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Thursday, March 31, 2011

MBA'S 40TH ANNIVERSARY

On April 1, 2011, we will be celebrating our 40th anniversary in business. M. Bryce & Associates (MBA) was founded on April Fool's day because, as my father was fond of saying, it would be our joke on the industry. Whereas a lot of companies have trouble surviving a single year, we're still trucking 40 years later. As such, we must have been doing something right. I think a lot of this could be credited to simple perseverance and determination. A lot of people wanted to see us go away, but we hung in there through sheer tenacity. When we were down, we invested in research and development. When others cut spending, we invested in ourselves.

We trained and consulted with thousands of people and hundreds of companies in all sizes and shapes over the years. If I had to point at our single biggest contribution to the industry though it would have to be how we proved you could move the design and development of systems from an art to a science. Sure, we introduced a lot of concepts and techniques, such as Information Driven Design, Standard Systems Structure, IRM, Chronological Decomposition, and the whole methodology marketplace, but it was our insistence that systems development is a teachable science that should not be mired in hocus pocus or gobbledygook. While we have seen a lot of snake oil salesmen over the years, it was always important for us to be intellectually honest about our products, which is why we went to great lengths to define our terminology and explain our concepts. There has always been too much mumbo jumbo associated with systems and the computer industry, thereby detracting from its professional credibility, and as such, we certainly did not want to contribute to it. While others invented a whole new vocabulary to sell books, we went out of our way to keep it simple so others could learn and apply our intellectual property.

In terms of our original "PRIDE" methodology, which was also introduced in 1971, I am proud of the major systems our customers built with it. "PRIDE" revolutionized the banking systems of Japan, manufacturing and financial systems throughout the world, numerous insurance systems, and a wide variety of government systems. We were particularly proud when the State of Minnesota passed legislation mandating the use of "PRIDE" on all state system projects. While others panicked over the Y2K problem (Year 2000), "PRIDE" customers calmly entered the new millennia without a hitch.

The point is, during the heyday of "PRIDE", which was the 1970's, 80's and 90's, companies were thinking big. They had big challenges to conquer, such as building major enterprise-wide systems with integrated data bases. The executives and managers at the time were all of the "greatest generation" who had lived through World War II and the Great Depression. They therefore were not intimidated by challenges and understood the necessity of such things as discipline, organization and accountability to attack such endeavors. Maybe it was their sense of the military and the war that gave them this. Whatever it was, I doubt we will ever see such a generation of determined and resourceful people with an entrepreneurial spirit again.

What have we learned as a company over the last 40 years? Perhaps the biggest lesson was that our culture has changed dramatically, thereby affecting our work ethic and priorities. People tend to think smaller and are content putting forth just enough effort to get by. For example, designing major systems is now considered a futile effort as so many projects have failed over the years primarily because people threw too much technology at a problem and not enough management. Time and again, we've seen this backfire on companies. Now, companies are content with building nothing more than "apps." In other words, companies have resigned themselves to doing smaller things as they believe larger projects will only meet with disaster. This, of course, is a defeatist attitude, and something our early customers certainly wouldn't tolerate.

There is also a strong sense of entitlement imbued in our society whereby people believe they have certain unalienable rights to such things as income and personal property. People not only feel they deserve everything, but want it all now, today, instantaneously, which would suggest people no longer think long-term and are more inclined to be self centered and less likely to make personal sacrifices for our families, friends, companies, or whomever. This perspective also causes people to think in terms of time spent as opposed to work products produced, whereby some are more focused on the clock and not what they should be working on. In reality, the only right we truly have is the right to try and either succeed or fail. Regardless of what politicians tell us, there are no guarantees for success. Reneging on our right to fail isn't natural and discourages risk and evolution.

Not surprisingly, I have met a lot of people in my travels over the years. Among them, I have met only a handful of true geniuses in the computer field. I've also met a lot of hard workers with common sense, but not many geniuses. Unfortunately I've also seen far too many slackers who try to pass themselves off as free-spirited artists who somehow find a way to get away with murder. However, I tend to blame management who falls for the ruse rather than the charlatan. Most I.T. workers create the illusion their work is overly complicated and, as such, they should not be inhibited with such things as discipline, organization, and accountability. I have seen far too many managers become a sucker in this regard.

I wish I could say I was more optimistic, but I cannot. I see a lot of fine young people coming into the field with unbridled enthusiasm, but too few are getting the discipline and proper instruction they need to channel their energies. When I attend industry conferences, I see no significant original thinking being applied, just new technology. I tend to refer to this as "Rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic."

It is terribly frustrating to possess a strong sense of history whereby you truly understand what is possible, but you're grounded by the realization of what is inevitable. As a country, we could have achieved a lot more over the years than we did, but we are our own worst enemy and have grasped defeat from the jaws of victory time and again. As a small example, today our systems pale in comparison to others overseas, particularly in banking.

Since 1971, our slogan has been, "Software for the finest computer - the Mind," for in the final analysis no technology can compare to the brilliance of the human brain. Over the years we have endeavored to serve our clients honorably and reputably. Our honesty and brutal frankness has served our customers well, but it has also earned us a number of detractors who were burned by our forthrightness. I guess we have always seen ourselves as the child who exclaims, "The emperor has no clothes," and I cannot possibly think how we could be otherwise.

Happy 40th anniversary MBA. No joke!

Keep the Faith!

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Tim Bryce is a writer and the Managing Director of M. Bryce & Associates (MBA) of Palm Harbor, Florida and has over 30 years of experience in the management consulting field. He can be reached at timb001@phmainstreet.com

For Tim's columns, see:
http://www.phmainstreet.com/timbryce.htm

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