"The Few and the Expensive" as a Declining Paradigm

How IBM Conned My Execs Out Of Millions (Technology),” by tyates, kuro5hin, 28 September 2005, http://www.kuro5hin.org/story/2005/9/27/95759/4240.

The sacred cow of “national assets” is finally on the SysAdmin chopping block,” by Thomas Barnett, Thomas P.M. Barnett :: Weblog, 2 October 2005, http://www.thomaspmbarnett.com/weblog/archives2/002385.html.

Network-Centric Warfare is often criticized as too few, little, too expensive. Writing for different audiences, both Dr. Thomas Barnett and tyates take aim at grandiose ways of winning yesterday’s wars

From the Hawk Strategist:

For the longest time, “national assets,” or satellites and related high-end infrastructure, was considered an off-limits resource of the Leviathan-“off limits” in the sense that it was untouchable budget-wise and largely hidden from oversight in “black programs” (like way too much of the intelligence budget in general).

New Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte sends a shot across the Leviathan’s bow by overhauling a huge $15 billion program that is to “provide the next generation of reconnaissance satellites, known as the Future Imagery Architecture.”

Expect more such moves, because both Dems and Repubs in Congress want less money to be funneled into these super-expensive systems and more effort put into ground-floor spying by humans. There is only so much you can figure out about the Gap from miles above.

This shift reflects the growing understanding that, yes, the Leviathan and its war requirements need a lot of classified information of this sort, but the SysAdmin and its peace requirements need a lot of locally derived information, almost none of which is classified, nor does it take a satellite to gather it, the vast majority of the time.

This is yet another good example of the trend we’ll see more and more: the Leviathan giving up its few-and-the-absurdly-expensive to the SysAdmin’s ever increasing need for the many-and-the-cheap.

From the Techno-Geek

Our budget was toast. Burnt blackened toast. We were so far over budget that we felt sick just talking about it.

We had expected IBM to stay for about three months, which all by itself would have blown our budget, given their $325/hr bill rate. But they were in our company for more than seven months, burning through more than a quarter million dollars a week. And Global Services wasn’t the entirety of the IBM damage. We still had licensing and support fees for Websphere, Websphere Portal, Websphere Content Management, Tivoli Access Manager, and DB2.

IBM, which had promoted itself to lead vendor and integrator, had overpromised, overcharged, and underdelivered. We ended up with an overly complex enterprise portal with a few off-the-shelf portlets and a few integrated applications. Many application integration efforts had to be abandoned. It’s unlikely that those apps will ever be in the portal, and the jury is still out on whether the portal will be a success. None of those slick knowledge management presentations we saw at the beginning of the project bore any resemblance to our outcome, and that original consultant was nowhere to be found.

What Went Wrong

There’s no question that our senior management made major mistakes in vendor selection and management. I still wonder if I could have made a better case to the executives. This was my second experience with IBM, and I knew how they operated. I raised as many warnings as I could, but ultimately because IBM was the vendor with the strongest capabilities, at least on paper, they were seen by the execs as the lowest risk choice. This led IBM to be chosen even when their product was unproven or even demonstrably inferior.

IBM sells itself as a provider of business solutions. That puts them in a position to make architecture and product recommendations. It is no surprise whose hardware, software, and services they typically recommend. After all, IBM invented FUD – Fear Uncertainty and Doubt – to deal with their competitors in the 1970s.

Even though IBM presents itself as a company with very advanced capabilities (i.e. chess-playing supercomputers), most of their customers are looking for the basics: web and database hardware and software, and competent technical staff to set it all up and keep it working. All of this is now a commodity, and companies should be paying commodity prices, not IBMs 300% markups.

Learn From Our Mistakes

They say that exceptionally intelligent people are easier to con, because they don’t believe they can be conned. So if you’re too smart for the following suggestions, you may need them the most. Our IT execs definitely did.

# Don’t take shortcuts with vendor selection or project planning. Make your vendors compete with each other during the selection process.
# Never, ever, ever ask an implementation company for strategy, architecture, or product advice. They have no incentive to help you and plenty of incentives to sell you products and services that you don’t need at inflated prices.
# Open standards means more flexibility in vendor selection. Take advantage of this.
# Know the market. Be able to calculate your resellers’ costs and markup. Remember that markups alone don’t add any project value.
# Check resumes of individual consultants. A $250+/hr consultant should be able to walk on water, and their resume should reflect that.
# Maintain a list of reliable implementation partners that includes large and small vendors, small independent contractors, and capable in-house employees. Match the talent to the project and use only proven talent on new projects.
# Run small pilot projects to test vendors, technologies, architectures, etc. This can be done separately or as part of an iterative development cycle.

For more reading, see Darth Vader’s views on NCO. Or the SecretWarrior on iterative development.

Anti-tdaxp Extremism hits "tdaxp" blog!

Hateful tdaxpophobes are no longer limited to norwegianity. and cobuyitaphobia . In celebration of the fatwa issued against me, a friend decided that he had enough of what counts as creativity around here:

ANTI-TDAXP: Tdaxpophobia?

At least I’m not 418th!


Your own personal sheik Jesus

Note lack of coherent criticism

Old generations are fading away — that’s what’s going on

Hurtful and friendly action lead to the same thing: It’s simplicity meets insight

American General on Training in Iraq

Lt. Gen. David Petraeus speaks at Princeton ,” by TigerHawk, TigerHawk, 2 October 2005, http://tigerhawk.blogspot.com/2005/10/lt-gen-david-petraeus-speaks-at.html (from Thomas P.M. Barnett :: Weblog).

Former Commander of the Multi-National Security Transition Command and NATO Training Mission, as well as first Free Iraq recipient of the Order of the Golden Palm, Lt. Gen. David Petraeus recently spoke at Princeton. This American soldier had the following to say about Iraq:

The central theme of his talk, which was supported by lots of data and supporting anecdotes, was that there are a lot of myths about Iraq that need to be dispelled. One such myth is the claim that NATO has not been involved — General Petraeus forcefully argued that it had been, particularly in the establishment of the military academy and training facilities, but that NATO’s participation had been substantially ignored by the press. Another myth is that “the Iraqi forces have no armor.” Coalition members from the former Communist bloc have contributed lots of armor compatible with legacy Iraqi experience, including 77 T-70 tanks from Hungary (“which are better than anything the Iraqis had under Saddam”). Iraqi tanks have been organized into an armored brigade which is responsible for securing the airport road (“Route Irish has been free of violence since the Iraqi armored brigade took it over”).

In General Petraeus’ conception, the Transition Command has five missions:

To “help Iraqis.” “We believed what TE Lawrence said: “Do not try to do too much with your own hands. Better the Arabs do it tolerably than that you do it perfectly. It is their war, and you are to help them, not win it for them.”

To “organize” the Iraqi military. The task of building a functioning military and special police force is extremely complex, and the Iraqis are doing it with Coalition and NATO guidance. Iraq is doing its own “recruiting and vetting.” We are helping them design the units, which includes the personnel and command structure of each unit from the platoon on up.

The organization of the training of the special Iraqi police had to be particularly original. We have “dramatically shifted” the police training from the Kosovo model. “Iraq is not a 9mm pistol world, it is an AK47 world.”

The most impressive thing about the Iraqi units is how tenacious they have become, notwithstanding early reports that they would cut and run. According to General Patraeus, since the January elections, from which the Iraqi security forces “took an enormous lift that still persists,” the Iraqi forces “have not run from a fight, they have not backed down.” This strikes me, by the way, as enormously hopeful for the future of Iraq, the persistence of the counterinsurgency, and the power of democracy to motivate the fight against the war on terror.

More highlights from the Transition Command’s work:

Under NATO’s auspices, the Iraqi military academy is open with entirely Iraqi instructors. It might have been opened much earlier with foreign instructors, but the Coalition felt that it was important to make it an Iraqi endeavor. General Patraeus noted later that he was very unhappy that this achievement got essentially no coverage in the media given its importance to success in Iraq.

Short- Mid- and Long-Range plans for the future development of the military are in place and being executed, relating to force structure, training, institutions, equipment. This all being done in conjunction with Iraqis.

At any given time, there are more than 3000 Iraqis out of the country training, including 2000 at a police academy in Jordan, and another 200 at an elite training facility “in a neighboring country.” It was obvious that this neighboring country is classified, and we can assume that it isn’t Jordan, which he mentioned specifically. Assuming that it isn’t Syria or Iran, that leaves Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Turkey. Since there would be no need to keep a facility in Kuwait secret and since it would be in Turkey’s external interest to be seen to be helping NATO (given its pending application to join the EU), my guess is that the secret training facility is in Saudi Arabia, which undoubtedly does not want to be caught collaborating with the United States to kill Sunni guerrillas.

It is good that America has such an well-spoken, intelligent officer corp. Read more.