Pac Man, The Siren’s Song of Simplicity, and Consultants

By ​Charles T. Cranford

In our last article (Polyglots, Plutonians, and Mercurians) we discussed how Telephony People and Data People were so different it was like they were from different planets – and barely in the same universe! Telephony People (from Mercury) were very time-sensitive with “something” having to be transmitted every 125 microseconds (or 8000 times a second). Data People (from Pluto) on the other hand, believe in the axiom “Delay happens…” Anybody using the Internet in the evening or after the hour kids get out from school realizes the truth in that statement.

This time we’re going to examine Technological Nirvana (without Mr. Cobain). This is where you only have to learn the latest/greatest/newest technology (which will, of course, replace everything that preceded it)…something which I call a “Pac-Man Technology” (or, after its 1982 release, also called “Ms. Pac-Man Technology”).

The lure of this concept is that a Pac-Man technology obviates the need to bother with other technologies. Because the Pac-Man technology will replace “old” (read inferior) technology, you will be free to simply unplug the old stuff as you buy the vendor’s new stuff and “Presto” it’ll work!

Or, if you raise legacy investment issues and maintaining an existing topology or technology, then the vendor will tout their “virtually seamless integration” abilities. [Note: I tell my clients that the word “virtually” means anything that follows this word is a LIE! Think of the phrase “virtually childproof” or “virtually indestructible” or “virtually spotless reputation”…]. But Pac-Man technologies, or sales-pitches, can not live without a demand for it. A demand that comes both from vendor-push as well as user-pull (or, user-dreams…). That demand I’ve labeled as the “Sirens Song of Simplicity”.

The “Sirens Song of Simplicity” is an understandable, even plaintive, cry from users, who are trying to keep up with the non-coordinated, leapfrogging introductions of new technological advances across the industry. Whew! One vendor tapped into this opportunity by running a set of ads where they compared managing disparate sets of technology to the challenge of “herding cats” (visions of the old cattle drive just don’t transport well into this new stage…).

So, if you have a user-pull of the “Sirens Song of Simplicity”, but a suspicion of vendors’ sales-pitches, then we shouldn’t be surprised to see a growth in the number of integrator-consultant requests. For some reason, some clients believe that some vendors might push their own products…whether they are the best solution or not. In the maelstrom of new technologies and constant demands for the CTO’s limited resources, vendors find that unknowledgeable potential clients are looking for a single-vendor or, even better, single-technology solution. Before I get hate mail filled with nasty bacteria or fungi, let me hasten to say that this does NOT mean that all single-vendor, or single-technology, decisions are wrong. It DOES mean that sole-sourcing needs to take into account all the opportunity costs (fancy economics term for the extra costs needed to go out looking for something better), “fit” of the technology for the applications, the competency of the vendor to deliver and their competency to “extend” the usefulness of their product through other applications.

What’s the best defense for choosing between an integrator/sole-source provider and its doppelganger, the Pac-Man technology? Education, Knowledge, and Hard Work. The CTO (or key people in the organization) must be prepared to identify the strengths “and” weakness of the technologies being proposed for the solution. Some people would have you believe that you need only focus on the application. However, history would have you understand that the technology and its implementation can have an important impact on final results, whether it’s a hollowed-out horse hiding people inside it, the solo-flight across the North Atlantic, or a health-care website trying to “national”!

If you don’t have the technology expertise in-hand (or in-brain) then “rent it”. Integrator- consultants have a vested interest in getting you both “up and running” as well as “satisfied”. Where a vendor of a product or service might see you as a potential upgrade-sale every couple of years, the integrator-consultant will be interested in developing a long-term (and multi-project) relationship.

Agnosticism (Technological, that is) can be a good thing in an integrator-consultant. If they are independent from the service they recommend or integrate then they potentially have less vested-interest in directing your choice. However, the recurring fees that that a service provider would have used to offset their salary now has to come out of your company’s pocket. So the more projects that you have for them to integrate, identify, install, manage, the better the choice for an integrator-consultant.

The work’s not over yet. Because after you “rent” the expertise you want to constantly check out your ROI, both return-on-investment as well as return-on-“insight”!
– What insights has your integrator-consultant had while they were preparing for your installation?
– Did they find other places that their talents might be well-utilized?
– Did they find other ways to reduce expenditures or provide better service to internal or external customers?
– Are they introducing new technological applications or insights to your company
– Are they giving you “feedback”, deliverables, briefings on their contribution to your goals (on their dime…not yours)

Use them for this “exploratory” work – and make sure that they get the contract or compensation to encourage more of it. You can then save your internal organization’s resources for keeping up the steady-state and identifying how interdepartmental efficiencies (not obvious to an outsider) can be improved. Use your integrator-consultant to explore new worlds, boldly going where no technologist has gone before!
Simplicity is seductive, but the reality is this will require:
– Preparation
– Knowledge-exchange among departments
– Knowledge-gap analysis
– “Renting” needed expertise
– Follow-up with briefings
– Avoiding the Songs of Simplicity

Well, now that you have ‘your’ work cut out for you, I have some important work to do with some blue power dots and some old friends: Blinky, Pinky, Inky, and Clyde (or Sue). Who’s got a quarter I can borrow???