A 57 Million Dollar Story

5 Feb 2019

I overheard a story while on vacation recently. A guy who works in the healthcare space was talking with some folks about how a single large healthcare company in Pittsburgh spent $57 million dollars in a year on IT alone. I honestly don’t remember the name of the company, I did not recognize it.

He was astonished by this stat, and kept talking about. He was talking loudly, and I was right next to them. I leaned across to the group and said: “It sounds like you’re having an interesting conversation. But, that number doesn’t surprise me.” I introduced myself and listened to a bit more of his story and surprise.

He asked me why I wasn’t surprised. I explained that I am an Engineer, and first of all, we’re still learning how to build things. But when we decide to really build something—and we know what we’re building—we do a great job. I explained that, from my perspective is, too many people still view computers as magic. Especially in a corporate setting like Healthcare IT (I’m not just picking on healthcare though, it is all of them).

There are lots of buyers, and both IT and software companies are more than happy to charge a premium. I’m not saying the VP signing a check needs to know how network layer protocol is organized, or the difference in the latest chipsets and north bridges, or how quickly an L3 cache hit runs, or the failure rate of SSD blocks. They do need to learn how to use computers to their advantage, rather than having the computer and software run the show. The tail is absolutely wagging the dog.

Don’t get me wrong—I am actually far more in “Buy” territory when it comes to “Buy vs Build”—but I am amazed at the overlap in systems that do similar things, and you’ve bought 4 or 5 of them, because there is one indispensable thing each one does that none of the others do.

And as Joel Spolsky shared fourteen (14!) years ago, once you sell software over a specific dollar limit, you need budgetary line-items. Which means lots of meetings, salespeople, and overhead, just to get a sale.

Yea, there is a lot of waste here. Some of it is because we do a very bad job of exposing just what our software can and should do. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to click around a new software vendor’s site for 30 minutes before I get past the marketing jargon to see; “Oh, so thats what this does? I don’t need this after all.” And the only reason I know I don’t need it is because I am an engineer.

God help everyone who has to make sense of the world of IT without being an engineer. It will cost you $57 million dollars.

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