The period between the 1970's and 1980's was a time of great advancement in computer hardware technology which took an industry still in it's infancy, to a level of much sophistication and which ultimately revelutionised the information storage and processing needs of every other industry and that of the entire world. However, it was also during this period when the shortcomings of implementing such technology became apparent. A significant number of development projects failed which resulted with disastrous consequences, not only of an economic nature, but social as well
. Seemingly, although hardware
technolgy was readily available and ever improving, what was inhibiting the industry was in the methods of implementing large systems. Consequently, all kinds of limited approaches materialized that avoided the costs and risks inherent in big-systems developments.
Times have changed, and with it our understanding and experience as how best to develop large systems. Today's large systems yield greater benefits for less cost than those of previous decades. Large systems provide better, more timely information, the ability to integrate and correlate internal and external information, the ability to integrate and facilitate streamlined business processes. Unfortunately, not every system that information workers develop are well implemented; this means that the computer system which was originally intended to make a company more efficient, productive and cost-effective, is in the end doing the exact opposite - namely, wasting time, money and valuable manpower. So even with all the lessons learned from the 70's and 80's, our vastly superior methodologies and knowledge of the 90's is still proving to be fallible, as suggested in the following examples.
System Development Failures
In Britain, 1993, an incident occurred which forced the London Ambulance Service to abandon its emergency system after it performed disastrously on delivery, causing delays in answering calls. An independent inquiry ordered by British government agencies found that the ambulance service had accepted a suspiciously low bid from a small and inexperienced supplier. The inquiry report, released in February 1993, determined that the system was far too small to cope with the data load. For an emergency service, the system error would not only cause the loss of money, but more essentially, fail to dispatch ambulances correctly and promptly upon the arising of critical situations. Thus, the implications of such a failure are apparently obvious, both socially and economically. Since the failures, the ambulance service has reverted to a paper- based system that will remain in place for the foreseeable future.
Another failure was the collapse of the Taurus trading system of the London Stock Exchange. Taurus would have replaced the shuffling of six sorts of paper among three places over two weeks - which is how transactions in shares are settled in London-with a computerized system able to settle trades in three days. The five-year Taurus development effort, which sources estimated cost hundreds of millions of dollars, was termed a disaster, and the project was abandoned in March 1993. Exchange officials have acknowledged that the failure put the future of the Exchange in danger.
Why did they fail?
What went wrong with these systems? The real failure in the case of the London Stock Exchange was managerial, both at the exchange and among member firms. The exchange's bosses gave the project managers too much rope, allowing them to fiddle with specifications and bring in too many outside consultants and computer firms. Its new board, having heavy-weight and diverse membership, proved too remote from the project. Member firms that spent years griping about Taurus's cost and delays did not communicate their doubts concerning the project. The Bank of England, a strong Taurus supporter, failed...