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We’re a bit short on wise men in so many areas

We’re a bit short on wise men in so many areas

Much discussion this last week about the awarding of a contract for railway rolling stock to a German company rather than a UK one. One of the reasons given was that we aren’t allowed to select on the basis of where the supplier is based, so we had to go with the cheapest offer, which just happened to be German. Them’s the rules.

OK, so if they are the rules, how come Germany has trains made in Germany and France has trains made in France then? Are those Johnny Foreigners not playing it with a straight bat? Clearly something is amiss, and certainly we wouldn’t indulge in any such nationalistic practices. After all, we’re British and we don’t do that.

Or something. From where I sit it’s more a case of we’re British and we don’t know the rules. Again.

Let’s leave aside Bombardier’s financial handicap, which could be minimised if we had the will to do it. Let’s also leave aside the thorny question of exactly why a commercial operation like a train company has to lease its rolling stock from a government-funded supply organisation subject to procurement rules. Yes we have to adhere to both OGC’s procurement strategy and the wider EU one (parts of which are totally Greek. No, literally: Greek. A key judgement is quoted in its original Greek…). And yes, those rules say you can’t select on a national basis, only on an EU-wide one.

So how do the Germans and the French square that circle? Simple, they read the rule book…

What you can do is evaluate the wider economic benefit of your decision. In other words if you save £1 million (sorry, €1 million) on the purchase but lose €2 million in associated business, then you can make that one of your selection criteria and adjust the weighting you give it. As long as everyone knows the criteria up front – which they will, that’s also a rule – you can then justify buying a more expensive product on the basis it saves you money overall. Simples.

And it’s not just procurement. One of the banes of my life is something called ITIL version 3. ITIL V1 was a simple way to manage an IT estate effectively and safely; ten inter-related areas that controlled everything in what became known as Service Management. Then came ITIL v2 and this was a well-rounded, fairly comprehensive solution that actually worked and that built on the many good points of v1. And paid my mortgage for a good few years.

Then along came v3. A moose in a field of gazelles. Vast, overwhelming, minutely detailed; ten products are now libraries in their own right, with encyclopaedic coverage of anything you are likely to want to do. And the bureaucrats love it; they can write swathes of processes, tying things down so well that you almost can’t move without checking the rulebook first.

Ah yes – the rulebook. We’re back to that.

Because the rulebook states quite clearly that ITIL is not a methodology, it’s a best practice framework. Just like Prince 2, you’re supposed to follow the core principles and use as much as you need to make your particular environment work. So why am I reviewing a 78 page process then?

Because people don’t bother learning the rules. And rules, as Wilde said, are for the obedience of fools and the guidance of wise men. Such a shame we’re a bit short on wise men in so many areas.

About the author: Alan Watts

Alan has worked in IT for most of the last 35 years, and first went freelance in 1996. He has been a PCG member from its start and has been spreading the message that freelancing is a professional career choice for many years. Alan also runs Malvolio’s Blog, a personal but highly informative take on the life of the modern freelance.

Alan Watts, Principal Consultant, LPW Computer Services

© 2011 All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part without permission is prohibited

Image: Old Man by ssoosay

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