Sunday, March 18, 2012

Are You Ready for April 1?

April Fools day has been celebrated as far back as 1632, if you believe in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales and bad math, or possibly as far back as 500 BC (if you are of Iranian descent). Regardless, it is a day to approach with some wariness if you are not a practical joker, and with evil excitement if you are.

In 1962 the one and only Swedish television station announced that its viewers could watch their broadcasts in color, if they merely covered their television screens with ladies nylons. Apparently Swedish women had very large legs.

In 1998, a newsletter, New Mexicans for Science and Reason, stated that a state legislature was proposing to change the value of PI from (approximately) 3.14 to its proper value of 3.0. They were confusing the relationship between the circumference of a circle with its diameter and the first version of any Microsoft product that actually works.

April Fools Day of 1976 saw BBC Radio deliver a message from astronomer Patrick Moore that a once in a generation event will cause all of the planets from Mercury to Pluto to be aligned causing gravitational distortion on Earth. People would actually notice the phenomenon if, at precisely 9:47 they would jump into the air. We know this to be false because Pluto is not actually a planet.

In our profession we come across April Fools jokes all the time, we call them Vendor Solutions. Like most good jokes, these have just enough truth in them to be believable. Have you heard about the one that combines hardware, operating systems, and application software all together in a single appliance that promises untold performance, ease of use, security, and doubles as a floor wax? (OK, I made up "ease of use").

In 1976, the planets did align and there was some theoretical manifestation of anomalous gravitational effect - completely undetectable by anyone not descending in the elevators of the USX Tower at exactly 9:47. Again, a grain of truth mired in obfuscated knowledge, marketing-speak, and PowerPoint slides.

Don’t get me wrong, our vendors provide valuable products and services to our industry beyond golf outings, sports tickets, and great stories. But like any good steward of corporate resources, we should trust but verify everything they say. This means, asking tough questions; like "You say your solution will scale to support our data even though you have no other clients this size. Prove it."

In this context, "prove it" doesn’t mean show me a presentation; it means (to the vendor) create a situation where we can verify the input data, the output results, and the throughput performance. The words, "Trust us" are not proof.

Do not be the victim of an April Fools joke - at any point during the year. Our vendors are here to support us; we are the customer and have every right to require proof of performance, of quality, and of value.

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