Wednesday, March 22, 2006

My First Darwin Award

This is the first Darwin award I've handed out and boy is it a good one.

This post will have 3 parts: The award, the background, the article.


My first Darwin award goes to Tonya Brenneman, President of InfoIntegration in Dallas. Not only did Tonya fail to gather requirements for her system, but she ignored the advice of her DBAs and Microsoft. Read the article below and you'll see what I mean.


Back a couple years ago my wife got a job at InfoIntegration as a DBA on the project mentioned in the news article below. She soon started coming home with reports of how poor the design was and how things were going to fall apart. I took a look at a couple things with her to give it a 2nd pair of eyes, and she was not only right, the problem was worse than even she thought. On my own time I benchmarked a couple of the problems with the projected usage for the system. My benchmarks showed that once it went live, the system would suffer from such severe performance issues that it would be all but completely unusable in under a day. This would put the system having maintenance on it all day long just to keep up. I don't know about you guys, but I don't know any production system that can have defrags run against it 24/7. Anyway, when she went to her bosses with our findings, they not only ignored her, they actually blew her off and said that not only did they know what they were doing, but even if she were right, that portion of the system had already been written and it would be too much trouble to do it again. She kept making waves and was soon fired. She's not the only one who left that job for a similar reason.

This should go to prove to you guys that taking database issues lightly isn't a good idea. When your DBAs tell you something, listen. They're warning you of danger for a reason, and if you're so freaking smart then why do you even have a DBA? Trust your people and they'll do good by you.

OK, with that said, here's the newspaper article that came out just today on this. Trust me... read it... it's a great article, and not only is it written well, but it really goes to show how important your databases can be.


Computer firm to let jail contract expire
Dallas County: In-house employees to take over inmate tracking system

05:45 AM CST on Wednesday, March 22, 2006
By KEVIN KRAUSE / The Dallas Morning News

The company that built the computer system for Dallas County that caused chaos in the courts and left some inmates languishing in jail for too long will not renew its contract when it expires at the end of July.

The county plans to hire its own staff to run the troubled system, which officials say will save money.

InfoIntegration's president, Tonya Brenneman, told county officials in a letter that her company would help with the transition. She could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

A multitude of problems surfaced after the January 2005 launch of InfoIntegration's $9 million Adult Information System, or AIS, which tracks inmates from booking to final case disposition.

"They felt it was in their best interest to sever this relationship and develop business in outside venues," said Robert Clines, the county's technology chief.

The county had been planning to rebid the AIS contract in October, he said.

"I don't think it was a secret that we were looking at other options for support of the system," he said.

Commissioner Mike Cantrell said InfoIntegration officials thought it was a good time to step aside, "given the history of what's taken place and the publicity."

"In my opinion, they did a good job."

Mr. Clines said he will ask county commissioners for money to create five to seven positions to take over operation of the AIS system, which he said has overcome earlier problems.

The county still plans to contract for help in fixing minor problems, he said. But handling system operations in-house will be cheaper for the county, he said.

The county had been paying InfoIntegration about $460,000 for renewable six-month contracts, he said. Mr. Clines said he is trying to determine with the budget office how much the proposed new positions will cost.

"We will not be spending near that much money," Mr. Clines said.

He wants the new employees hired at least 30 to 45 days before the end of InfoIntegration's contract so they can be trained on the system. Mr. Clines estimates that 120 hours of training will be needed.

The county awarded the AIS contract to InfoIntegration in 2003. At the time, Ms. Brenneman had just formed the company after leaving the firm that handled the computer system for the juvenile department.

The new system failed to transfer information to the county's old mainframe system that the courts use, causing some inmates to remain in jail for weeks or months after they posted bail or their cases were dismissed.

Microsoft was hired to evaluate what went wrong and issued a scathing report in October that detailed a list of mistakes by InfoIntegration and the county, including failing to determine what kind of system was needed and how it would function.

Mr. Clines said most of the more serious problems, such as security issues, have been fixed. He said a governance committee staffed by judges and representatives of the district attorney's office and sheriff's office was formed to review changes.

"All of the glaring problems, we have addressed," he said. "These are the nuisance problems."

In February 2005, the help desk was averaging 1,000 calls a month. It's now down to between 300 and 350 monthly calls, Mr. Clines said.

He estimated it will take up to four months to iron out remaining problems.

Since 1992, all computer support in the county has been outsourced, Mr. Clines said. He called the new arrangement a hybrid, with some services to be contracted by outside firms and others being handled in-house.


Lori said...

Can you say "poetic justice" for your wife? Sheesh!! What were they thinking of when they blew off her advice? Oh, that's right...they weren't thinking! Too bad that your wife had to get fired over it. Do you think she can/should sue for wrongful termination?

I have a similar situation where I came to a company where I found games and other stuff installed on a production server. When I called attention to the issue and a multitude of other issues that I found, I actually got yelled at to not "screw up the database". When performance ground to a halt, a consulting firm was brought in to look things over. Lo and behold, guess what they found and documented??? All of the things that I had already documented and could prove that I had told management about the problems. The report from the consulting company was scathing. Upper management was not pleased at the person who blew off the issues. Funny how people listen to me now.

Chris F (Raleigh NC) said...

Any chance that in broad terms, your wife might be convinced to outline some of the problems she found? I always fear that someday, a system I've developed will be the subject of such a story....its a recurrant nightmare.

Chad Collier said...

Good for you Lori;

In my experience I have found that the way in which you speak about potential issues to upper management makes a big difference to weather they listen or not.

And unfortunately the higher ups fail to listen to many employees' professional hypothesis due to "internal favoritism". Maybe it's the fact that you didn't go to college, or got a degree at a rival college, or maybe they don't like the way your hair parts to the right side... It's a rampant problem everywhere.

With great power come great responsibilities.

Anonymous said...

LOL, Who knows this project better than me and a couple of friends, I'm one of those who left, yeah Jennifer had an idea, still surprised she got fired...

Anonymous said...

She got fired for chatting online 24/7...this guy deserves a Darwin Award or two...

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Sean McCown
I am a Contributing Editor for InfoWorld Magazine, and a frequent contributor to as well as I live with my wife and 3 kids, and have practiced and taught Kenpo for 22yrs now.
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