had got over that with the millennium bug - but no it seems that the years 2011 to 2015, when the baby boomer generation retires, will be another crunch point for a lot of organizations who still rely on mainframe technology. My surprise grew with the proposal that to prepare for a skills drought "you could offer positions that mix different skill sets such as Flash programming and COBOL". It then suggest you should automate as many tasks as possible - but isn't this likely to increase rather than decrease the incidence of glitches?
Chapter 2, The Personal Impact focuses on issues surrounding the Toyota vehicle recall and the impact of faulty technology on radiation machines designed to help treat cancer patients - and the two case studies introduced in the chapter are covered in harrowing detail by reproducing an article from The New York Time as the conclusion to the book. The chapter does include the note:
In fairness ... not all of these mistakes were solely the result of technology ... human errors also played a part.
As well as choosing dramatic examples of the problem there is also some guidance in a three-page section with the title "Due Diligence for Enterprise Procurement".
Chapter 3 is on Cyber Terrorism and Other Hidden Threats and this is relatively under-endowed with examples and again there is an emphasis on integrating new technology with legacy infrastructures.
Chapter 4 is in many ways the core of the book in that it is titled Dealing with Everyday Glitches. It refers to the ever-increasing complexity of IT infrastructure, it looks at the benefit to be gained through outsourcing, it explains how a mismatch between technology and business can interrupt the flow of business, lists seven IT myths that it claims to dispel, and advocates investing in "the people and the process." There isn’t enough here, however, to satisfy the senior decision makers identified as the audience.
Chapter 5, "Technology's Influence past present and Future presents some facts and figures to illustrate that technology is an economic growth engine and gives a "Brief History of the IT Industry" which made me think the author must be some outsider to the industry - wrong he was president and CEO of Lotus Development and helped steer its integration into IBM.
Chapter 6 on The Mobility and Network Maze seem out of place in a book whose subtitle is "The Hidden Impact of Faulty Software" as it is largely a success story. So in many respects is Chapter 7 on Governing the Government although it does serve as a lead in to the final chapter which is largely on the role of IT governance mitigation to software and technology failure. With the title The Way Forward, Chapter 8 envisages a greater role - one with business responsibilities - for software developers and discusses how to make IT governance work so as to eliminated glitches. This 23-page chapter does constitute a strong conclusion to an otherwise interesting but rather negligible read and does go some way to fulfilling the claims made on its jacket blurb.