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"Nobody got fired for choosing IBM" - what is COTS?

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I've just been to a meeting about what should have been a mundane and easy topic: there is a need …

I've just been to a meeting about what should have been a mundane and easy topic: there is a need for the update of a technologically old Web system of a government agency and through word-of-mouth it was thought that my group could do something good about it. As it turned out, that's a minor part of the work (and doable) and the rest of the talk was eerily Dilbert-like, practically the real-world incarnation of the phrase "Nobody got fired for choosing IBM."

Something someone said at the meeting made me think (again); he said that he never ever invented his own solution to an engineering problem - he basically scrounged and dug around and every time there was something he could apply (or misapply) to the problem at hand -- and I must say that is a sound engineering principle.

There are many different things that can be said on this topic. The major point is that this is the classic NIH-vs-COTS approach: either you reject everything which is not done locally (by "local brainpower") or you always aim to get the off-the-shelf solution. He is clearly in the latter camp but with a big emphasis that for him COTS does not resolve to "Cheap, off the Shelf" but "Commercial, off the Shelf," which is a perversion of the original intent.

The story behind COTS is that it was introduced with the intent to limit in-house development of products and projects which could be readily bought on the free market, with the idea of eliminating (or reducing) the cost of such development. The perversion here is that the commercial vendors immediately saw cartoon-style dollar signs in front of their eyes and started offering the most expensive "government-grade" products with the biggest lock-in factor. It became par for the course to deploy extensive unneeded infrastructure with single-supplier support contracts (and no, two IBM partners are still one supplier) and that in turn became the norm and what is expected from all future "players". When you factor in corruption on all government layers (especially prevalent in ex-YU countries), you get monstrously large projects (and a lot of them) which end up with result which are inadequate or worse. COTS became one more way of siphoning money from governments into big multinationals.

In this particular case they ended up with an installation of the Lotus Domino server (universally disliked by its users) for document management, but with a very good reason behind it: "that was what everyone else was recommending." And indeed, IBM has through lobbying succeeded to pass that ridiculously inadequate product as a recommendation on various layers of the EU. From their point of view, there was no question about Lotus' usage - "why would we NOT use something that so many other companies and governments already use?"

This is of course completely disconnected from reality (the "million flies" fallacy) but also incredibly difficult to battle with. For one, it means they will never ever adopt a solution which is not already implemented somewhere they know about. It ends up as a reverence of certain big companies (IBM, MS) because "they can do no wrong." And finally, for that reason Open source (or even basic "openness") is not anywhere in their mental radar. With this in mind, basically the only alternative to Domino is Microsoft's SharePoint. For them, the cost is not a factor - after all, it's not like they are paying for it themselves.


#1 Re: "Nobody got fired for choosing IBM" - what is COTS?

Added on 2011-11-14T23:31 by TR

Universally disliked by users - that's a very sweeping statement. I use and administer Lotus Domino for a living and actually like it!

#2 Re: "Nobody got fired for choosing IBM" - what is COTS?

Added on 2011-11-14T23:39 by Ivan Voras

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