Deja Vu All Over Again

Well, that was interesting. Yesterday afternoon I got to see
how to create a form in the new information management system
that is being written for the Judiciary. Unfortunately, it
didn’t go very well. Things started going down hill when the
speaker tried to copy a form (in PDF format) to WordPerfect for
editing. He chose “Select Table” from the Adobe Acrobat menu
and then drew a box around the entire one page form. He then
opened WordPerfect but when he tried to paste in the what he
had highlighted he realized that he had not copied the data to
the clipboard so there was nothing to paste in.

Okay, no problem, I’ve done that myself a time or two. So he
highlighted everything again and copied it to the clipboard and
then tried to paste it into WP. Unfortunately, nothing was
displayed. We waited. And waited. But nothing. When something
did finally copy over, it was the text from a previous copy.
Sigh.

Okay, rather than trying to copy from PDF, lets start from
the original WP file. So he copied the WP file (form diskette,
yikes!) to a network drive and opened it for editing through
the information management system. Once open, you insert
database variables (pre-defined fields in the Oracle database
being used). But after doing that, he couldn’t do a merge
between the template and the data to output the final form.

I think I overheard that the servers running the
applications and/or the database had gone down. I don’t know
why. But servers crashing do not engender trust in this new
system. Whatever happened, we were sent back to our
offices.

I’ve used one other large scale, state-wide, centralized
online system before. This was about 15 years ago. To this day,
there are still severe bugs in the system that bring it down on
a regular basis. The project went over budget. So many of the
planned modules never got implemented (and apparently never
will) thus making the system less helpful to the users. In
addition, system performance is a joke during regular periods
each month when many people are using the system (but not more
than the system was supposedly designed to handle).

I seem to remember somewhere that the majority of the
efforts to create large scale centralized information systems
fail. And by fail, they mean completely and utterly unusable
and you have to start over again. If this is true, there are
many reasons why this occurs. Sometimes what is being
computerized doesn’t lend itself to automation. Sometimes the
contractor chosen to write the application is not qualified to
do so. Sometimes the software tools chosen to create the
applications are inappropriate to the task. Sometimes not
enough money is realistically budgeted for the task. Sometimes
the infrastructure (network and servers) is not up to the
task.

And sometimes, a centralized database is not the best way to
go. Sometimes, its better to decentralize and distribute things
while still being networked and being able to query the other
databases/servers.

Oh well, today is the last of the three days (I hope) so we
will see what what we will see.

Aloha!

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