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Social Security Administration Joins Other Agencies With $300M "IT Boondoggle"

erp_consultant Business as usual.... (142 comments)

I have worked for a number of government agencies and large contractors. This story does not surprise me in the least. What WOULD surprise me is to find a story where one of these large scale IT projects actually got completed on time and on budget. Now there's a story.

Probably a rehash for some but here is, in my opinion, the reasons these projects continue to fail:

1) The procurement and bidding process is flawed, particularly at the federal level. Many firms are forbidden to place bids on projects because that lack this or that credential. As a result, it's the same old players time and time again. IBM. Deloitte. Oracle. Honeywell. Lockheed Martin. Both the Democrats and Republicans know that it's broken and both of them have had a chance to fix it but don't.
2) Governments insist on doing "fixed bid" (i.e. flat rate) projects. In my experience, fixed bid projects almost always turn out poorly, Particularly for large scale projects. What ends up happening is that the project (for whatever reason) falls behind. But the deliverable dates stay the same. Eventually the contractor has to either go back and ask for more money, do the work at a loss, or start cutting corners.
3) Government managers, by and large, don't understand the concept of a budget. Often there are no consequences for finishing late or going over budget. They will still have a job tomorrow.
4) This one happens every time...you go into the project as 50/50 partners with a commitment from the client that they will devote X number of hours per week to the project and hold up their end. The problem is that the government managers have other stuff to do and can't devote X number of hours per week. If you're lucky you get X/2 hours per week. So critical decisions have to wait and delays occur.
5) For some government managers, big big projects are something they have no experience with. Last week they were trying to decide what color coffee maker to get for the break room. This week, they are installing SAP.
6) From the article..."It was supposed to replace 54 separate, antiquated computer systems used by state Social Security offices to process disability claims.". That is not a misprint. 54 antiquated systems. That is a huge undertaking. I would be willing to bet that at least a few of them have no documentation whatsoever. And the only person that knows how to run it retired a few years back. Good luck trying to unravel that mess.
7) The magic bullet theory. Time and time again I hear these management bozos (not just government ones either) spout off about how 'Software package X' is going to revolutionize how you do business..massive efficiency...streamlined processes. Bullshit. The software is only going to be as good as the decisions that are made along the way. And if you make mistakes on a few major decisions these really large software suites (SAP, etc.) can be nearly impossible to change once you start using them.
8) Team members that don't have a stake in the success of the project. Joe in accounting has been using the old antiquated system for the past 23 years. He's retiring in a few years. Do you really think that Joe wants to learn a brand new system? Not fucking likely. He won't get a raise or a bonus for all the extra work and he'll end up having to train his replacement. Meanwhile, his government manager has limited options for those that don't want to play.
9) Managers are unwilling, or unable, to change their convoluted business processes that are the root cause of these un-maintainable systems in the first place. Politics.
10) Lack of documentation. More than once I have been on projects where there is not a single page of documentation describing how the current systems works or what to do if something goes wrong. So you have to sit down and figure it all out yourself and that can take a lot of time.

Typical client exchange:

Me: "So tell me, why do you process Voucher payments in this fashion?"
Client: "Cause that's how Joe showed me to do it when he trained me."
Me: "And why did Joe do it that way?"
Client: "Beats me."
Me: "Is Joe around? Can we meet with him?"
Client: "Nope...Joe retired 2 years ago."
Me: 'Hmmmm...did he leave any notes or documentation?"
Client: "Are you kidding? He wasn't exactly a go-getter if you know what I mean."
Me: "Didn't his manager ask him to document things before he retired?"
Client: "Nope."
Me: "Looks like it's going to be a long night...."

4 days ago
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Laser Eye Surgery, Revisited 10 Years Later

erp_consultant Im a chicken.... (535 comments)

plain and simple. Good eyesight is essential to my career. I'm a very visually oriented person. Not to minimize the loss of any other faculties but, for me, losing my eyesight would be the most difficult to deal with. Any surgery has risk. Some more than others but risk is always present. For me, it's just not worth the risk (however small) that I might end up with some sort of permanent damage to my eyes. Now, if I needed some sort of surgery to save my vision then that's another story entirely. But to do it for vanity and convenience? No thanks.

I've been wearing glasses since I was a child. Tried contacts and decided very quickly that I'd rather use glasses. I see really well with my glasses (both near and far) and I'm used to wearing them.

Would it improve my looks if I got Lasik? Yeah, maybe, but it's not a motivating factor for me. A few people have told me that I look good with my glasses. I kinda like them. So I'll keep using them.

4 days ago
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World Health Organization Calls For Decriminalization of Drug Use

erp_consultant Might as well... (474 comments)

The government has got their filthy hands on every other vice...booze, gambling, cigarettes. If you ask me, alcohol is a much bigger problem than all the other vices combined. And yet you can roll up to a 7-11 a buy a 6 pack any day of the week. As long as Uncle Sam gets his (significant) piece of the action.

Just take a look at what is happening with the pot dispensaries in California. Due to the huge amount of tax, the price (and quality, so I hear) is better on the street than what they are selling in the shops. Now granted, the stuff they sell in the shops is supposedly medicine and not for getting high but the point stands. You can get better, cheaper stuff on the streets than what the government is blessing. I have no doubt the same would hold true if cocaine were legalized. Well, at least it would keep people from going to jail for posessing it.

about a week ago
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Microsoft CEO To Slash 18,000 Jobs, 12,500 From Nokia To Go

erp_consultant Re:Dilbert words: Can anything be as demoralizing? (383 comments)

The latest buzzword is Human Capital Management. Note the use of the word Capital, as in asset. You, as an employee, are nothing more than a piece of furniture in their eyes. In the old days they called it the Personnel department. At least that had some sort of human element to it.

The morals of the story?

1) Don't trust management. They will cast you aside at the blink of an eye to save their own ass.
2) Don't get fooled into thinking you have lifetime employment with anyone.
3) Even when you have a job, never stop looking for the next one.

about two weeks ago
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Employees Staying Away From Internal Corporate Social Networks

erp_consultant Internal Social networks are useless (131 comments)

It's just a vehicle for brown-nosers to suck up to their bosses. It's the online version of the office Christmas party. You can't express what you truly feel on these corporate websites for fear of offending someone. And trust me - you will offend someone. This is the world we now live in.

And God help you if you get on the wrong side of the HR drones. HR is is full of girls that couldn't get a date for the prom and guys that got stuffed into gym lockers. They live for this shit. It doesn't matter if you are the most productive employee on the team. If you get anywhere near that gender/ethnic/sexual preference/political affiliation line you will immediately be branded as a sexist/homophobic/xenophobic malcontent and tossed out on your ass with astonishing speed and compunction. Within the blink of an eye you will be left standing in the employee parking lot with a cardboard box containing your personal effects and your letter of dismissal pondering your next move.

Or, you could just avoid the company social network. Your choice.

about three weeks ago
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Amazon Sues After Ex-Worker Takes Google Job

erp_consultant Amazon loses this one... (272 comments)

Non compete agreements are practically unenforceable in California. So we get the pleasure of watching a bunch of overpaid lawyers battle it out in already overcrowded courtrooms. The only justice will be if they both lose and are forced to donate the attorney fees to a homeless shelter.

about a month ago
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Tech Workforce Diversity At Facebook Similar To Google And Yahoo

erp_consultant Re:Careful what you wish for.... (265 comments)

Well said. I think that the environment that a person grows up in is a much bigger factor than race or gender. If your parents don't instill in you the value of a good education then many kids will miss out on that. Growing up poor already puts many of these kids at a disadvantage. Having parents that don't stress education just makes it worse. For the vast majority of these disadvantaged kids, education is the only way out. Sure, maybe you'll get a sports scholarship but that's a long shot.

I think that Affirmative Action legislation is well meaning but ineffective. It does not address the core issues, it merely masks it without offering any long term solution.

about a month ago
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Barnes & Noble To Spin Off Nook Media, Will Take It Public

erp_consultant It's sad.... (51 comments)

Back when Amazon was just a book seller, B&N was competing with them toe to toe. But then Amazon just got too big and started using it's leverage to squeeze B&N.

Amazon doesn't get nearly enough flack for it's shady business practices. In some ways they are just as bad as Google and Facebook. Amazon is slowly but surely cornering the market for eBooks. Did you know that Amazon, at any time, can shut off access to eBooks that you have bought and paid for? Did you know that it's impossible to remove a transaction after you have bought something on their website? It's there forever. The new Fire phone is taking information gathering to a new level.

B&N, on the other hand, just strikes me as more of a mom and pop bookstore. Their eBooks use a more open format. I've never really heard anything about them abusing customer data or coming up with sneaky little tricks to gather it. They just seem to want to sell you books. You can go into one of their stores and browse for hours and nobody will say anything. No pressure to buy anything.

about a month ago
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Tech Workforce Diversity At Facebook Similar To Google And Yahoo

erp_consultant Careful what you wish for.... (265 comments)

You know, the deeper we look into these kinds of issues the more interesting it gets.

The real question here is not "why are there so few minorities at Company X" it's "why are there so few qualified candidates from minority group X to fill open positions?". We already have diversity legislation in place at Universities in America. In fact, there are more women graduates than men. Yet so few of the females grads are getting degrees in CS. Why is that? It is certainly not because of lack of opportunity. Could it be that maybe - just maybe - women don't want to be programmers?

How about African Americans and other minority groups? Well, clearly the number of University students as a percentage of the total population is much lower than society in general. The question is why? Partly economic to be sure. But loans and grants are available to nearly everyone. Yet the number of black and latino college entrants is far lower, on a percentage basis, than they are for whites. Why is that?

Is it possible that, in general, black and latino kids just don't put as high a value on a college education as white kids do? And, therefore, just don't work as hard to get the good grades necessary to get into a good college? What part does having children out of wedlock play in this? Black and latino women have a much higher instance of this than either white or Asian women.

I'm not trying to point fingers or cast blame here and I certainly don't pretend to have all the answers. But it does raise some interesting questions.

about a month ago
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The Bursting Social Media Advertising Bubble

erp_consultant This is no surprise to me... (254 comments)

First off, I just instinctively turn off ads that I see in a browser. They are nothing more than an annoyance to me. Secondly, FB and Twitter are full of fake profiles.

about a month ago
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2 US Senators Propose 12-Cent Gas Tax Increase

erp_consultant Re:Typical Government reasoning.... (619 comments)

Yes, I agree that the rate is probably too low but without addressing the raiding the problem remains unsolved. It's truly a chicken and egg thing. It just seems that when you give the government the money first with a promise to fix the problem later, the problem never gets solved. We have seen this time and time again.

about a month ago
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2 US Senators Propose 12-Cent Gas Tax Increase

erp_consultant Re:Typical Government reasoning.... (619 comments)

"Even assuming no new waste in the system" - Well, there is a leap of faith if ever there was one.

"I'm sure there's plenty of waste in the system" - Ok, that's better

The point I was trying to make is that this sort of misappropriation of funding is the root cause. First, we need to fix that and then we can look at whether or not it is underfunded. Transit and bike paths are State responsibilities not Federal. So there is no reason that a single penny of the HTF should go towards it.

The Feds should be telling States "Here is some money but you can only spend it on highways - no bike paths or any of that other stuff. If we find out otherwise you're cut off.". Problem solved.

about a month ago
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2 US Senators Propose 12-Cent Gas Tax Increase

erp_consultant Typical Government reasoning.... (619 comments)

Instead of taking a hard look at where the money in the Highway Trust Fund is going, their solution is to simply bring in more money. The HTF was originally set up to fund the building of the Interstate Highway system. Period. That was it's sole purpose. Those funds were transferred to various States to build and expand the IH system as needed.

Fast forward to today and the HTF resources are being funneled into Transit systems, ferry boats, bike paths, and nature trails. All worthy causes but the money should not come out of the HTF. That's why it is underfunded.

This is the same trick that politicians play time and again. It happens with Education, Social Security and other items.

about a month ago
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Washington Redskins Stripped of Trademarks

erp_consultant PC Police are in full force once again (646 comments)

This whole thing is insulting on so many levels I'm not even sure where to begin.

Let's start with the name - Redskins. If you are offended by the name then don't go to any of the games or buy any of the merchandise. Problem solved. No need for lawsuits or public flogging.

Secondly, does anyone really believe that this is the most pressing issue facing the native american community? Is it even in the top 100? I'm willing to bet that the vast majority of native americans couldn't give a shit either way what the football team is called.

After all that the native americans have gone through - having their land stolen from them, herded on to reservations like cattle, etc. - this is how we make good on all that? By changing the name of a fucking football team? Give me a break.

about a month ago
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Yahoo's Diversity Record Is Almost As Bad As Google's

erp_consultant Flawed assertion (435 comments)

This whole "diversity" debate is nonsense. If there were an equal number of females, minorities and white males applying for the same job and white males were overwhelming getting chosen then you might have a case. But those numbers are never released. We never see how many applicants there are - only the race/gender of current employees.

If there are 10 times as many white males as females applying for a given job it only stands to reason that there will be more white males hired, no?

Why is there no outrage over the fact that females dominate the primary school teaching profession? Or the fact that 75% of NBA players are black? Why is it that there is only outrage when it is white males that dominate a given profession?

This is what the world has come to. Hiring managers are now being pressured into hiring less qualified (unqualified?) candidates in order to meet some arbitrary "diversity" number just so that some smug liberal do-gooder will feel better about themselves. Meanwhile, the better qualified white male gets left on the sidelines.

about a month ago
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Chinese-Built Cars Are Coming To the US Next Year

erp_consultant Re:A bit of a red herring.... (431 comments)

Well, if that's the case it doesn't seem like a very savvy move, marketing wise. For many people that might be the first Chevy they have ever driven. And this will be the impression they are left with. It seems to me that it could be an opportunity to showcase your vehicles. Give people a chance to rent it for a day or two and take it out on the road and see what it can do. If they like it then maybe they will buy one.

I would challenge your assertion that rental fleets only want cheap cars. Have you been to a Hertz lately? Sure, you can rent cheap cars if you want. But you can also rent a BMW 3 series, a Corvette, an Infinity Q50...heck I even saw a Porsche Panamara. Not exactly cheap cars.

about a month ago
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Chinese-Built Cars Are Coming To the US Next Year

erp_consultant Re:A bit of a red herring.... (431 comments)

Both European models, judging by the names. Not sure about the Mondeo but the Focus I drove was nothing special. Seemed a bit under powered and the interior materials looked and felt cheap to me. The European versions always seem to be a bit peppier than they are on this side of the pond.

Just last week I drove a Chevy Captiva - basically a mid sized SUV. The engine was horrible. Buzzy, under powered, never seemed to be in the right gear. On top of that it got poor gas mileage. The interior was alright but the engine and tranny came right out of the 1985 parts bin. I can't understand how, after spending even 5 minutes in this thing, anyone would want to buy it. The Ford Escape, Toyota RAV4, even the Nissan Rogue are vastly superior to that pile of Chevy junk.

I like your taste in cars. The BMW 1 series, especially with the M package, is one tasty little roadster :-)

about a month ago
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Chinese-Built Cars Are Coming To the US Next Year

erp_consultant A bit of a red herring.... (431 comments)

The build quality of modern vehicles has little to do with where it is made. The vast majority of assembly is done by machine (with the exception of Porsche and some other high end cars that are still built largely by hand). What determines reliability is how the cars are engineered.

Painting with very broad brush strokes, here is my experience with cars:

Japanese cars: Simple design, minimalist engineering, extremely reliable and cheap to operate
European cars: Complex design, somewhat over engineered, reliable but expensive to maintain
American cars: Poor design, not durable (in my experience), not very reliable but cheap to fix

Quick anecdotal evidence: I was taking my car in for some routine maintenance and they are giving me a drive home in the customer shuttle (a Chrysler PT Cruiser). I look and notice that it has about 80.000 miles on it and ask the guy driving it if it has been reliable. He tells me that they had to replace the motor mounts 3 times so far. 3 times! That, folks, is inferior design. My Honda has 110,000 miles and the original motor mounts. Original engine and tranny for that matter. Runs like a Swiss watch.

I'm not suggesting that all American cars are junk but I travel a lot and rent a lot of cars and my perception is that Japanese and European cars are far superior. I have driven nearly everything on the road.

What astounds me is that Chevy can build a fantastic car like the Corvette and yet nearly everything else is sub par. Ok, the new Malibu is a big improvement...I'll give them that. Ford? Well, the Mustang finally got rid of the live rear axle suspension. Now they are only about 10 years behind every other sports car on the road. Chrysler? They have some innovative designs but the quality continues to be horrible on balance.

None of this is a knock on the assembly workers. If the cars are well engineered they will last, whether they are made in Japan, Europe, USA or China.

about a month and a half ago
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iOS 8 Strikes an Unexpected Blow Against Location Tracking

erp_consultant Apple is in a unique position... (323 comments)

Unlike Google and Facebook, Apple makes a lot of money from their hardware business. Apple fans are happy to pay high margins on, what they feel, are superior products. Google and Facebook, OTOH, rely on selling customer data to advertisers to generate a good part of their revenue.

Apple is taking an interesting pivot on the "walled garden" approach. In the past it has been derided by some as a good reason to NOT buy Apple products. Now Apple is saying "yes, we have a walled garden but with that comes some benefits". One of which is data security and privacy. With iOS8 in particular we are seeing a greater emphasis on protecting the user from malware for example. I read somewhere that close to 98% of all malware is targeted towards Android devices. That's the price you pay for the freedom and flexibility of Android - it's easier for some to exploit.

What this also indicates is that more and more, many people are really beginning to distrust Google and Facebook with their data. This leads to fake FB profiles and fake Gmail accounts in an attempt to dodge the ad-man.

Personally, it has led me to using DuckDuckGo as my default search engine. Basically, I don't trust Google with my personal data. Yes, Google does a lot of great things but I'm careful with how I use their services. Facebook, in my view, does nothing to benefit anyone other than Facebook. They are a honeypot for advertising data and have consistently abused their position as data steward for millions of users, selling information to the highest bidder. I don't use any of their services and never will.

Now I'm not under the illusion that Apple does not collect any data on their users. I'm sure they do. But it seems to me that Apple can be more trusted than the other two.

about a month and a half ago
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Study: Male Facial Development Evolved To Take Punches

erp_consultant What about hands? (190 comments)

Does that also mean that male hands developed in a way that they could better absorb the impact of a punch?

What about nuts? It seems to me that we should have developed "stone-nads" to better absorb the impact of a kick in the nuts. I guess that evolution is still in progress :-)

about a month and a half ago

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