Sunday, July 3, 2011

Thirty Years of Jobbers – Chapter 3-5


This is the kind of material computers were made for: Redundant analysis of millions of pieces of valuable data on a continuing basis. All you need is access to your information and the proper analysis tools and you can accomplish wonders. Data you can’t get to is worthless.

Before analysis can be performed on information, we must acquire the information to perform the analysis on don’t we? If we are limited to feeding information into spreadsheets manually, we’re not much better off than if we are analyzing the data manually. No, we need some way to automate the process of retrieving the data so the analysis programs can be run against the data automatically and most important of all, in a timely fashion so we can act on the data that is pertinent to our objectives. 

Spreadsheets are great tools, but they’re difficult to write and maintain. One time a customer asked me, “Which button do I push to find out how much Texaco oil we sold last month.” I darn near started a fist fight over that one. Six years into my career I realized it didn’t matter how many hours I stayed up writing computer code, some bozo was going to come over and ask for everything I didn’t have. After thirty-three years of computer programming, I’ll bet you a buffalo nickel someone will call me before the day is over and ask me for something only a seriously depraved Tasmanian devil could conjure up.

But, that’s the way it goes. It’s always been that way and always will be that way, and there’s no getting around it. The changing world seems to be changing faster every day, and just when we think we have a collar on something, the game changes and we have to start all over again.

If you don’t have your own programmers, you may be seriously handicapped. I learned a long time ago, learning is built upon information that creates even more questions, and just as soon as you come up with the answers, you realize you don’t really know anything at all. So if anyone tells you they’re an expert at something, their either fibbing, or like the philosopher Yogi Berra once said, “They don’t even know what they don’t know about that.”

How do you accomplish what you want? Other than searching through stacks of worthless printouts, an electronic "interface program" could be created that knows what information it needs and where to find it. These interface programs could be designed by a programmer. But, what happens when the requirements change? Where's the programmer? Eventually you become stuck with an obsolete interface that if it can be fixed at all, it might cost you a fortune to have it redesigned. 

One method of getting at the information you need is to invest in an expensive "intelligent interface program" that works with a relational database. These programs can be "tweaked" by the user when requirements change without the need to locate the programmer that wrote the original interface. Of course, without a relational database, an "intelligent interface" will eventually become worthless. 

There is an alternative. ‘Cloud Computing’ gives you access to a team of data processing professionals that charge a fraction of what it would cost you to maintain your own stable of programmers, and instead of paying them to sit around and mess up your office, you only call them up when you need something.

Many jobbers and c-store operators have found the hard way, the non-relational database computer systems they have purchased soon become high-tech paperweights while their need for advanced analysis tools becomes more crucial. And even if they are relational, who in your organization has access to them, and the more important question: “Who is denied access?” 

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