Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Good Technology

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How good and modern need our databases and systems be in our HMS solution? Well, many a great journey can be had in an old Moggy Minor. Watch out to pull out the choke to start it and remember to push it in once the engines warmed up. Just be satisfied with 4 gears too. Using some older systems can feel a bit like that too. There are plenty of old CTX, Saffron and other old green screen stuff still out there and much of it generally does the job.
Older solutions were designed for a different century in many cases (the 20th) and to meet modern demands, need some adaptation around the edges. Often screens and additional data fields can be bolted on. Although many do not properly relate to main screens or in fact store data correctly. Rather than tightly data typed, a more ‘stringly’ approach used to be the way. Even recording the strands of diversity or successions correctly can often be a challenge.

Older solutions can often have moved on at the database level, but still use a sometimes dated ‘common’ user interface. Compared with a modern, all-windows solution, it’s easy for individuals in a demo to quickly mark it down. The reverse can happen. A great GUI skin on an old database or schema can often sell itself over a really elegant design with a tired GUI. Well there is no justice for some suppliers I guess. If you suspect you are looking at a brand new skin, probe it to make sure it covers all the solution. Once you are implementing it you might find that less prominent modules, such as Planned Maintenance or Service Charges may be waiting in the wings for sometime, for the re-write.

I was chatting with some people recently implementing a new housing system. They were complaining about the type & costs of database the HMS sits on, the (lack of a) schema provided and reporting difficulties. These are all areas that I find essential to probe deeply when looking for a new system. These are key things and certainly should not be left to worry about until you have already paid for a quarter of it and putting it in.

Database licence costs are another element that can form an enormous proportion of costs. Legacy databases such as U2, Progress etc always used to clock up some hefty licence costs. SQL Server used to be the vastly cheaper option. Even this now needs to come under scrutiny since Microsoft’s recent announced price hike. Each user, hopefully concurrent, will be clocking up a licence cost. A merger or change to a group structure can be expensive when a system is rolled out into every corner of the organisation.

Sometimes, organisations do chuck the solution out with the dishwater. One new housing group I am aware of after investing over 6 years of effort into a perfectly stable, but workmanlike HMS are moving to a shinier one used by a smaller member of the group, where little effort has been made to get the most from it. So, another 2-4 years of effort will be needed and already some of the shortcomings are being revealed. My point is that sometimes if the system delivers all you need, maybe that’s enough. If you get your reports, interfaces with adequate mobile and internet links etc, great support and helpdesk, maybe that’s good enough.  

Make sure you have a great reason to be hankering after ‘good technology’, consider the costs and risks. More important still, make sure you understand what problems it will solve and where your ROI will come from. If you are having trouble nailing that, be sure to seek some independent advice.

Read on to: Brass In Pocket

The Red Guitars had the measure of Good Technology.

(c) Tony Smith, Acutance Consulting www.acutanceconsulting.co.uk

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