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Software Acquisition: Special Concerns for Managers

When it comes to software acquisition, there are a lot of considerations for managers, including cost, schedule, people, and peformance. This chapter from Managing Software Acquisition discusses issues with which managers will be confronted when using an open, COTS-based approach.

In Chapter 4, we told you about the basic elements of an open, COTS-based system approach, but we asked your indulgence in that we ignored, for the time being, the realities and constraints that impinge on any system development today. In this chapter, we now focus on major areas of concern with which managers will be confronted when using an open, COTS-based approach. We discuss various ways to think about these concerns. First we look at what the manager is trying to accomplish in the transition to open, COTS-based systems. Then, we discuss these concerns for the major areas of cost, schedule, performance, and people.

10.1 The Manager's Quest for Control

In their quest for control over the elements that make up a system, managers have to be willing to make trade-offs when dealing with the changes that come from using an open, COTS-based approach. Managers must also be willing to continue to improve their planning processes and to actively manage risks.

In part, the changes in how managers must do business are driven by new realities, such as decreasing budgets and shortened schedules, and new initiatives, such as the acquisition-reform effort in the federal government. But some of the changes are driven by shifts caused by the various forces that affect how much control the manager has over the system.

These forces are represented by four groups of players: managers, the marketplace, standards groups, and the organization—corporation or government agency. These four groups can become engaged in a struggle for control over what goes into the creation of new systems and upgrades of existing systems.

  • Managers focus on strategic and tactical issues in an attempt to produce the best system they can to fit the need within financial, contractual, legal, schedule, and technological constraints.

  • The marketplace often has a mind of its own, driven by pursuit of market share and profit. Financial considerations—some short term and some long term—dominate this viewpoint.

  • Standards groups work to achieve consensus with as many people as possible in their affected community. The specific needs or interests of any single system are not of concern for them, although they may be of concern for individual participants in a standards group.

  • The organization focuses on large-scale trade-offs and economies of scale.

Managers need to deal with conflicting goals, competition, and cooperative relationships because of the contentions among these groups. Each group is working to optimize its own objectives. Cooperation cannot be assumed. But your chance of success is greater if you understand the motives and operating methods of the others. For example, you should not join a consensus-based standards group and expect it to always give you the features that you think are best for your system.

When faced with these conflicts, remember how you got in the middle and why. Yes, there are liabilities and constraints associated with the move to COTS products and open systems, as illustrated in Figure 10.1. But keep in mind what it is you are trying to achieve—the benefits pictured in the figure. Nothing comes for free, so the importance of the goals you are trying to achieve will determine how many of the liabilities you can tolerate and how far you are willing and able to go into open systems and the use of COTS products. One of your challenges as a manager is to find the right balance for your system between the benefits and the liabilities.

Figure 10.1 Benefits, liabilities, and constraints of COTS products.

Following are new sources of change that present challenges:

  • Updates to standards

  • New standards

  • Abandoned standards

  • New versions of COTS products

  • Abandoned COTS products

  • New COTS products

  • New technologies

  • Ripple effects, for example, operating system upgrades may force application software upgrades, or discontinuation of a hardware product may affect other hardware products, related software implementations, and even the design.

These changes extend beyond system performance and will affect cost and schedule as well.

Next, we look at some special concerns that arise from pursuing an open, COTS-based approach. These management concerns fall into four categories: cost, schedule, performance, and people.

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