User Input

User Input: Failed Migration


I got to watch recently as  a small local business was purchased by a large international conglomerate. A big part of that process involved converting and migrating decades of sales and transactional data, and integrating it into the new computer software that the much larger company brought along with it

In talking to the staff, the process has not… exactly… gone seamlessly. The small company’s database was not exactly maintained to the strictest specifications, and a few fields had become “Other Info” fields, the bane of any DB Manager’s existence, particularly when that’s not what the field is intended for. As a result, some data was being lost, some was simply not migrating, and some was being sanitized. There was a great deal of wailing and gnashing of teeth to be seen, as there had never been any sort of concern previously for the integrity of the data, and nobody saw any reason to change that practice now. I watched a woman complaining loudly that the “address” field kept insisting that she should put in the address, not her own personal notes about the customer, the way she always had in the past. I couldn’t help but laugh as she simply threw up her hands in frustration, and announced to anyone who would listen, “Oh, it’s all fucked.”

What’s the worst instance you’ve experienced of a technical upgrade or migration gone wrong due to the stubborn resistance of the end users?

  • cruisintime

    " Thats The Way We Always Do It" the bane of integrating systems. Futile resistance to the Inevitable.

  • SSurfer321

    My wife's employer just finished with a month long test of new high tech software. Limited persons in the building were testing this new software. Many complaints were heard. People threatened to quit if forced to use this new software. In the end, the rollout was a success.
    This high tech software product? Microsoft Outlook 2010.

    • skitter

      I'm a reasonably competent user, as in, I can get as far as clicking buttons and order of operations and changing settings can get me. And I still dislike the new MS Paint. All their fancy 'drawing tools', pens and markers and paintbrushes make it much more complicated to just circle something in a solid color. To me, the lesson is clear: Don't. Mess. With My Tools.

      Edit: Aside: Why, after the first thing I do is select 'print current sheet', then check the page size and color settings, would the print settings ever decide to reset to All Sheets? Little things like this get ingrained into our behaviors so we can mostly avoid them, but a new toolset will have its own issues that stand out even more.

  • The Professor

    Any upgrade that you're working on that involves end-users, until the next one.

  • Now that you mention it, my own stubborn refusal to move beyond OS 10.4.11 (and, more to the point, the stubborn refusal of the hardware to support anything newer) means that, for about the last week or so, I haven't been able to read Atomic Toasters with anything other than Opera 10.63. The other age-appropriate browsers at my disposal now briefly load normally, then switch irretrievably to a blank page. Anyone else having similar difficulties?

    • Blues

      Yep, Firefox 3.6.23 on XP

      Going to Win 7 soon, we shall see… And I use lots of apps with technical equipment, testing is being un fun.

    • krazykarguy

      This past winter, I finally tossed in the towel when OSX 10.4.11 stopped supporting updates to almost every browser, including FireFox. I could no longer visit sites I frequented, watch videos, or even update Facebook.

      The hardware in question was a MBP, purchased new in 2005.

      We bought the max RAM allowable for the machine (2GB – lol), and installed 10.6.2, and it's been smooth sailing ever since. That MBP has been the most reliable computer I've ever owned.

  • Golly. I've only ever worked in shops with < 30 people so they've been pretty flexible. Also very low-tech. The bicycle factory went from AutoCad2K to SolidWorks, but that was, like, three people.

    The best corporate culture clash I ever got to sit back and watch was my old San Francisco messenger company being bought by some B-school kids from New Zealand. Aero Special Delivery had been a family owned business since 1947 and its mainframe had been sputtering out dispatch tags on dot-matrix tractor paper since about 1983. We even had a fuming, dyspeptic accountant who would fly into a foul mouthed rage at about 9:30 every morning and not stop until 5:00:01. Dispatchers sat in stalls facing the outside walls, with their backs to each other and a microphone, printer and rack of cubbies with each messenger's tags in them. Dispatching was a very totalitarian system. Dispatcher says go, messenger goes or messenger is fired.

    These business school kids from New Zealand, Dispatch Management Services (DMS), came in at the height of the Dot Com boom, around 1997, and bought up all the small bike and scooter messenger companies and eventually Aero, which dispatched all over NorCal from walking messengers downtown to box trucks on the I-5. We figured they bought us so we could show them how it's done, given our 50 years of experience and multi million dollar revenue. But no, they came in spouting all this jive about best practices and moving forward and IPOs and all sorts of B-school hooey.

    They had this proprietary software that ran on Macintosh computers. Our workstations had a brown monochrome monitor and no mouse. The dispatching theory was that the dispatcher read out the tags and the messengers all got to call in and claim which ones they wanted. This was the 'best practice' they'd learned from messengers in cheery, convivial, homogenous Auckland. They must not hire crackheads in Auckland, but we sure did. Oh, also, the dispatchers all sat at round tables across from each other. I was surprised there was no gunfire.

    The macs and the proprietary software crashed incessantly, the crackhead messengers (end users?) only wanted to deliver the gravy tags, the IPO went from 60 to zero in 6-1/2 hours on the market, broadband internet eliminated 95% of the need for messengers, and by the time I moved back to SF in 2008 DMS had crashed and burned, taking Aero and 10 or so small companies with it and Burning Man Inc had taken over the dispatch center.

    • sawermassey

      I worked as a courier in Vancouver for a while. We used blackberries with ptt. This meant that I could always ptt my dispatcher (the one and only for bikes) and receive my calls via voice, and email. The whole system worked fairly well except for the 10 days a year when Vancouver ever got to 20 degrees (or -6c for the normal folk) when all systems failed due to catastrophic battery failure. I remember a few days putting my blackberry directly on heating vents to try to make a ptt call to my dispatcher. The company had a few car based couriers on other trial systems, but they never caught on.

  • jeepjeff

    The worst one I've seen happened before I joined the company in question. They had standardized on Microsoft Outlook for email and calendar. Except, they developed embedded Linux devices, which meant they had 200+ engineers running Linux workstations. They had bought CrossOver Office for all the engineers. And to be clear: they were a Linux company from the start. The switch everything to Exchange decision came knowing full well it wouldn't work for the entire engineering department.

    Like most of the engineers, I didn't even bother to run it. I was using KDE 3.x at the time, and it has some godawful, reverse-engineered compatibility features built into their mail and calendar clients. It sucked, didn't work terribly well (better than CrossOver Office). I essentially didn't use my calendar while I worked there. Putting something on my calendar without telling me otherwise was a great way to get me to miss your meeting.

    It was awful. I can see a future where my current employer has to do something similar (probably as a result of getting bought by another company with a No-One-Ever-Got-Fired-For-Buying-Microsoft IT department). In which case, I'll be moving on to other opportunities as soon as possible.

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  • krazykarguy

    My company is running SAP as the sole system to do EVERYTHING.

    However, most of the bog standard SAP transactions don't fully do what we need them to, so nearly everything that we do is a custom SAP transaction. As anyone knows, custom everything means tons of constant issues to work through.

    SAP keeps the IT department of my company gainfully employed. If it worked as it was promised, we'd need just a handful of them – instead there are dozens of SAP folks working here.