I’ve been travelling around the New Jersey area (inevitable in the laboratory informatics industry, I think). Because of that, last night, I had supper with a couple consultants I hadn’t seen for a couple of years. Our conversation was not entirely about work, but the parts that were led us to the usual conclusion — nothing really changes.

They do much work with COTS (Commercial Off The Shelf) systems, too. In our discussion, we talked about some of these issues:

  • Customers buy COTS systems thinking they’ll actually be usable the way they are “out of the box.”
  • Because of this, customers don’t understand the true value of good project management and how difficult and expensive these projects will be.
  • because of this, customers don’t realize how many of the features they’ll have to pay to have built or extended to be truly usable for their implementation (costing yet more money).
  • People get frustrated with a system or see a new system with a great new feature. They dump their old system and spend a small fortune to recreate it in the new system. They insist the new system be just like the one they got rid of.
  • People get excited about new pieces of software and hardware that seem to be cutting-edge but that really aren’t doing anything much different than what they have or had in the past — it’s sheer consumerism — people see the advertisements and marketing and get excited about these things just as they might  be excited about buying a new gadget for themselves, personally. But in the corporate world, it costs a lot more because you’re buying it for a lot more people. If you squander a few hundred dollars on something you don’t need for yourself, it hopefully teaches you a lesson. If you squander hundreds of thousands to roll-out something no-one needs or wants, it’s not your money and people don’t seem to learn from these mistakes they make with their company’s money.

What I didn’t happen to mention, before, is that these consultants are in an entirely unrelated industry to laboratory informatics. The problems are the same, everywhere. While we could all learn from each other, we often dismiss what’s been done in other industries or by other companies. We get NIH (not invented here) syndrome. If we don’t do it and see it, ourselves, we don’t recognize it.

But human nature being what it is, we remain so hopeful that things will “just work out” that we often remain blind to the chaos in our projects. We wonder why they’re sliding into the death spiral. We can’t figure out why we’re spending so much money and getting so little out of it. Does that sound familiar? If so, it’s time to do something about it and, here’s a tip, hope won’t fix it.

Gloria Metrick
GeoMetrick Enterprises