The Emperor’s New Software

Many years ago there lived an Emperor. He was so fond of new clothes that he spent all his time and all his money in order to be well dressed.

Apparently, today we have a lot of ’emperors’ so fond of new software that they spend all their time and all their money in pursuit of software solutions.

Visitor arrived every day at court and one day there came two men who called themselves weavers, but they were in fact clever robbers.

They pretended that they knew how to weave cloth of the most beautiful colors and magnificent patterns. Moreover, they said, the clothes woven from this magic cloth could not be seen by anyone who was unfit for the office he held or who was very stupid.

The Emperor thought: “If I had a suit made of this magic cloth, I could find out at once what men in my kingdom are not good enough for the positions they hold, and I should be able to tell who are wise and who are foolish. This stuff must be woven for me immediately.”

And he ordered large sums of money to be given to both the weavers in order that they might begin their work at once.

The hype curve of the potential usages of the product is as clear today in software as they are in this story.

The Emperor sends his old minister to check up on the weavers’ progress. The minister can’t see any product, but will not attest to the possibility that he is unfit for his job or very stupid, thus he expresses the wonders of the cloth.

The story repeats itself with other officials all claiming to see the wonderful product. Finally the Emperor is presented with the ‘cloth’ – and he too is too proud to admit that there is nothing there.

Getting dressed up in the makebelieve clothes, the Emperor starts off on a procession throughout the fair city. Everyone passed speak wonders of the cloth until a little child says: “But he hasn’t anything on.” Resounding throughout the crowd.

I’m not saying that software developers are swindlers – far from it, though there are less than adequate developers for some tasks. What I am trying to say is that people would rather try to keep up a facade of understanding than ask questions.

As Groucho Marx said: ‘It is better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to open your mouth and remove all doubt.’

Silence is golden – unfortunately it is the price of silence, not the reward.

Software is not incomprehensible magic. If the solution you get is nothing like the solution you wanted, then most likely there have been communication issues.

If there is no executive support, no user involvement in the process, then you – the customer – will suffer. Whether this is due to failed projects, cumbersome work processes, or brittle solutions, you are partly responsible.

While H.C. Andersen might have had other reasons for writing The Emperor’s New Clothes, my parallel is the IT-illiterate decision makers out there. I’m not saying that everyone must speak IT, I’m saying that you should know your limits, and if you don’t know stuff you have to do, you should ally yourself with someone who can bridge the gap. But you should not be any less engaged in the production.

If you order a steak, medium-rare, at a restaurant, you would complain if you get a boiled steak, a well-done or a bleu steak. And rightly so. In software it seems you would not complain, just assume that you misunderstood the term, and the production facility – the kitchen and the waiter – performed their magic par excellence.

But this is just when it doesn’t go too bad. Quite often the parallel would be you ordering lemon sole (the fish), and getting the sole of a boot with a lemon on top. Paying the restaurant for their services, leaving the establishment still hungry, and returning the next day for another order of misconceptions.

Example: USAF wasting $1 billion on failed ERP project

“The Emperor’s New Clothes’ is a short tale by Hans Christian Andersen

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