A look at the private sector reveals that software debacles are routine. And the more ambitious the project, the higher the odds of disappointment. It may not be much consolation to taxpayers, but the F.B.I. has a lot of company. Software hell is a very crowded place.

Consider Ford Motor Company’s ambitious effort to write new software for buying supplies. Begun in 2000, the goal of the project, code-named Everest, was to replace Ford’s patchwork of internal purchasing systems with a uniform system that would run over the Internet. The new software was supposed to reduce paperwork, speed orders and slash costs. But the effort sank under its own complexity. When it was rolled out for testing in North America, suppliers rebelled; according to Automotive News, many found the new software to be slower and more cumbersome than the programs it was intended to replace. Last August, Ford abandoned Everest amid reports that the project was as much as $200 million over budget.

A McDonald’s program called Innovate was even more ambitious – and expensive. Started in 1999 with a budget of $1 billion, the network sought to automate pretty much the entire fast-food empire. Software systems would collect information from every restaurant – the number of burgers sold, the speed of customer service, even the temperature of the oil in the French fry vats – and deliver it in a neat bundle to the company’s executives, who would be able to adjust operations moment by moment.

Or so it was promised. Despite the grand goals, the project went nowhere. In late 2002, McDonald’s killed it, writing off the $170 million that had already been spent.

Research by the Standish Group, a software research and consulting firm, illustrates the troubled fates of most big software initiatives. In 1994, researchers found, only 16 percent were completed on time, on budget and fulfilling the original specifications. Nearly a third were canceled outright, and the remainder fell short of their objectives. More than half of the cost overruns amounted to at least 50 percent of the original budget. Of the projects that went off schedule, almost half took more than twice as long as originally planned. A follow-up survey in 2003, however, showed that corporate software projects were doing better; researchers found that the percentage of successful projects had risen to 34 percent.

(from The New York Times: Does Not Compute)

Intriguing tidbit that came across my desk from a Forrester newsletter… it led me, in turn, to BlogAds, which appears to be running a private-label ad network of top bloggers with quite a bit to recommend it.

MercuryNews.com | 08/19/2004 | Company must now take steps to go beyond good by Dan Gillmor

It’s also an obvious business for competitors. If Microsoft and Yahoo weren’t tough enough opponents, consider the growing number of micro-advertising services that are springing up to serve niche markets. In the Weblog world, for example, a small company called Blogads (www.blogads.com) has been effective for advertisers who want to target specific online journals. Google’s ad products are fine, but they’re hardly a monopoly.

Forrester Research: An Introduction To RSS: Why Companies Should Pay Attention Now

September 27, 2004, 1:00 p.m.-2:00 p.m. Eastern time
Cost: $240 or 2 Service Units (no charge for Member-level clients)

Consumers have started adopting the use of RSS (which stands for “rich site summary” but also “really simple syndication”) as a way to easily read content feeds from Weblogs as well as publishers like CNET, The New York Times, and Wall Street Journal.

* What is RSS? * How will RSS develop?
* What should content providers be doing RSS?
* What should marketers be doing with RSS?

Vendors Mentioned: BlogAds, Bloglines, Craig’s List, FeedDemon, Feedster, NewsGator, Pheedo, Technorati, Yahoo!

A minor news item in the larger scheme of things, but the very fact the maneuver surprised me means I haven’t internalized what a fad it is to donate code. It doesn’t appear to be a full VoiceXML stack, nor is it the acclaimed ViaVoice desktop engine, but it’s a start nonetheless…

The New York Times > Technology > Speech Code From I.B.M. to Become Open Source

After decades of research and development, speech recognition is moving toward mainstream use. Advances in statistical modeling, pattern-matching algorithms and processing power have enabled speech recognition to interpret a far broader vocabulary of words and phrases than in the past, though glitches remain.

The software for speech-recognition applications once had to be custom built, but now packages of reusable and standardized tools are becoming available. The speech software can now be added to a Web application so that programmers can use familiar tools and need little additional training.

“This whole speech world is going in the same direction as the rest of the information technology industry, and that should drastically reduce the cost of building speech applications,” said Mark Plakias, an analyst at Opus Research.

I.B.M. is donating code that it estimates cost the company $10 million to develop. One collection of speech software for handling basic words for dates, time and locations, like cities and states, will go to the Apache Software Foundation. The company is also contributing speech-editing tools to a second open-source group, the Eclipse Foundation.

There are some great little infographics in the article quoted at length below. I found it in a binge of reading on Business Intelligence/Analytics, which yielded a few urls (del.icio.us anyone? ;-)

Great picture: http://www.insightful.com/products/iminer/Mortgage-screenshot_800pixe.gif

http://www.xmethods.net/ — you should visit in general if you haven’t already
http://www.sas.com/apps/whitepapers/whitepaper.jsp — needs registration :-(
http://www.sas.com/solutions/sci/index.html — supply chain intelligence
http://www.sas.com/industry/auto/warranty/index.html — failure correlation
http://www.insightful.com/products/splus/unix.asp — the company that sells S+ now
http://www.insightful.com/products/iminer/default.asp — cleanup and merge
http://www.dmreview.com/portals/portal.cfm?topicId=230009 — analytics articles (also needs reg :-(
http://www.informationbuilders.com/ — customer highlights seemed interesting

Optimize Magazine > Gap Analysis > Real Time Means Real Change > August 2004

When asked which method has proven more effective in achieving real-time operation in their companies, only 16% of the 52 business and technology executives surveyed by Optimize Research cited investments in new, specialized technology solutions, such as grid or utility computing, which enable more distributed, flexible computing.

By comparison, nearly half of the respondents said the more effective method has been to increase the efficiencies of existing IT solutions. Another 19% said both methods have proven equally effective, and 17% said neither has been

But not many companies in the survey are doing much real-time monitoring or data collection. Executives were asked which processes or data types their company monitors in real time rather than by batch processes. The only response selected by a majority of the executives—58%—was Web site traffic/E-commerce activity. Fewer companies monitor real-time data on sales, customer interactions, inventory, customer shipments, output (products/services), and performance of individual software applications. Fewer than one-third collect information provided by business partners, data on incoming supplies, or product pricing information in real time. Only 19% of the executives rated their companies as extremely effective at monitoring real-time operations, while 75% said they were somewhat effective, and 6% not at all effective.

Companies that are collecting and acting on data in real time are seeing benefits. Aerospace manufacturer Lockheed Martin Corp. in Bethesda, Md., had been relying on a mostly manual process of gathering data from multiple legacy applications for the procurement of materials for certain products, says CIO Joseph Cleveland. The cycle time for gathering data and making a procurement decision took weeks, and sometimes months, he says. To speed up the process, Lockheed Martin deployed EAI software to integrate the multiple systems used for materials management. Because workers can access and act on relevant data more quickly, the same process now takes only days.

I loved this piece. I fell into it from a link to Dvorak’s 10 best and worst laptops of all time in Good Morning Silicon Valley. It triggered a bit of melancholy refelection that very, very few of the folks in the field today even remember the 80s, much less the 70s — the installed base always rounds to zero in a growing market :-(

Basically, it reminds us that the root of all productivity growth is in new ideas — the perspiration comes later, too, and it is 99% of the effort, but all the same, society needs big new ideas to grow.

The Myth of Disruptive Technology

The microcomputer was never a “less expensive” and “inferior” replacement for minicomputers. It was a more expensive and superior replacement for calculators and slide rules. It was never used “instead of” a minicomputer (or mainframe for that matter) but “in addition to.”

In the Harvard Business School alumni bulletin highlighting this nonsense, there is a list of supposedly disruptive technologies. Not one is disruptive. At the top of the list are electric cars supplanting gasoline vehicles. On what planet? Internet sales supplanting bookstores. Hmm, Barnes & Noble is packed with people. Restaurants are being affected by the disruptive technology of grocers’ takeout. Are you laughing yet? Motorcycles being affected by the disruptive technology of dirt bikes—does anyone see a pattern here? Is this an April Fools’ gag?

James Burke’s marvelous PBS TV series Connections offers a better explanation for disruption. When there is true disruption, it comes from inventions, regulatory and social change, complementary technologies, coincidence, and demand.

The closest Christensen comes to a real disruptive technology is digital photography. But it was invented in 1972 and has never been “cheaper” than film. The atom bomb is surely disruptive, but neither cheaper nor inferior. The car replaced the horse, but it costs more, and it became a success because of the invention of pavement and the pneumatic tire; asphalt was never cheaper than or inferior to dirt.

There is no such thing as a disruptive technology. There are inventions and new ideas, many of which fail while others succeed. That’s it. This concept only services venture capitalists who need a new term for the PowerPoint show to sucker investors.