Chapter 19 - Aardvark & Aardvark, Solicitors

Aardvark & Aardvark is an international consortium of law firms with a head office in Washington DC and regional offices throughout the world. The members of the consortium are all small, privately owned companies. The largest has around five hundred employees. They are gathered together under the umbrella of Aardvark & Aardvark to be able to compete internationally with much larger firms.

All of the members are convinced that their business model is the best, and despite each member being a small player in a big pond, collectively they manage a portfolio of accounts up among the top players.

Their local small business approach allows them to win small and medium sized jobs. The Aardvark & Aardvark consortium allows them to win the largest too. Alphabetically, they are always on top.

In this final section, picture yourself as a newly qualified, or promoted, Software Architect. You have joined a medium sized software house, Spaggot Software, and your introduction to the world of sales is about to begin.

The pitch

Your watch ticks gracefully past 10am, Monday morning. You arrived at the head office of Aardvark & Aardvark a few minutes earlier with Jim Sailmaker, the chief salesman at Spaggot. It is a leafy July, and the air, usually quite hot at this time of the year, has held off it's asperity, making it rather more pleasant than usual.

You are nervous. Your hands are sweating. Your suit is clinging and you would rather be spending Monday morning as you usually do, buried in your comforting mountain of email. Its non-confrontational ease slides you back into the working week after the weekend world of children and games, relatives and visits.

The children this particular weekend sapped your usually boundless energy in annoying mind games where you had to get them to guess the word at the top of the card without using any of the words at the bottom. Children lack the years of waste gathering the rather pointless knowledge that would have helped them (or rather, you) succeed at this. 

Figure 18.1 Hospital card

Now Jim’s got you at it again, except this time you’re not allowed to scream and pull at your hair, or stare pathetically at your teammates, saying: "Come on, it's obvious." And cheating is simply not an option.

Figure 18.2 Software system card

You may think everyone knows what a network is. They do. You know it’s a pile of cables, switches, patch panels and routers. A solicitor knows with equal conviction that it is the networked interconnection of legal professionals gathered within the umbrella of Aardvark and Aardvark, who exist to uphold law and order, and the rights of the citizen.

Bringing down the network to you means stopping a few routers. To an Aardvark & Aardvark employee it means destroying the fabric of society, business and livelihood.

Jim. Kind, friendly Jim, has brought you out prospecting. A large piece of work is in the offing, and Jim has been invited in to tender. He has worked with the company previously on quite a few assignments, so knows them well. You don’t, although you have some background provided and enthused over by Jim. He generally exudes enthusiasm, in anything. He lives for the interaction of people, and the joy of being able to help people (i.e. make a sale). He has no worries about the logical, painfully precise world you have spent your last decade immersed in. He’s a people person. To grow, he must understand people better and spend more time understanding others' points of view. To grow, you must do the same, but you are likely to find you are far behind everyone else. They never had to master FORTRAN, C, HTML, SQL, remote procedure calls, memory models, remote method invocation and twenty different scripting languages. All the time you spent doing that, others were learning what you are now trying to learn.

The sales meeting

Jim has quite a presence and a strong personality. He would never dream of promising somebody something, and then allow you not to deliver. You and he are a team. He sells, you deliver. It’s as simple as that. There’ll be no help coding a few HTML pages in return for you helping with the sale. He is mister high integrity, low technology and you are his technological shadow. He is here to gain the trust of his customer, and will do so using nothing more than his persona. Somehow you have to be an extension of that persona, a technical foundation of nods and explanations upon which he can make the sale. And don’t mention networks. Java is a drink. C++ is a worse grade then B--. A user takes drugs, layers go in cakes and sedimentary rocks, and a table is an object upon which cups of coffee will be proffered.

You are meeting the CEO and founder of Aardvark and Aardvark, Howie Seer, and the COO, Jeff Striker. Despite their 1824 foundation claim, they were in fact founded only ten years ago, off the back of a failing solicitor's office which was indeed ... "founded even as Byron’s swamp fever overcame him. Thus, the tally of English romantic poets to have died abroad was brought to three in only four years." Jim is about to regale you with Shelley’s drowning, when Howie comes within view.

Jim and Howie have never met, but have spent some time together over the telephone, and Jim has done his research. Suddenly Jim fills the room. It’s his style. Big, loud, all inclusive. Even on the phone, everyone in the room is allowed into his conversational aura. “Howie. Great to meet you at last.” A large hand and broad smile pin Howie against his wall. He seems not to notice.

“Jim. How do you do. Come on in.” He subtly evades Jim’s magnitude and allows you to shake his hand.

“How do you do. Bim Brimbles.” You do your best not to lose your tongue in some hidden recess of your mouth as you introduce yourself. “I’m a software architect with Spaggot Software.” Logical. Complete. Unfortunately, Howie now thinks you design buildings and wishes Jim had brought someone to help with the computer system.

You are led through a set of gleaming, skilfully etched glass panels, behind which busy and important people bustle and import. In the corner with a view right down to the Citadel, you flump into a large square of leather furniture surrounding a polished white marble table. From your sunken position, you can see the tip of the Washington monument reflected, pointing at you. You do your best to prepare your nerves of steel, swell up to the size of the others and with a deep breath, lay out your artfully folding notebook, then lunge to your feet to welcome Jeff Striker to your meeting. You’ve heard he’s the deal man. His ideal price is a single penny. He’ll probably spend the whole meeting telling you that their existing software is all they need, and any new software at this time in the financial year... Well, times are tight, they don’t need you... But why is he sitting with software sellers if this is the case?

Howie lays out the scene. “Jim, I’m going to give you an idea of what we’re trying to do, and what we need from you is a price range and idea of how long it is likely to take. We have three other software houses coming in, and we’re doing exactly the same with them. Following the first estimates, we shall invite two back and work with them to fill in the details, and then proceed with whomever we feel is most likely to deliver the best system. This will be a contract with a fixed price and fixed delivery date. We will be writing into the contract penalties for late delivery and software defects.

Your knees are trembling. You want to say but... Stop it. This is the way everyone else works.

Howie continues. “What we really want from our new software is the ability to manage jobs across our network. Although we claim to be a worldwide group, we are little more than a loose collection of independent companies. We want to be able to manage work across two or more different companies in different locations. We have been working over the past two years to get all of the A&A partners singing from the same hymn sheet. We all fill in the same timecards and expenses. We all predict our workload and manage and cost our work the same now. What we do not do is use the same software. We also hold the same information in many different places. For example we enter meetings in our calendars, represent that time in our time predictor software, and then enter it on a timecard. Our business concept is fairly simple. We work for a customer, then charge them our time and expenses. Time is costed a number of different ways, but there is little complication in that. We also want to be able to view how we are doing internationally by customer type, contract type, region, identify our leading and failing group members, and be able to distribute bonuses to our best, and by best, I mean most profitable, partners."

"It's quite straightforward really," Howie finishes.

Coffee arrives. "Excellent," announces Jim. And, indeed, excellence often is as excellence is proclaimed. 

After the round of coffee presentations, Jim slides into the vacant hole in the air with a long hmmmm. He sips his coffee. No-one interrupts. Your head is feeling very light, clinging to a faraway image of palms before the white sanded shore of a tropical hideaway. "What we like to do in situations like this is to fully understand exactly what we are dealing with. Without that knowledge, our estimates will be increasingly inaccurate, and for both our sakes I think we need to spend some time in investigation during today. If you like, you can then use what we get to present to the others coming in. Good old Jim. Big hearted, generous Jim. You feel a little uncomfortable about other software houses seeing your models. What if they have some mistakes on them? What if you don't manage to create any?

So far you have written down: Time, Expense, Bonus, Calendar. Customer - type. Filter by region, contract type, customer type. Profitability. Partner. It's not much to go on.

Jim once again vanquishes the enemy silence. "Howie, Jeff. let me run through what I believe is your business model. Jump in any time you like." He begins, having already picked up some of the jargon. "A & A is composed of one hundred and forty partners in the capitals and major cities of thirty eight countries. You supply services to your clients by way of a single costed contract, and your sales model is by isolated contract or by account, where a customer holds an open account with one of your partners and payments are made by monthly invoice. Contracts are paid either at completion or for time and expenses weekly during the contract. Some smaller contracts are paid on completion of the job."

Jeff opines: "Some of our partners even run no win no fee contracts, but we generally discourage it as all it can do ultimately is double the price of hiring a lawyer."

"Thank you for that Jeff," Jim notes, then continues. "Altogether your partners work from one hundred and eighty offices using leased line, IPVPN and dial up networking. You employ, collectively, four thousand solicitors and another thousand support staff."

Jeff comes in once more to further explain their charges. "There are a number of legal aid schemes in different countries, and our charges for those are dictated by the schemes rather than by us. We also farm out work to company formation agents, trademark and patent specialists, and our associate partners who work for us on specialist cases as external contractors. We recharge their costs to the client with or without a mark-up. Rates differ between partners and between locations."

Howie continues, getting down to the nub of the matter. "We want a complete computer system to run in our offices worldwide. It must support all of our activities through client contact to job completion, and be able to drill in to global sales information in any way we choose. What we most want from the system is the ability to charge all of our clients for the current week by sending out invoices at close of play Friday. We are losing millions if not billions worldwide by delaying the issue of our invoices by anything up to a month." He leans forward slightly, as if in a secret communication. "We're not the software experts. Tell us what we need."

Slowly, as if in realisation of the fact that you are there and must have a purpose, all eyes defocus from Jim, swivel through varying degrees, and refocus on you. You gather your courage and prepare to deal to a swift death the stereotype they expect to emerge. You pull on your business savvy air, and announce: "Software is a matter of process. First we need to scope the work, then we will gather the requirements, analyse them to make sure they are correct and agree them with yourselves. Then we shall design, write and test the software. Wherever possible, we shall work with your people to ensure that they get the software they need, but we will also keep you fully informed so that we deliver to business needs rather than losing ourselves to personal wishes." It sounded good. You move on.

"If we could spend an hour or so this morning fleshing out a high level view, we can then decide who else we might like to speak with to sharpen up any areas we are loose on. I think that would be a good starting point."

Howie announces a lunch date at 12.30 and departs with the announcement that Jeff is the operations man, and he will just be in the way. He has put first things first, synergised, and now got out of the way so the job can be done.

Taking the lead

Out of complexity, simplicity. Out of chaos, order. Out of a vacuum of leadership, a leader. You.

"Jeff, do you have an organisation chart?" you ask, bearing in mind Conway's law. It gives you a breather as Jeff finds someone to find him one. "Jim, what do you think? Shall we go ahead?"

"You're the man Bim. Do you need anything?" 

You are still shaking your head when Jeff returns. He is rather fond of the organisation chart, especially his own lofty position upon it. "Jeff, thanks." You flick your eyes over it as he passes another copy to Jim, flops down into his chair and takes up his coffee again. "Why don't you talk us through the major roles represented by the people on the chart, and fill us in on the personalities as we go."

Identifying the roles and responsibilities is your first priority. It could probably be shown by facts and figures that the mapping of people to roles is anything but one to one. It is more likely that some roles will be filled by more than one person, and some roles will go unfilled. The unfilled ones are where members of related departments get to think each other are slacking, and the overfilled ones are where members of related departments get to think that they are the superior and rightful fillers of the role. You are not worried about people. People exist across the divide and lie in the problem domain of the business. Roles lie equally in both the business and your domain.

"Up at the top is Howie. He brought A&A to life and is very much the driving force behind where we are going. As Chief Operator, I report to Howie, as does the CFO, Charles Simian. I'm afraid Charles is over in Europe at the moment, but if you need to talk to him, he'll be here all next week.

Only Howie works directly for the A&A network. The rest of us sell our time. The country heads and practice heads all lead their own offices, and report to Howie as partners in the network. We have a geographically hierarchical reporting structure and also an informal skills structure, where members interested in the same areas of law can gather physically from time to time to improve their expertise and worldliness."

"Jeff," you break in, not really wanting to break the flow. "A&A is the name of this law firm. How does that tie in with the A&A network." It's a dumb question you felt needed to be asked.

"Ah," says Jeff. This law firm is registered as A&A. We also have registered the A&A Consortium, what we refer to as the network. We are all employees of the A&A law firm, but sell our services to the A&A Consortium. Howie is our CEO, and also chairman and CEO of the A&A Consortium. Mark McMoneagle is the far sighted chap responsible for selling the A&A brand to our partners and the rest of the world. He is A&A's, that's the law firm, marketing director and fulfils the same capacity in the A&A Consortium, but only on the basis of selling his time. All partners sell their time to the network, and all partner firms pay part of their profits towards its upkeep.

What we really need is the ability to buy up smaller companies, or even other members of the network, and merge them in to our business. In some cases within the network, this has begun to happen, but many prefer to be independent yet connected."

Jim seizes the moment to guide Jeff back to the organisational chart. You had become lost in the story.

"Yes, apologies. Strayed a little there. Still, all good stuff.

Where were we? Yes. All divisions report in to me apart from finance. I have purchasing, marketing, our senior legal partners are responsible for sales." Jim squirms in his seat and begins to meditate deeply on how they survive without such key people. "Our admin staff look after our computer systems, accounts, personnel and salaries. We also have our knowledge services, which we see as a key part for expanding into a global operation for the network. We'd really like to have an internet service where anyone can go to A&A's website and be able to look up any point of law or partner in any nation worldwide. That would be a real boon for us."

You decide not to pursue this exciting opportunity yet.

"Our legal divisions break down into what I like to term 'success centres'." Jeff does the speech marks with his fingers. A success centre is a self funding part of the business, and area of law. Essentially, the owner of each success centre runs it as a separate business. They pay into the core admin and building fund, but are largely responsible for their own welfare. Some have their own administrators and software systems.

The systems are becoming a bit of a headache. Ideally we would like to see it all centralised, but many of the success centres are not keen on sharing their hard won client lists and contacts with others. From our point of view, it would be marvelous if we could maintain a global client list for the whole A&A network. Imagine being able to go to make a sale with Ford and be able to say we had just won a similar case for them in Singapore. That would really make the A&A brand sing.

Of course, each success centre has to be a success. That means they have to be profitable, and the senior partners who drive that profitability get a significant cut of the profits. Some success centres focus on areas of law such as personal damage, litigation, and others work specifically for a client. A&A members are in thirty percent of the top hundred companies in each country where we have a presence."

You take in this vast knowledge and throw down a few words. "What about the more mundane aspects of business administration Jeff? Most software systems appease the administrators rather than the high flyers. Let's take a look at the oil for a while rather than the cogs."

Jeff gallantly returns to the chart. "HR looks after hiring, paying, training and the well being of our employees. Finance makes sure the money is flowing. Marketing advertises our services although our best marketing is done by word of mouth. Their task at the moment is the worldwide promotion of the A&A brand. They do nice brochures for specific areasof law, or even for particular clients, and look after prospecting databases. We have been discussing a worldwide effort to reach out to our customers with an email or online newsletter.

Our systems people run around fixing machines when they won't go. They swap cables and fix printers. 

"Can you break down your systems people into numbers, so I can get a feel for the work they do?" You ask.

Well, we have Mike, our IT Chief. He's not overjoyed with us having you all in. He wants to do the work himself, but we think the job's too big and need specialists. He has one rather talented chap who does all of the whizzy bits." Jeff pops his fingers like fireworks to help give the impression of whizzy software. Then there's the team who look after PECAN and the VAXes. PECAN does all our invoicing work at present.

It sounds like PECAN can help you with your requirements. "Do you have any technical documentation for PECAN?" It sounds hopeful.

"Hmmm. Not really," Jeff admits rather bitterly. There's quite a bit of training material, but the developers are... Jeff tails off, not wanting to offend.

"It was all a bit of a joke really," he brightens again and leaves the documentation thorn behind." Howie was always asking for things in a nutshell, so the software became the Process Engineered Computer Accounting Nutshell. Rather meaningless. We put in our time and expenses. It puts out invoices, monthly reports and does budgets. Our predictor software runs on a UNIX box. It's a bit troublesome. Every now and then it falls over and the machine has to be taken apart. I'm not sure why. There's only one person who knows anything about it and that's Mike."

"A copy of any training manuals you can get hold of would be useful," you venture. Jeff agrees to get some to you before the end of the day.

Coffee arrives again, and an hour and a half has passed. Jeff's a little dry, and your eyes need unglazing. As Jim does the honours, you stretch your legs around the room.

"I've arranged for you to spend some time with Doug Marshall. Doug the digger, he is affectionately known as, for his ability to dig down to the core of any legal problem or dispute. He's one of the finest minds in modern law, he tells me. No doubt he'll tell you that too.

After the coffee is cleared away, you are led once again through the bustling and typing throng, then up the stairs to a quieter world of contemplation and large library sized book cases, where Doug the digger resides.

After the pleasantries Doug invites you to a cool area around a coffee table and allows you to sit down in full view of the many framed certificates he has half decorated a wall with. The other half shows him shaking hands or standing meaningfully beside the worlds dignitaries and stars. Some are recognisable, some not. All of them make you feel small and unworthy of spending time in the glow of such magnitude.

The solicitor's day

"What I do is work for any number of clients, although I make them feel as though I am their own personal lawyer. I keep a piece of paper at the top right hand corner of my desk, and every time I change from one case to another, I write down the client, and the time. At the end of every week, Fiona, my PA takes all the pieces of paper and puts my time into the system. The system then sends out invoices and somehow through the inner workings, calculates and provides my salary. I'd like a computer that I can change my client easily on and not have to worry about the paper. It's pretty good, but sometimes I am working from home, or at a client's office and my time can get a bit confused. Luckily I have a good memory, but if I didn't I'd have been stuck a few times. I'd like to record it in my watch like James Bond. That would be real useful."

I recharge expenses direct, and I don't use the damned Predictor, much to Howie's frustration. It's all in my head, or mostly Fiona's head, where I have to be and who I have to talk with."

"I would like to be able to select a client I am working for, then when I change tack to another client, I want to select the other client. I don't want to do anything more. Let the computer calculate the time I spend working for them, and how much to charge them. That's what they're good at after all."

You nod your agreement. "What about when you break for lunch?"

"I'd select lunch. When I returned from lunch, I would select another client, or continue with the same one. When I go home, I'll select home. Although I leave every day at 6pm, so if I forget to choose home, then I expect the computer to record in my absence that I have gone at my usual time."

"How about the time predictor," you ask. "What do you use instead?"

"The reason for the Predictor," Doug observes, "is to find someone who is not allocated to a piece of work, and allocate them. I am booked up months in advance. When I get booked up too many months in advance, I put up my fees."

"And claiming expenses," Doug continues without prompting, "is really so tedious. Incidental expenses are built into my fees. I only recharge flights and hotel bills. I believe it should be beneath one's dignity to waste time claiming for such petty amounts. We all live well enough. You rarely see a poor lawyer. And when I say I claim, I mean Fiona claims. The bills are sent straight to her. Fiona..," he rings out in a sonorous cal, and moments later Fiona has appeared. "These gentlemen would like to know what you do with my expenses."

"Doug's expenses come straight to me. I enter expense items singly as they come in, rather than let them pile up, and they are recharged to the client each week," Fiona elicits.

Doug is a rare soul. He has polished efficiency to a high art to enable him to fit life in with his highly important career. He goes straight for the heart of the matter every time. Even his door is paper thin so Fiona can can overhear every conversation, and none of Doug's time is spent reiterating conversations which were hardly interesting the first time around. His philosophy is the older you get, the more efficient you have to be. Older people have less time to play with than the young.

"If an expense is for a Government job," Fiona continues, "I record the expense against the task."

"Can you define a task?" you ask, catching on to Doug's method.

"All work for the Government is broken down into tasks, and time and expenses must be booked against a task. Mostly we just book to the job, which is for a specific client, but the Government has its own rules. Any changes to time booked on a Government job must be recorded with reasons for the change."

You see a long road developing and head it off sharply. Perhaps we can meet this afternoon Fiona, and you can run us through your weekly interaction with your systems. We have a slot three-thirty until four. How does that sound?

Fiona agrees and vanishes through the door which billows and puffs as it opens and closes, exactly the way paper would.

"What about knowledge, Doug?" you ask. What would help you find the information you are looking for, and how would you go about adding to the knowledge held by the firm?"

"Well the knowledge I need is rather superficial. Conversation in chambers is as much contact as I need with the letter of the law. My work is with people, and the rather diverse ways in which the truth can be extracted from them. A single word at the right moment can swing a case. I am the expert of the word and the moment, not dreary legal proceedings."

"Let me run you through a typical case. I get a call, usually from the person rather than the representative - he sweeps his arm across his array of faces. They tell me what they want. I tell them I'm expensive. They say price is not an issue. I ask them about the case. They tell me. If it sounds interesting, or I get a twitch in the back of my neck, I take the case. If not, I refer them to our highly skilled and rather impressionable pool of talent.

By this time you have decided that Doug may be a master of the law, but he is not much help defining a computer system. It is not a path you have discovered, however, more one you have been led down.

"Bim, Jim, I want to thank you for your time, but now I believe Fiona will of far more use than I explaining the machinations of our company.

Fiona appears and leads you through the paper-thin door.

She leads you through Predictor, the time and expenses system, and from there through the management reports and general expectations of the partners and senior personnel of A&A. You are dotting your last i when Jeff arrives for lunch.

Lunch

You are taken to a rather agreeable place only a short drive from A&A's offices. Over lunch, Howie asks about your approach to writing software.

You resist the urge to leap to your feet and start drawing diagrams on a whiteboard. "As I said earlier Howie, it's a matter of process. Software development only ever becomes a problem when we lose sight of the process.

First, we scope the work and create a definition of the project for the project team. By project team, I also include yourself and your people. We are in this interdependently and neither of us will create a decent system without the other. Together we agree at a large grain, what is in, and what is out of the system.

With a good idea of what you want, I will create the architecture, and we match the architecture with a programme plan. This is essentially a list of projects we need to do to build your software, with risks, assumptions and dependencies mapped out.

When we have the architecture and the programme plan, we create a set of projects. Each project is mapped across your business initiatives and also attached to an application, so that each project will build a partial or complete software application.

At this point, we estimate the size of the projects using a technique which ascribes complexity points to each piece of work. Once we have the size, we have a price, and we can then further negotiate on timescales, cost and scope.

If you go for our quote, we can then begin the projects. We have two mechanisms for delivering those projects, based upon your preferences. Our preferred method is to get our software developers to come and sit alongside the people they will be developing software for. By doing so, the communication is allowed to flow free, and the resulting software better suits the needs of the user.

This technique is often, but not always the best. We wouldn't put software developers in with air traffic controllers. We may choose not to put them in with your sales teams. Better they concentrate on their work, not on software. When this is the case, we come in and do some requirement gathering, usually as interviews or workshops.

We analyse requirements to ensure they are complete, logical and deliverable and that expensive requirements, or those which increase the risk of non-delivery or poor performance, are reconciled. Analysis is followed by design, coding and testing. Where we can, we approach this iteratively, ensuring at each step that we are on target and delivering the software you need. You may find during the development your business changes. There is little point us continuing to deliver software that meets out of date requirements. As I said, we're in this together, and we want you to get a system that reflects your needs upon delivery, not at the point in time that we happened to come in and gather requirements.

Whatever method we use, and there are benefits and drawbacks to each, we create your software with as much interaction as you prefer. Sometimes you may wish to dictate approaches, sometimes you may be happy to let others. As long as we continue to interact and visit each project as it is being written, you will get your software.

Jim has a tear in his eye. He thought all techies were nerds. His stereotype of you is dissolving. You haven't publicly disagreed with him. You're not a liability. You have even helped him with his sale.

Two rare things have just passed. Jim is speechless. Howie and Jeff have an almost clear, if short lived, view into another world. In their minds' eyes the black art of software was momentarily transformed transparent.

The afternoon interviews

The first stop post lunch is with Eli, the chief whip. You failed earlier to extract her true job designation as Howie and Jeff were sharing a private joke you could not penetrate. The beady eye she fixes you with adds to your discomfort and she manages to not let you settle properly in your chair. Jim has gone, Jeff vanished like a will o' the wisp. It is you versus Eli, round one. The bell rings...

Don't speak until you're spoken to was the cruelest trick played on us as children. It was designed to keep us out of trouble, but somehow stretched into our adulthood where it doesn't belong. It is a dragon in need of a St George. "So Eli, where's the best place to start?" You don't know. She might. It's worth a try.

"At the beginning." A sterner eye, though in it is a glint of mischief, even humour. You catch it only because it sits on your own face while you are pummeling your children into a sense of what might be construed as tolerable behaviour. You share the joke. "OK Eli. The beginning for us is having people like you who pay us money. For your gracious reward, we deliver you software which we expect will save you significantly more in the long term than you have paid us for in the short."

The scowl deepens. The sense of outrage spreads across her face at the mere suggestion of money going out rather than coming in. It is a deep personal affront to her to see the scales of commerce tipped, however briefly and for whatever reason, toward the outgoing. Income was what she cared about. Income and the people around her, and the business she ran, and the people for whom she ran it. But the stony face is betrayed by the mirth beneath it.

"So tell me about your customers."

"Well, Bim. You might be one of our customers. Is it Bim? Is that correct?"

"It is. Bim is short for Bimford, my mother's maiden name."

"You might have committed some dastardly crime and require our representation. You might have been accused of doing so, and need our help to prove your innocence, or you may have a legal dispute with a third party and want us to argue your case. You may also use our services for marital problems, medicare, employment. We used to have an old brochure which listed everything we did. We're a little more special these days though..." She rummages through her papers and produces a folding brochure, stating quite clearly what they used to advertise as what they did.

"Have you changed the way you work since this brochure was produced?" you ask.

"No, we just don't say what we do any more. We do everything. Jack of all trades. Master of all too, with our network. We can do anything for anyone, in any country. And often we do too."

The brochure states:

Aardvark & Aardvark: local service, global reach. There is also an attempt at a cool but friendly how we can help you.

Litigation Health care Business
Appeals
Complex Commercial Litigation
Employment
Fraud and Abuse
Medicare and Medicaid Reimbursement
Medical Malpractice
Product Liability
Anti-Trust
Academic Medical Centers
Employment
Fraud and Abuse
Medicare and Medicaid Reimbursement
Medical Malpractice
Mental Health
Regulatory Compliance
Anti-Trust
Employment
Medicare and Medicaid Reimbursement
Organizational Structures
Regulatory Compliance
Intellectual Property
 

Eli continues. "We also do USAID work and Government work, and all jobs are run through our computer system. Would you like me to show you how it all works?"

You prepare to take some notes. "First we have our client database." Eli opens the client database on her screen. It looks basic, but appears to do the job.

"Do you hold contact relationships, such as Jack Hawkins, Manager, and Sophie McGregor, Jack Hawkins' Secretary, so that when you search for Jack Hawkins, you get both?"

"No. Information like that is held by the practices. Jeff calls practices success centres, the rest of us call them practices." Some of the partners don't enter their contacts in the system as they don't want to share them, or they don't want someone else getting at their clients, unbeknown to them. Many people guard their contact information very carefully. This contact information is quite out of date now. Most practices use their own contact lists, on paper or spreadsheets, or systems they have bought or written themselves."

"So no-one uses the contacts, but they do use the clients?" you ask.

"Yes, all charges are booked to a client. That is done by administrators in the Booker system or by employees using TEX, which books time and expenses. Predictor is used by most of our lawyers so we can see who is available for upcoming work. We run Invoicer every Friday, and depending on the client or the piece of work, invoices are raised and mailed out close of play Friday. Invoicer also creates files which are imported into the accounting system. Booker also creates files for payroll, which is run in the HR system. Most of the management information comes from the Reporter which is a series of reports we print off each week and mail to the senior partner group."

"We also create invoices on Fridays for work we do with other A&A members. That is a manual process at present

"Then there is the infoweb, where we store case histories, publications, details of all the members of the network and their specialities. It's a place where network members can sell skills and time to each other, so keeping the maximum amount of work inside the network as possible. Some of our members only work in one area of law and have joined the network as single person companies or husband and wife teams. It's a great way to get the best minds inside the network, for the best lawyers usually work for themselves. 

You are guided expertly through infonet, and see how legal professionals can find and make contact with people whose skills are valuable to them. Unfortunately, the text based searching means correct legal terms are required, and you are forced to write at double speed to get a few of them down so you can look up their meaning later.

You decide to avoid the spiralling thoughts of legal terms being different in different countries and the implications of this for the rights of man, or less obviously, beast.

Then you dive into document control, how people create, check in and check out documents to work on them, how absolute control over every document and every print or copy of every document in the system is attempted. It is a rigorous system, and seen as hugely important as documents and legal argument are the output of A&A. Each edition of every document is in there, controlled, and as watched over as mouse holes guarded by hawks.

You go through tendering, getting work and following it up. You are shown time, expenses, predictor, invoicer, budgeter, managing a client, a contract (piece of work), a person. You see how people join, leave, how they are paid, rewarded and departed. You see how an office is managed, and a state, and a country. You see how they purchase legal forms, send out invoices, and do their accounting. You watch goods come in, and services go out. You see how two members of the network can work on the same contract, how contacts are kept, how accounts are managed at the restaurant where you ate lunch - the shock in the eye of the beholder of the price - and how coffee comes out of the machine to your left.

What you didn't see was how any other member of A&A worked, other than A&A itself. Following your meeting with Eli, Jeff rather unwillingly deposits you with Mike, the IT chief.

Mike explains: "You see Bim, they never let us do it properly. Everything has to be delivered yesterday, and we're under such pressure to deliver we hardly have time to test anything and make sure it works properly. The users therefore perceive our software to be rather buggy."

You sympathise with Mike. It is a difficult situation to be in, and it wasn't long ago that you lived under the same clouds. Those very clouds were the ones that made you embark upon your voyage of self discovery. It lifted you out of the purely technical arena and made you understand how your personal interaction was every bit as important in delivering software as your technical skills. This difference between you and Mike is as thin as the road not yet taken. 

Howie appears once more on the scene to bid you farewell. His departing thought for you is to suggest that you have seen who they are and what they've got. He wants to know how they can be even more successful through the use of technology. He also wants at a glance knowledge of how every facet of A&A is performing.

Back at the office

By the time you get back to the office, the sun is a pounding fireball. Your supplies of energy have been eroded but you have a good feeling about this work. It is big enough for you to make a difference on, and not too onerous in terms of technology. You slink up the stairs, relieve yourself of your by now vapid jacket and pour yourself a cup of overripe coffee.

All in all, the day has gone well. To check for any gaps typical for a business, you check off the activities of A&A against game theory.

Game theory

The games afoot are how the Aardvarks fit into the overall world of practicing law. The other game is how they attract business from, and lose business to their competitors.

The players

Players in this case are the A&A members, and the rest of the legal world such as judges, defendants and law courts. It is also Aardvark's customers, suppliers, external contacts, and, of course, competitors.

A&A is a law firm with 200 legal professionals and 150 administrators. A&A is also an umbrella organisation for another 139 different companies around the world, collectively containing 4000 legal professionals and 1000 administrators.

A&A's clients are much the same the world over. They are people or companies.

Their competitors are other law firms.

Their collaborators are other legal professionals such as judges.

Their suppliers are stationers, printers and building maintenance companies, and hopefully Spaggott.

Perhaps some method of locating players and identifying their strategies would be useful to them as an extension of their infonet?

The added values

The added values are the knowledge, experience and contacts contained within the Aardvark members. To leverage those added values, member companies must be able to access the information held by other members with the greatest ease. The greater the ease, the higher the added value. That is unless access to that data creates antagonism either between legal professionals, or between A&A members.

The rules

Rules are laws, and the interpretation of those laws, which generally change over time and from country to country. They are also the way a business must work, again changing from country to country. Rules also cover how Aardvark may go about getting business. Game rules often come on a pamphlet; business rules change day to day on the whim of the players.

An A&A office has a specific boundary beyond which they may not trespass into another office's or member's region. Free space, i.e. that unassigned to an office is open territory.

The tactics

Tactics are the means Aardvark uses to get customers, and/or prevent one of their competitors winning the customer or piece of work. Tactics are also used by the members in the law courts to pursue a good settlement for their clients.

Use of the A&A name gives a global brand to an otherwise local company. Their global brand helps them win large or international work. Their local offices let them win local work. The expertise they have acquired by getting people who work for themselves into the A&A network is also a tactic.

The scope

Scope defines the extent of the world in which Aardvark works. It is their individual businesses, their collective business and matters of law.

They only do legal work.

They are geographically global, though localised through offices. 

You also compare Aardvark & Aardvark to your standard business model, created from years of observing the trials and tribulations of other businesses. It contains nine core parts: sales, service, people, storage, ontology, technologies, 3rd party applications, knowledge, and reporting. Sales and service is a choice of one or both business models, one sells items to a customer, the other provides a service to a customer. The sales and service items are cyclic, as is the employee item. The rest, at this point, are just lists, or in the case of the ontology, possibly a hierarchical list.

 

Figure 18.3 Spaggott's standard business and systems model

Aardvark - the business and systems model according to Bim B.

A&A fit the service model. The service they provide is legal representation.

Service

Contact management

At present their contact management is not global. Locally, their contact management, certainly at their head office is done by diverse means, and their supposedly centralised system is so out of date, it is only used by a few die hards.

Account management

Account management is better. Pieces of work are sold to a location which belongs to an account.

Procurement

They do little procurement other than building services, stationery and legal forms.

Sales

Sales are made by the person intending to lead the work.

Assign personnel

the availability of each employee is available from the Predictor reports. Their skills, at A&A the law firm, are held in their personal profiles

Project management

Some risk mitigation exercises are attempted. Other than that, accounts are managed by the senior personnel

Success monitoring

Little success monitoring is done from the point of view of the success on each assignment, but Howie wants to see success globally by any number of measures. These are usually financial or by cases won and lost (both to clients and in court). A successful lawyer is not one who delivers the truth, but who delivers the truth of his client, and wins the case.

Follow up

Follow up is by a repeat order from an impressed customer. It is not a managed task.

Knowledge

Their knowledge is held in case histories, which are collated in the infonet, and indexed using a search engine.

Reporting

All reports come from PECAN, and are mostly of a financial nature. Some manual compilation of data from other A&A members is reported on also.

The rest of the business is not yet relevant, as you have been tasked with creating a holistic environment. What stays and what goes will be decided on later.

Aardvark - the business model

Finally, you tick off the subjects of general business activity: marketing, ethics, accounting, sales, customer management and satisfaction, finance, and the business model items (from Chapter 12).

Figure 18.4 A Business model

Each part of each model is accounted for, so you are content in your understanding of A&A the law firm. Other law firms within the A&A empire are yet to come within scope.

The remains of the day

You spend the last few moments of the day gathering your thoughts, making a few notes on post-its, then finally abandon them to the evening and limp home exhausted.

The Gathering Architecture

Over the next few days you begin to put together a few ideas, based upon the desires of A&A head office. You have an uneasy feeling about not being in contact with other A&A members and get in touch with Howie in the hope that he will point you towards some helpful souls.

This he does, and they confirm largely what you gleaned from Howie and Jeff, but leave you in no doubt that they do not want their businesses dictated to by an overseeing head office. This is not the way they work. They value their independence, and sell that independence to their customers. They also want to be free to decide on whether they keep their existing systems or choose to go the A&A way. They also want to be able to take their computer systems with them should they part company with A&A> Many are not happy with Howie's dictates, and his suggestion  that their current software systems may not be adequate.

It is up to you to create a system good enough for them to choose over what they have.

The A&A partners also throw in a few areas of law that are new to you. Your rather sketchy model of the law now looks like this:

Figure 18.5 The Law

High level architecture

For the A&A Consortium, you decide to go for a fully distributed system, where every law firm has their own computer hardware running their own software. You will add to that, a single centralised hub, where information from all law firms is collated and presented for reporting and job sharing. Some of that information will be able to be pulled down from the hub for purposes such as invoicing. This will allow a client to have a single invoice when work is being done at more than one law firm within the A&A Consortium.

Figure 18.6 A&A Distributed information by firm and office

Computer users in a law firm's office will push updates (1) to a centralised (for that firm) data location. The centralised data will then push out updates (2) to lookup information held at each site or office. The lookup information will be simple lists, of employees, clients and ontology etc.

The central location will also push out offline data to remote or disconnected users (3), and those users, when they connect, will push updates (4) to the central data source of their firm. 

All law firms will promote selected information, such as employees, skills, and work done on shared jobs to the Consortium's data hub (5a, b, c). Firms will then pull down information (6) for such things as invoicing work done between two or more consortium members. Firms will also pull down information collated and shared (7) for viewing, as will offices of other firms (8).

Distributed system

Each Aardvark consortium firm will have their own complete system. Each firm's offices will maintain one centralised set of information, a subset of which will be distributed to each of their offices to provide instant lookup across the LAN (local area network). Pushing and pulling information will be performed through a security layer based on security tokens. The hub will also provide information, again based on security tokens, to whomever is entitled to get it.

Spagsoft

Spaggot software is one of many software houses who have realised that developing the same applications over and over again is tedious for them, and expensive for their clients. They have clubbed together and created a controlled source movement (Consom) and from that, created a code core. Much of that code core is wrapped with Spaggott's own code to create Spaggott's software offering to the world. Some of that software will provide for A&A's needs straight off the shelf. Other parts of it will need to be modified, and yet other parts will be written from scratch.

To come up with a price, you will identify the use cases required to deliver A&A's needs. Jim will then add in licensing costs for the off the shelf items. Spaggott's standard terms are 17% of the cost price per year for support and maintenance, fixed for three years, and negotiable thereafter.

Spaggott also has a 5:3:2 pricing expectation for this scale of work for software : hardware : implementation and training. This means that the software price will be doubled and presented to A&A as the starting point for negotiations.

Business objects and the SpagSoft Object Database

According to your business models, information about A&A can be confined within the following business objects:

A&A member
Location
Person - Employee or Contact
ExpenseClaim
WorkDiary - timecard, meetings, appointments, predictor, things to do
Account
Assignment
Publication - document (with sections) or website (with pages)
Report - internal report on some facet of business or system
Asset
Role
Organisation - A law firm, or a department or group within. A&A is the highest level of organisation
Invoice

Each business object will be held in Spaggott's own object database as an XML string containing hierarchical and grouped information.

The Spagsoft Services Framework, and other Spagsoft software

The framework is a set of layers of objects, leading down into the object database, which allow you to develop a bespoke business application without having to write all of the more basic code or business functions.

Figure 18.7 The Services Framework

The Services Framework is a collection of objects in a layered architecture which provide the building blocks upon which a service oriented organisation may build its software. Many difficult areas of software have already been built for use by other Spagsoft customers, and indeed many other Consom members' customers, so less angst is gone through developing each subsequent system. The framework will be added to by the following software components:

Spagsoft Server Software

Spagsoft Operating System

A choice of a commercial or open source operating system, wrapped in the Spagsoft colours.

Spagsoft Web and EMail Server

An internet, email and instant messaging service.

Spagsoft Message Queue

A guaranteed message delivery system for intermittently connected users.

Spagsoft Workflow and Decision Engine

The workflow engine routes forms and text messages around the employees, deciding on which employees need to be included in the loop through a decision engine. The decision engine assesses risk and authorisation structures according to the reporting hierarchy and decision making process of the business. There are four versions of the Decision engine, the manually programmed, the fuzzy logic, the neural net, and the artificially intelligent.

Spagsoft Application Software

Spagsoft Human Resources (HR)

The HR system looks after hiring, firing, and the ongoing support of employees. It records training, disciplinaries and rewards. It hold information about internal people, their addresses and affiliations. Futhermore, it allows people to trace others by searching their skills and experience records, their attendance at meetings, as well as internal or external functions or training courses.

Spagsoft Financials

Financials looks after ledgers, budgets, daybooks, aged debt, creditors, debtors, and payment management.

Spagsoft Collaboration Workspace

When teams of people are dispersed across the country, or globe, the collaboration workspace provides a means for them to interwork electronically. It is used mostly as a cataloguing or library service, where each assignment and each account has its own space to hold emails, messages, files and collaborative thoughts.

Spagsoft Account Manager

Used to manage accounts. All work is booked to, and charged to, an account.

Spagsoft Contact Manager

Used to manage all contacts within and beyond A&A. It interfaces with the HR system to extract information about fellow employees and fellow Aardvarks. All contacts belong to an account, including A&A employees.

Spagsoft Procurement

A system used to hold and search suppliers' catalogues. It creates purchase orders, and monitors their status. It links with Financials to match incoming invoices with outgoing purchase orders.

Spagsoft Client Software

Spagsoft Office

Basic word processing and spreadsheets.

Spagsoft Email, Browser and Collaboration clients

The client end of the email, web and collaboration experience.

Spagsoft Offline workflow and data synchronisation engine

For those disconnected from the Spagsoft network, they can still lookup information offline. This feature keeps it available and up to date.

Spagsoft system software

Finally, there are the system administration duties, taken care of, as always by the Spagsoft core. The system applications keep all of the information in check, and systems operating efficiently:

Spagsoft Ontology Manager

The ontology manager enables system administrators to create new ontological definitions, hierarchies and lists. It is a mechanism used to create front-end drill downs into the raw and summarised data created by the Object Morpher.

Spagsoft External Systems Integrator

Many external systems need to integrate with the information held in the object database. Examples of this are payroll and telephone systems. The object database is the single point of information input, which feeds out using text formats such as XML, CSV and fixed formats to all external systems.

Spagsoft Backup

Backup saves the state of the object database at the end of each day. You recommend dumping the objects without their indexes to make the backup as efficient as possible. Indexes can be rebuilt on XML data fairly quickly. Document indexes will take longer, typically a day to build considering A&A's volumes.

Spagosft Helpdesk

All user queries and problems are logged and managed in the helpdesk. The use of Spagsoft Helpdesk allows calls to be raised through second and third line support directly to Spaggott support staff.

Spagsoft System Monitor

The system monitor takes the results and agreements that are part of the contract for response time and transactional throughput, and records the actual numbers as the system is used, upgraded and reconfigured. It also records changes to hardware, so changes in response for new disks, memory upgrades etc, may be observed. 

Spagsoft Role Manager

As shown in figure 18.7, access to the information is filtered through a security layer. This is role based, and tasks are assigned to roles in multiple hierarchies and allowed certain information privileges. The role manager is the method of assigning roles to people, and thus defining their security access.

Spagsoft Object Database

Sapgsoft's object database contains a set of technologies to support their application software.

Spagsoft Template Manager

All information is held in business objects, which are based on definitions held in templates. The Template Manager allows creation, alteration and retirement of business objects. Retirement is a method of removing information no longer required, but without losing it forever.

Spagsoft Event Initiator

When objects in the database change state or are otherwise updated, or derived values for risk or profitability are hit, the event initiator raises a specified event. In most cases, the action is to send a note to someone, or update values for dashboard viewers.

Spagsoft ObjectMorpher

The object morpher takes one set of objects and interlinks them with others to create even more objects. Typically, the resulting objects will be OLAP cubes or reports.

Spagsoft Index Builder

The index builder builds indexes for the object database.

Spagsoft Search & List Creator

When information is added to the object database, lists and search indexes must be updated. This can be done live, or in the case of huge data inputs, done by a system administrator or automatic process on a regular cycle. Documents are usually indexed daily. Data inserts can be indexed as part of the insertion procedure.

New or Modified A&A Software

Other software will have to be written specifically for A&A, or modified from the core Spagsoft applications to provide the functionality requested by A&A.

Document Manager

Although a document is stored in the object database in a fairly unstructured way, A&A want document management to be a specific activity, done though a specific interface.

Document management is the managing of complex and multiple hierarchical views of documents. For example, the same document might show up in Client, Skill or Practice views. It also controls document security, and check in/check out services. It must do version and change control, and manage authorization when documents need to be authorized before release to the client. It must also attempt to manage printouts of highly classified or important documents.

Figure 18.8 Document Management Use Cases

 

Assignment Manager

Assignment Manager is used to record and track the progress on each assignment.

Figure 18.9 Assignment Management use cases


Work Record

The work record is the fundamental measure of effort output by A&A employees. Each meeting and each piece of time spent working for a client is recorded, and recharged to the client.

Furthermore, all locations are recorded for tax purposes, and meetings must interface with the asset information to be able to book meeting rooms and equipment.


Figure 18.11 Work Record and Asset Management


Asset Manager

The Asset Manager allows the business to keep track of all its assets such as meeting rooms (locations), computers, servers, telephones, printers, projectors, desks, floor space, cupboards, keys, vehicles and all of the other paraphernalia that businesses accumulate.

Spagsoft's basic Asset Manager will be extended to deliver the required functionality.

Expenses

The Spagsoft expense system does not fit A&A's requirement to book expenses to tasks within assignments. Other A&A requirements also make using their existing expenses system difficult, so you quote for a bespoke system. Expenses allows an employee to make a claim for incidental expenses such as travel, hotel bookings, meals and entertainment.

Invoicing

All payments for work done are requested by sending an invoice to the client. Various electronic methods of contact have been specified, along with mail. A record of invoices printed and sent must be kept within the system.


SkillSearch

Finding someone with a particular skill is used by those wanting advice or help from someone, and equally by those booking people onto future assignments.

Skill search can be run within the scope of an office, city, business, or A&A network.

Dashboard and Reporting

Reporting is provided mostly by an Ontology view built upon a set of data and cubes created by the Morpher. There are some specific views of data requested by senior managers which are built into a dashboard to provide a real-time view of the business.

The dashboard shows incoming satisfaction surveys, payments, outgoing invoices, and the lag between request and payment. It shows a sales prediction, mapped against the actual income, the keenness and willingness of the staff reflected in their assessments and online staff surveys.

All reports can be viewed in numerous graphical formats, as summary or detail data, or as grid data, ready to copy and manipulate in other applications.

Procurement

All purchases made on behalf of the company from recognised and recorded suppliers, are done through the procurement software

Success Monitor

The success review is sent out at the end of an assignment to gauge how the client felt the work went.

Membership Register (for all A&A members) and information promotion and pull down

Each member of the A&A network has access to the global information, depending on their rights. They can promote information, such as time and expenses recorded against an assignment shared between two ore more members. They can also pull down that information if they are sending out the compiled invoices. Finally, they can view other information on A&A members, such as their offices, skills, staff, and many other things you might find on an intranet.

Figure 18.10 Membership Register and Administration Use Cases

 

The Architectural Concerns

The important architectural concerns for A&A are as follow:

Availability, Dependability, Reliability, Robustness

The system must be there whenever it is required. 

Backup and restore

Legal professionals do not want to lose any versions of their documents.

Globalisation, Localisation

A&A is (or wants to be) a global brand.

Longevity, Changeability

Howie has not asked for a system for five years (no-one ever does). However, he sees it as being a differentiator for A&A, being able to work together.

Security

Many items of information are of a controlled nature, especially work for the Governments of the world.

System replacement, Deployability, Installability

It must be easy for a wholly disconnected law firm using a set of disparate systems to be able to replace their systems with yours, with ease. This must be able to be done, in extreme cases, without anyone on the ground with the recipient.

Function Point Count for Effort Estimation

The total Unadjusted Function Point count for all applications = 715.

From the equation Time = 20 x UFP x Technical Difficulty x Environmental Difficulty, time = 20 x 715 x .7 x .8 = 8333 hours. At 20 hours per developer per week, that is 35 weeks work for 12 people.

Based on your own fiddle factor of 1.5, which you have observed between the ideal and Spaggott's output, you have 48 weeks for twelve people. 

Thus, you have a one year project for three teams of four developers.

Your cost per developer hour is calculated to include all on costs (floor space, machines, analysts, managers, testers etc) at $120, making this a $2.5M development project.

Jim adds in licence costs for the server, client and framework software, then multiplies by 2 to take account of hardware, system installation and support, and ends up with $12M. That sits about right on his shoulders, but he spends another week going over and over the numbers to satisfy himself and Spaggott's Chief Executive, Mike Spaggot, that the measure meets the mandate, then puts his name to it, and delivers it to Howie. 

The wait

Weeks tick by nervously. Howie and Jeff have had a raft of questions and discussions with yourself, Jim and Mike, to ensure themselves of the integrity of your offer. They're about to launch into a high risk manoeuvre within their company and the A&A network, to begin to seize greater control of all outlying partners by stealth through their software. They will also fundamentally change the way they work, relying on external software development for the first time in their careers. It's a rocket that could launch them or burn them to a crisp.

The decision

You have been resummoned. It's either you or one of the other software houses, and Jeff is delighting in his role of chief negotiator. He keeps talking about money and Jim has cunningly countered his every ploy. Fortunately, there are many "would likes" on the negotiating table and Jim's poker face, his unimpressed disinterest in changing the price or introducing new features are one moment bathing you in an icy blast, and another moment stewing you in your own steam bath. It is a tense meeting.

You haven't said much. You haven't had anything to say. The architectural case hasn't changed since you stated it a month earlier, and despite the hammering out of detail, nothing much has changed in the applications either. Into this general awkwardness, Jeff drops the bomb.

"Bim. You have recommended a distributed architecture. The other guys have recommended centralisation into three hub sites. They reckon the maintenance costs will be a fraction of the fully distributed architecture you have recommended. They even went as far as to scoff at your suggestion and claimed that the internet age was yet to dawn on Spaggott Software." Jeff smiles. He says it without malice, but wants to know what the reality will be. Ongoing costs are dear to the heart of all business operations, and your opponents have at least partially convinced him of the truth of their claim.

It may be a ragged bone, but at least you have chewed this one many times before. With the ancient words of Sun Tzu[1] ringing in your ears, you marshall your neural troops to attack not the enemy, but his strategy.

"Of course, we considered various degrees of centralisation from a single box on down. The choice of three hubs is one possible design as it will bring you the benefits of semi-centralised data, limited to a few continents each such as US, Europe, the Middle East and Africa, and Asia Pacific. However, this design will still lead to data consolidation issues across the three sites. Neither will it give your users the instant response a fully distributed system will.

On the business side, it could lead to antagonism between you and an A&A partner, for they will perceive you as the controller of the hubs whenever there is a breakdown or dispute. Better to have the IT support staff in direct control of the partner, then at least they are arguing amongst themselves.

Our distributed service also allows job sharing at any level between the A&A partners, and keeps the operational data summaries away from them. The three hub approach will still need to share jobs across partners, but at that level, you will have less control over what else they share, leading to cliques of partner groups within the larger group. Similarly, when it comes to overall information for A&A, drilled by country, sector or any of the other breakdowns you have specified, the information still has to be collated, so one of the three hub sites would still be the master site, with information gathered from the other two.

And what happens if your internet service provider has problems, or the internet goes down? There would be no service at all. The largest problem with the centralised approach is what we call latency. Imagine you posted a letter to someone in Hong Kong, and every country it went through opened your letter, rewrote the envelope, and posted it on again to the next country. On a much faster scale, this is what happens across the internet, eating away response time. A local service will give an instant response. A user in Eastern Russia accessing a centralised service in Europe or Hong Kong will have some appreciable delay, which gradually erodes any satisfaction in using these centralised systems. The partners nearest the hub sites would be happy; those furthest away, less happy."

Jim doesn't want to get lost in the technicalities. You have given him at least a start upon which he can build his sale, and he launches into a highly charged closing statement.

"Howie, I want you to picture A&A in a few years time. The system we build has been installed and in operation for quite some time. Your business is doing extremely well both locally and globally. Our system matches your business model perfectly, and each time a new partner joins, you have a well practiced team to get them up and running in the minimum amount of time. 

Business is booming. You successfully work with your partners worldwide, sharing jobs, resources and skills. A&A is a well known, global brand. There you are Howie, on the cover of Forbes, helped there by the fact that you chose our software and were left to concentrate on A&A.

You were kind enough to share your vision with us, and now we want to return the favour by becoming a part of your vision. We can help you do it today. Right now. Right now. I know you have concerns, and I want you to know we can overcome them. Together we will create exactly what you need to put A&A right where you want it to be.

Jeff once again seizes the jugular. "Clearly, we are now in the position where we want to balance cost and features."

"Yes, we can do that. And we can continue for the rest of the day to do so. And we can do it tomorrow. And each day we do it will add another day to the cost. No win no fee lawyers will double the price of lawyers you said when we first met. Discussing software also increases its price. Add the price of each day for your business operating without your new software and you can clearly see how the price is increasing every moment. Every precious moment.

We can start now. Today. Right this minute. We can decide, together, to start building you a superb software system that you can clearly see will meet your current and future needs. Can we leap over the initial hurdle together and put it behind us? Can we get the paperwork out of the way and get on with the job?

This powerful imagery[2] ends with Jim pointing, Jeff nodding, and Howie signing. The job is yours.

Questions

  1. What would you do?
  2. Do you agree with the use cases? Would you add any, or remove any?
  3. Assigning 1, 2 or three use case points to each actor, and 5, 10 or 15 points per use case depending on their complexity, what is your unadjusted function point count for all of the applications?
  4. Using the transaction count, does your function point count differ significantly?
  5. What price would you charge for developing the software?

References

[1] The Art of War. Sun Tzu. Many imprints.
[2] Unlimited Selling Power - How to master hypnotic selling skills. Donald Moine, Kenneth Lloyd. Prentice Hall. amazon.uk

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