Figuring out an easy way to nobble the opposition A couple of weeks after my return to BritBreak, I can now file my final report on chocolate manufacturer Lacto. When I was sent to help with their intranet-based sales MIS, I was not hopeful. After all, the sales director had hired the small but sassy US firm QuikFix to produce something in record time. Despite the speed with which my team of talented misfits had written a counter-system, I was horrified to discover that QuikFix had already got a prototype into use. Something had to be done quickly. I called a council of war with the IT director and our team leader. The agenda was simple; how to nobble the opposition. The director suggested burning down the building that houses their server. I persuaded him against it. Not only is it overkill, as it would also take out Lacto's stock control and payroll systems (the IT director didn't feel this was a problem as directors' salaries are handled elsewhere), but also it would be much too obvious. The sales people aren't entirely stupid. The team leader had a subtler idea. What, he asked rhetorically, do programmers spend most of their time thinking of? Money and women (the QuikFix programming team is all male). Why not bribe them to write buggy code, and if that doesn't work, get the help desk team to offer their bodies? Again, I wasn't sure. Some of these Americans, especially those brought up in the Bible Belt, can be awfully sanctimonious. Anyway, I've seen the help desk team. After a couple of jugs of coffee and a lot of studying the system data feeds I had a more attractive proposition. QuikFix relies on data from IT department mainframes. It wouldn't be difficult to provide faulty figures to QuikFix while maintaining the real information elsewhere. That way we could suggest deficiencies in their system. The IT director rightly pointed out that this would leave us open to suspicion, but here I played my trump card. Production figures are held in litres, but they are translated into gallons for the numerically challenged management. We would put in a tiny change to the conversion routine to use US gallons instead of Imperial, then sit back and wait. It worked perfectly. When the sales team discovered errors that amounted to the difference between US and Imperial gallons, and the QuikFix team admitted that they didn't know there was anything other than a US gallon, we knew we had won. Our system had the figures right. Without a fuss it took over from the QuikFix prototype and the Americans left in confusion. As the icing on the cake, one week later the sales department reorganised and dropped the MIS project. After all, the ideal system is the one that's accepted but never used. That way you get the accolades, but none of the blame when the system goes wrong. A triumph for Slaughter McTone Regis and, yours truly.
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