Awful, Awful IT Management. Just Awful.

So we’ve all heard the news that the UK and Dutch governments are paying Microsoft million$ to consider supporting XP for them.

I am appalled. What a waste of taxpayer money. Frankly, everyone in charge of IT in these organizations should be fired. Maybe imprisoned. Here’s why:

You didn’t see this coming? For Jah’s sake, XP is 12 years old. You’re telling me that you were so blindsided by the end of support that you have to spend millions to support an outdated, highly vulnerable operating system, instead of upgrading?

You lack capability? What, you can’t efficiently roll out a newer desktop operating system in a reasonable period of time? For shame. I sure hope you don’t have to react to anything important anytime soon.

As an aside, I find it hilarious that the UK government is one of the two entities (so far) doing this. These are the folks who invented ITIL, remember, a framework I have long held as being expressly designed to halt change. I mean, I get the value of change control, but I truly don’t feel ITIL is designed to manage change so much as make sure it doesn’t happen much. Giggles.

You’ve got expensive stuff that only runs on XP. Ah, most people will use this to get a pass on the XP thing. Not from me. You’re telling me that, some years ago, you acquired some technology solution and didn’t ensure it had an upgrade path? You what, thought XP would be the last version of Windows ever? If you put Neil The Help Desk Guy in charge of acquisitions, I’d expect that kind of naiveté. I don’t accept it from technology executives. Part of your procurement process should always be, “what’s the path when Windows ___ is retired?” You should be planning to upgrade everything you buy. Not waiting until it’s a fait accompli and then paying through the nose to support 12-year-old software.

The last guy didn’t do anything to prepare. And you’ve been doing what since we hired you? Your first move wasn’t to find out what kind of obsolete stuff you had lying around, and start to plan what to do about it? Your answer is to spend millions so a software company can support something that’s older than the most recent tax code?

 

…breathe…

I want to acknowledge that governments are never terribly efficient. I don’t necessarily want them to be. There’s a downside to businesslike efficiency when you’re not in the business of making a profit, and I don’t want my government making a profit. No danger there, fortunately. But this is just amateurish. Nobody making these “spend millions to support old software” decisions should be managing anything. Like, not even the local pub.

Things in IT are moving faster, not slower. XP is officially old enough to qualify for a “Classic” license plate in some states. Your car is probably newer than XP. Management that didn’t have an XP plan four years ago is incompetent; management that’s paying extra money to support an obsolete OS isn’t incompetent. They’re criminal.

Especially if they’re spending your money to do it. There should, honestly, be hearings.

Target’s CIO resigned over a lesser offense. One that was, arguably, less predictable. I mean, nobody told Target in advance they were going to be hacked. Microsoft has been telling us for years that XP was going away. There’s been time. 

Sorry. Bit of a rant. This really frustrates me. If our IT leaders can’t get their heads screwed on any tighter than this, then we’re all screwed. Because I guarantee you, if there’s been no XP plan, then there’s damn sure no plans for anything important. Like protecting your personal information.

(And, as an aside, folks in the US should be bloody amazed that HealthCare.gov had as few problems as it did. The tech standard, for governments, is apparently not very high.)

 

…and an update…

As you’ll notice from the comments, at least a few folks aren’t grasping the point of the story. The point isn’t, “you should ditch XP now.”

The point is about learning from your mistakes. 

Okay, so you’re stuck with XP. You should be called up on charges, because you definitely saw this coming. More importantly, what are you doing to make sure this scenario doesn’t happen again? Before you buy that expensive whatever-it-does, are you making sure the vendor has a plan to do something about software obsolescence? I’m sure that if you make that a sticking point on the sale, they’ll come up with an answer. And yeah, vendors go out of business – I get that. But we should be doing all we can reasonably do to make sure we don’t get into this “XP forever” situation again. Maybe we’re screwed this time around… but you know the saying. Screw me once, shame on you….

Hopefully everyone can look at this XP situation, where some people (even if it isn’t you) are going to be stuck with XP for years, and make sure that becomes a discussion point with every vendor. “So the machine cures cancer, huh? What’s the upgrade path when Windows 9.2 is 10 years old? You’ve no idea? Okay, well maybe your competitor does.”

But I truly hate the attitude of, “well, there’s nothing we can do, now or ever, can’t even try harder next time.” It’s just lazy. We should all be pushing for more manageable, more secure, more stable technology. All the time. And I know almost everyone does, and I know sometimes, in edge cases, the situation is what it is.

…not to mention…

And, by the way, let’s draw a bit of a line and make sure you’re reading the preceding rant. I’m not kvetching about a business who got stuck with some specialized controllers running an embedded or near-embedded OS. I’m talking about millions and millions of dollars being spent by governments to support what in most cases are general-purpose PCs. I think there’s a bit of a difference there. These aren’t folks who are stuck. They’re folks who didn’t plan.

9 Comments

  1. “You’re telling me that, some years ago, you acquired some technology solution and didn’t ensure it had an upgrade path?”
    No. I’m telling you that years ago, millions of perfectly competent people requested quotes and information on products and weighed dozens of factors before deciding on one. Single-issue voters are idiots, regardless of what they’re voting on.
    But, hey, maybe we should listen to you. Our hospital is no longer going to perform blood analysis. The machines only operate with Windows XP controllers and there are no other vendors who make them, so check your own blood for pathogens. Our bank isn’t going to process your investment transactions either, because the one and only software manufacturer for that particular system won’t upgrade. Our trucking company is adopting a new policy of calling you a liar when you call in to say our drivers cut you off, because the engine analysis modules require XP and we sure wouldn’t want to anger any Internet pundits. I mean, we pointed them to this article, but all they said was, “Don Who?”
    It would be nice if one, just one of you Johnny-Know-It-Alls stepped out of your pulpits and into the real world just long enough to realize how foolish you sound when writing me-too post #654328745278 on how everyone that can’t get off XP is an idiot. Or maybe, you could stick to what you actually know and leave the world of corporate IT to those who actually do it.

    • I have to disagree. There *are* a ton of factors to weigh… but “what are we going to do with this in __ years when the software is invariably obsolete” is one of them, and an important one. And unless you can prove differently, friend, I’m betting nobody even asked that question – and that’s incompetence at a managerial level.

      And you’re completely and entirely mis-stating my argument. I’m *not* saying companies shouldn’t buy things. I’m saying that, *as a paying customer,* companies have the ability to drive the conversation. You know what was on the other end of that multi-million dollar blood analysis software? A vendor who wanted to make a sale. And if, “show us the obsolescence plan” has been a criterion, I can promise you there would have been an answer.

      I’m not suggesting that companies should toss XP *NOW*, along with everything XP is doing for them. I’m stating that the NEED TO KEEP XP shows a remarkable lack of foresight years and years ago. And when that lack costs taxpayer dollars – as it does in the specific case I’m referring to – that’s obscene. Particularly because it’s not like nobody KNEW XP wouldn’t eventually die off. It’s software. Of course it will.

      Realize that the folks running your IT investments aren’t paying any attention. I’m not saying you have to toss XP now. I’m saying it’s awful management that put you into a situation where you are stuck with it. This “we’re stuck with XP” was avoidable, predictable, and has been delayed again and again and again. Sure, maybe you can’t toss XP. I get that. When it’s running something mission-critical, that’s important. Nothing I’ve said or implied disputes that. I’m not yelling at companies or governments for not getting rid of XP right this minute.

      I’m yelling at them for making this an issue in the first place. Better management in the first place would have prevented this.

      And, above all, I’m trying to make a “learn from history” point. Let’s try not to do this again. Sure, some folks are going to be stuck with XP for a while. Fine. It’s horrible management that put those folks in this situation. So what can be done to prevent it next time? What is your management doing to ensure it isn’t stuck with Windows 7 for 12 years? Are you paying attention to that when making new acquisitions?

      That’s the point I’m making. It’s idiotic to suggest that I’m just preaching to ditch XP no matter what the cost. I’m preaching to look at the circumstances that got you here – and do something to not be here again in a decade. Plan for software to become obsolete. Before you take a mission-critical dependency on something, ask yourself where it’s going to be in 10 years. If the vendor doesn’t know, maybe you should talk to another vendor BEFOREHAND next time.

  2. Well, by your response, I see that you can think. Therefore, I apologize for the overly rude tone of my first post. I’m just getting very tired of reading this article in all these different places and feeling like I’m under constant assault for the crime of being caught between doing what I know is right and doing what I must to keep the business wheels turning and the customers’ needs met.
    On common ground, I agree that anyone who had the power to get rid of their XP boxes and didn’t is way out of line. I wouldn’t be surprised if that applies to most of the XP systems out there. Sic ‘em.

    , but…

    I have now serviced clients in so many different verticals that I’d have to sit down and think a while to be sure that I got them all. All of them — and I mean ALL of them — have at least one software or hardware manufacturer that didn’t have to play by the rules that you set. You’re saying to go talk to another vendor — do you have any idea how many times there IS no other vendor? Within the last few years, there was a maker of large-scale fabrication hardware that was requiring that all of their new machines be connected to PDP-11s! Vote with dollars? There was no other candidate! You either bought that system or you didn’t fab on that scale. When your core business is large-scale fabrication, then you grumble a lot, but you go out and duct tape together a PDP-11.
    You may not realize it, but there are easily hundreds, probably thousands, maybe tens of thousands of vendors out there who put their customers in this position and feel zero competitive pressure to do anything about it. You talk about software vendors, but I can tell you that a lot of the drama is caused by non-computer hardware manufacturers who don’t care what’s going on in the IT world because they don’t consider themselves part of it (transportation, agriculture, manufacturing, etc.).
    Sometimes it is software people. They’re often the only game in town or aside from timely OS support, their competition is so far behind that they check every other box on the quote requirements form well enough that you can’t, in good faith, choose the competition.
    Maybe you’re personally lucky enough to only interact with really giant companies. The majority of businesses can’t vote well with their dollars because their purchasing power is insignificant. Collectively, maybe, but they don’t have the time or energy to organize.
    Here’s the thing: I think your intention is right. IT managers should take care in product selection. Companies shouldn’t bypass IT when buying things. These should be, but often aren’t, axioms. I understand that, and I side with you. But choice is often a pipe dream. Sometimes there is no choice. Sometimes the choice is between Suck A and Suck B. Sometimes (surprise!) vendors lie their asses off to get in the door and you just have no good way to vet them for future behaviors. Sometimes your company is just so small that you can’t scope the talent necessary to make these decisions. I guess I could even believe that some vendors really want to move forward, but have to task so much of their staff into fixing bugs they’re getting sued over that they just can’t devote manpower to the next version.
    I don’t think it’s fair that we in IT get stuck with all this blame. Obviously I can’t talk on behalf of everyone out there, but I doubt anyone enjoys the burden of supporting XP when 7 is clearly superior and would reduce reliance on support staff. But I think there’s a way for you, and a whole lot of other people, to say your piece on this matter while having a bit of care for those of us who are stuck in an unfavorable dilemma that no amount of foresight would have changed. I think there’s a lot more of us than you think there are. We’re just invisible because we don’t have the funds to get into your training classes or go to TechNet or do anything else that would get us on an influencer’s radar. Just please remember that not all of us share your good fortunes.

    • No, I definitely know how painful this is. Again, I’m not talking about “how do we fix the current situation.” I’m asking, “what can we identify from this that can help us not wind up here again 10 years hence.”

      Every single point you make is a valid one – and they’re all things I hope people are looking at, learning from, and asking questions about when it comes to future purchases.

      And I disagree that smaller companies can’t vote with their dollars. They can. In fact, in certain ways, they can do so more easily because some risk aren’t of such great magnitude for them. Only have 2 servers? I bet Linux would work well for you. Or Mac. Windows isn’t the only game in town, and small businesses have the advantage of greater flexibility than giant companies. Small companies are where Windows Server got it’s “in,” when it was easier than NetWare. But small companies are more likely to not research the situation – to not PLAN – and simply do what everyone else does, or what a consultant tells them to. That’s their weakness: they don’t see IT as value-add to their business, so they don’t spend a lot of time on the decision.

      I don’t think IT is to blame. I think management is to blame. IT management in some cases, other executives or business owners in other cases. I think it’s still easy for everyone to think of IT as overhead, or as a necessary evil, and so they don’t invest the same amount of brainpower in it. They don’t plan it, they just let it happen. I know you see that everywhere. I know most people in IT would rather work on fun new stuff than be stuck with the same-old. I think if you reread the article, you’ll see it wasn’t directed at the in-the-trenches folks. It was directed to the people who made – or who refrained from making – decisions 8-10 years back. I think you’re just possibly taking it a little personally.

      My point was simply this: “what about the current situation should we learn from? what could be done differently?” I get frustrated, a bit, by responses like yours, only because there’s so much, “it’s just inevitable, it will always be horrible.” To me, it feels like throwing in the towel. Maybe it feels unfixable to you; part of MY job is to help educate, and that includes educating business leaders.

      The one thing I will pin on in-the-trenches IT folks: Too few agitate for the right thing. Now look, I’m not saying bitching up a storm at the boss is a good thing to do. I’m not saying your advice will be heeded. And I’m not saying you, personally, don’t speak up, politely, when the time is right, and offer that advice. But TOO FEW DO. Regardless of your personal self, of which I know nothing, too few of the tens of thousands of IT folks I work around every day ever try to guide their bosses to make better decisions. I wish they did. I know they know how – and I know it’s sometimes fruitless, and that’s discouraging. But too few try.

      And there aren’t more of you than I think there are. I know how many there are. In fact, before you start making assumptions like that, you might take a moment to find out a bit more about what I do for a living. I teach fewer than 4 classes a year, most years – so I certainly don’t rely on that or TechEd to show me a representative sample of what IT people deal with. Not at all. Most of my work is in the trenches with consulting clients, of all sizes. 1000 seats, 40000 seats.

      I do appreciate the counter-response. I hope you appreciate that part of what I’m trying to do is change, just a bit, the thinking of the people who PUT you in your situation. Not blaming you for it.

  3. The answer here is simple. Open source the OS and if the community wants to maintain the software outside of Microsoft’s help, they can as a fork. It is a perfect solution because if Microsoft doesn’t want to support it, and people want it supported leave them to their own devices.

    Done. Unless MS if afraid people will turn it into a better os than they themselves did via vista,7,8.

    • It’s quite likely people COULD improve it. That’d be interesting. Never happen, obviously, but it’d be interesting.

      You know, that’s the kind of thing that ALMOST already exists. Big companies and governments, as I mentioned in my “XP Post Mortem,” often demand that vendors escrow their source code. I wonder if anyone’s thought of having the escrow terms include access to the source code when the vendor voluntarily drops support for the product. It’d mean taking on your own OS programming – but, if you decide to do so, that’s a DECISION at least. It means you’ve thought about obsolescence and come up with a solution you feel will work for you.

  4. With Microsoft’s Loooooong history of be unable to release any software that is properly “done”, QA’d and documented, Windows XP was the exception, NOT the rule. Thus, #1, to ask people to once again trust a company that uses Service Packs as a way to finish unfinished software, AND charges people for support of their own faulty development, those who adhere to XP often do so because its one of the few things Microsoft ever got right – and lets be honest about it, MS has had two successful OS’s: DOS and XP.

    #2 Why, in software do we feel its ‘okay’ to drop support? Imagine if you bought an expensive car and kept it for 10 years – your dealer will still fix and support it – they don’t cast you aside with each successive model year. Why then do software companies, Microsoft being the worst of them, then think that somehow they have to rob customers, not once or twice, but repeatedly?

    #3 In my experience, client trust with Microsoft is, has been, and likely forever will be almost non-existent. MS is in it for the money – nothing else. Think about it – how many version of say Word have you used? Why did we need all these versions? Typing a letter to Grandma would be the same from the earliest version, to the present, and in this I can tell you from direct experience – Companies pay a fortune to overhaul software and systems – and no one is going to pay that over and over again. After all, What is gained? Nada, nothing, zilch.

    #4 Why is Microsoft running the industry and not the reverse? Usually most businesses try to please clients and keep them in the fold by delivering what clients want. You might open a restaurant selling Cow dung, but I can assure you, you wont be business very long. Businesses like these strive to meet client needs and desires – NOT to shove the same rehashed baloney down clients throats and expect deep love and loyalty.

    Fact is, like so many, you have simply fallen into the trap of accepting mediocre software at a massive cost simply because Microsoft tells you you need to upgrade, when in fact MANY businesses and end-user are perfectly fine with XP. They trust it, and don’t have the cash to just keep jumping through the Microsoft hoop.

    Try changing your point of view every now and then and stop drinking the Kool-Aid. Name one other industry where clients are largely ignored, charged to fix the manufacturers defects, and told to wait for Service Packs or further releases to fix what should have been delivered whole. THEN you might understand why many people and businesses just trust Microsoft even less for this discontinuation of XP.

    Alternatively, you could consume Cow Dung and wait for a Service pack to maybe turn it into something a bit more edible.

    • I change my point of view all the time – but I don’t understand why *you* having a different point of view means you need to go all whup-ass in the comments. But, if that’s your style, cool.

      I feel it’s OK to drop support for software because, at some point, the world changes to the point that the way the software was designed and written is just no longer suitable. That’s certainly not the only opinion, and you clearly don’t feel that way, which is fine. I’m not going to call you names for it. Yours is also a legit position; I just do not share it.

      I think companies pay to overhaul software because they do not PLAN for obsolescence. I think companies would be entirely justified in demanding Microsoft (and other vendors) introduce less revolutionary software changes so that “moving along” instead of “overhauling” was more feasible. MS may be on a track to do that. Maybe not – it’s a bit early to tell.

      I think MS did #4 a lot, continuing to support XP as long as they did. And continuing to do so for customers who want to pay for special treatment. You clearly dislike Microsoft and feel a certain way about them; I’m not trying to change that mindset at all. If your argument is, “software vendors should build software that can last a lot longer,” then I’m not necessarily disagreeing. Make that argument. Discuss the pros and cons. It’d be an interesting one – but that isn’t the world we live in. Whether right or wrong, we live in a world where everyone KNEW XP was going to become obsolete, and if they didn’t PLAN for that, then they should start planning for that the next time around, because it’s going to happen again. In the meantime, if there’s a press to change the situation – awesome.

      But kvetching about it doesn’t solve it. Until business PLAN for obsolescence, they won’t realize that they HATE obsolescence, and they won’t start pressing vendors to do something different. “Hey, we’re looking to buy Windows 9, and we’re thinking it’s gonna last 7 years. We’re thinking about what it’ll cost to keep rolling this thing, and we aren’t liking the numbers we’re coming up with. We want a different plan.” Dude, that’s TOTALLY legit. But until you recognize up front that planned obsolescence is the current state of things, and start deciding what to do about it, you can’t quantify the argument.

      Don’t tell me to change my point of view. I do it all the time. Try presenting a reasoned discussion that changes my point of view based on the merits of that discussion.

      Nowhere, anywhere, in this article did I imply that people trust Microsoft. Nowhere did I imply that what happened with XP was a universally Right and Just thing. It happened. Nobody planned for it. They should have. Had they done so, maybe the word would have gone to MS years back that, “you know, this sunset thing isn’t acceptable after all. Find another way. We’re happy with XP, keep it going.” But because nobody PLANNED or thought ahead, that wasn’t done. And so the wheel keeps rolling.

      (Funny thing is, a lot of customers DID tell MS that about XP – and after discussing it with Microsoft and looking at the actual architectural problems, they agreed XP probably was end-of-life and that a new architecture was going to be needed at some point.)

      So… what has YOUR organization told Microsoft? “OK, we’re going to go to Windows ___… but this end-of-life thing is no longer cool. Here’s what we want you to do instead….” Or are you still keeping your head in the Cow Dung, complaining about the problem and hoping it’ll go away on its own?

    • Thought about your comment all through the gym today ;)

      Cars are a terrible analogy, though. People *do* buy new cars every few years, usually to get new features, and usually spending way more than a PC upgrade would cost. In fact, think about any pay-for-it-and-own-it thing, and you get the same pattern. Home appliances? Meh… people keep them until the break catastrophically; I don’t think anything mechanical is a good analogy. It’s not like ovens get new features or have security flaws.

      But SUBSCRIPTION stuff… that’s a better analogy. My phone service is never “end of life.” My cable service, either. Oh, I can buy a new cable box if I want new features, but my old one keeps working until the smoke gets out. That’s a great analogy for what you’re talking about, I think.

      I bet Microsoft thinks so, too. When you have a business of selling things to people, you have to sell them new ones. Especially when you have a 9x% market share – the only new revenue is from upgrades, not from new sales. So you’re right in that regard – Microsoft and companies like them drive the “it’s OK to drop support” attitude, because they need to sell new stuff at some point. If they don’t, they go out of business – thereby dropping support because, well, they’re gone.

      But what if we paid for software by the month or year? They’d be free to develop smaller features in more direct response to customer needs – perhaps less feature bloat and more “real” improvement? They wouldn’t need to sell us new versions, so existing versions could potentially last a ton longer. They’re pushing this model with Office 365 (home and business models), and having some initial success. Adobe’s doing it too, obviously, with some good initial success. It’ll be interesting to see if that helps solve the problem of obsolescence… since the vendors won’t have as much pressure to make things obsolete.

      I think this is the answer to your #4, though. Vendors “run” the industry because they have to stay in business. If the business world said, “screw it, we don’t need another new OS, we’ll keep this one,” Microsoft wouldn’t exist forever. And support would disappear anyway.

      But I haven’t fallen into any traps. I do realize that you see yourself as someone who’s figured out the conspiracy, but that isn’t the case. The entree point of my article (which I’ve re-read and still think I make well) isn’t that you HAVE to upgrade. It’s that you have to PLAN for obsolescence. If the plan involves pushing the vendor to not drop support for software – cool. Maybe subscriptions are a mutually agreeable model. Maybe something else is.

      But you asked me to name other industries, and I’ll name several. Automotive – the record numbers of recalls show that we’re beta-testing our cars. And paying for it. Telecom – your smart phone has no bugs? Beta tester. In fact, nearly any industry dealing with any kind of technology whatsoever puts out imperfect products, and consumers are happy with it. Or at least tolerant of it.

      But I still think you completely misconstrue my point. I wasn’t suggesting that businesses should trust Microsoft. I wasn’t suggesting people wouldn’t “stay happy” with XP. I was (and am) upset that governments are spending millions of taxpayer money – more than it would cost to upgrade computers – to not have to upgrade. That’s a lack of planning. All I’m asking for is forethought. Planning. It happened this time; that’s done. Don’t let it happen again.

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