by Robert John Stevens, Thursday, March 23, 2017
Imagine you need a new word processor. Rather than download 30-day free trials and then compare their solutions for the tasks you use most, you delegate your decision process to paid, community leaders who invite large, for-profit vendors to pitch their solutions and then politicians decide for you.
From what I witnessed, that’s how Utah County just decided to spend more than a million dollars per year on software rather than embrace free or near-free alternatives.
Remember, taxation is theft.
Utah County Commissioners voted 2-1 Tuesday to license WorkDay software for their human resource and financial management needs once County Attorney Robert Moore completes negotiations.
Commissioner Nathan Ivie delivered an eloquent, convincing argument to support and not vote against the preferences of those county employees who testified they prefer Workday over ADP.
The dissenting vote came from Commissioner Bill Lee who made an impressive argument that after sitting through the vendor presentations, he prefers ADP, the long-time and proven leader in this category.
Attorney Robert Moore correctly testified that ADP and Workday provide liability against lawsuits for software glitches, not user input errors.
I wasn’t part of the software review process but witnessing this meeting was shocking.
How easy it is for these public servants to spend more than a million dollars a year of taxpayer’s money.
Who from Utah County explored free alternatives? I spoke twice and begged the commissioners to consider free, open source or low-cost alternatives. I asked for time to investigate and propose alternatives but they had already made up their minds.
I argued the Mormon Church has spent more than seventeen years developing FamilySearch, employing more than 200 software professionals every year at a cost of more than a billion dollars.
Dallan Quass, who was the CTO of Family Search for two years, finally had enough and resigned. He knew the optimal size of programming teams is one to six programmers, and that two hundred software professionals create a zoo environment of captivity and inefficiency. In fact, all FamilySearch programmers and every BYU Computer Science professor know that but very few with a true moral conscience have resigned in protest.
Using modern software technologies such as Angular 1.x, in just one year Dallan Quass, all by himself, programmed a competitor to FamilySearch that he launched as RootsFinder.com.
Why then does the Mormon Church still employ more than 200 software professionals to continue developing FamilySearch? Because like other technical hostage situations, their upper management yields to fear and uncertainty from techies who speak above them and will do anything to keep their jobs.
As examples of free software alternatives, I reminded the commissioners they could pay for Microsoft Windows and Microsoft Office or get Linux and Open Office or free.
A woman from Utah County Human Resources complained about the county’s job listing software and testified how much easier it will be to post jobs using multi-million dollar Workday software.
Considering how ugly the Utah County career website looks, I’m sure she’s right. The website’s outdated appearance demonstrates complete incompetence in the county’s ability to build or choose software.
Any freshman computer science major can create job board software. They can also create a WordPress website in just one click and then choose from a variety of great jWordPress job listing plugins including WP Job Manager.
From what I gathered, the county’s approach to choosing a software solution is to attend vendor presentations. Even the commissioners attended them. How different is that from choosing a politician? Where were the employees who would actually use the software? Did they personally learn and try the alternatives and offer their feedback? Why wasn’t data presented at the commissioner meeting that proved time and cost savings?
I argued that although ADP and Workday offer thousands of features, most users will probably use just 2-3 dozen. I explained in software development we now adhere to the 80/20 rule to focus on and provide simple, elegant solutions for the 80%.
I explained that in the 21st century, software developers have evolved past opinions and personal bias and provide test results to determine our decisions.
Rather than trust the decisions of opinionated bureaucrats and managers, a better way to choose software is to simply list the top tasks, devise tests for each, and perform those tests with those who will actually use the software.
In other words, rather than hear Amway-like testimonies of personal bias, I wanted to see summary test results but none was offered at the commissioner meeting.
One gentleman wisely testified that there are many software subsystems that will need to be integrated or replaced with the new software. He insightfully warned of unforeseen costs and consequences but his testimony was completely ignored.
After all, how could politicians estimate the costs of unforeseen integration problems?
I asked that if they must spend money, that they keep it in Utah. Just think of how many programmers can be hired for a million dollars a year to program solutions for whatever open source solutions do not provide!
I asked for a chance to find free or low-cost solutions that satisfy the majority needs but my offer was ignored.
I wondered how many of Utah County’s tasks can be accomplished using Quickbooks and WordPress plugins.
No accountable private or public company with as few employees as Utah County would spend more than a million dollars annually on human resource and financial software when free or near-free alternatives exist, but because Utah County government isn’t accountable to the taxpayers from whom they steal, money isn’t an issue.
Robert Stevens is an expert in computer software development and has been programming since 1981. He holds a B.S. in Computer Science from Brigham Young University and also completed his course work for his M.S. in Computer Science at BYU. Since 2004 he has researched dozens of web technologies and studied how large web applications can be built inexpensively by very small teams on low budgets.